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My Top Seven Christmas Songs
Holiday Classics That You Need To Own
Perhaps one of the biggest aspects of the Christmas season are the songs that are so essential to the holiday.
Over the years, I've heard so many versions of tunes like "O Christmas Tree", "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and "Jingle Bell Rock" that by New Year's Day I scream when I hear those standards (and others).
Recently I pondered about those songs that I never got tired of or screamed at when I heard them, they were so good; these are the tunes that not only get me into the holiday spirit, they also induce tears.
In numerical order, best going last, I thought I'd list those holiday songs that I strongly recommend and that people should buy, that I feel best depicts the true meaning of Christmas, starting with...
7. FELIZ NAVIDAD, JOSE FELICIANO (1970)
This Christmas ditty is loved by millions and is one of the best for one important reason: It's a fun, danceable song.
The fact that it is sung by one of the all-time great guitar virtuosos predominantly in Spanish doesn't hurt either; Feliciano is a genius, and has been for over forty years.
Although the lyrics are simple, basically wishing for a Merry Christmas "from the bottom of my heart", that's perfectly OK for a song like this - as they have always said on "American Bandstand", it's got a good beat and you can dance to it.
6. HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER), JOHN LENNON AND YOKO ONO (1971)
This holiday number was part of the great ex-Beatle's peace campaign in the late 1960s and the early 70s, which included large posters and billboard signs saying "War Is Over - If You Want It" in cities like London, New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles during the time the song was written.
Being that the war in Vietnam was still in effect, this appeal for a Happy Christmas from Lennon and his wife was quite appropriate - and is every bit as much so today considering what's going on in Afghanistan.
It also conveyed a hope for peace on Earth, which was John and Yoko's primary goal.
And it's a really good song on top of everything else.
5. CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE, VNCE GUARALDI TRIO (1965)
In my view (and countless others, I'm sure), the significant reason why A Charlie Brown Christmas is such an animated classic is the soundtrack that this jazz pianist's combo contributed to that TV special.
With just a upright bass and a basic drum set accompanying Guaraldi's piano arrangement, this theme song to Charles M. Schulz's first Peanuts show had a simplicity to it, which was exactly what made it so memorable.
Along with the lyrical version of this song that you hear on the special, there was an instrumental version which stood out precisely because of Guaraldi's piano. It is on the soundtrack album, which what you should definitely buy if you can only buy one Christmas CD in your lifetime.
It's also a big factor, together with the iconic "Linus and Lucy", to Charlie Brown Christmas being considered the greatest cartoon ever made.
4. RIU RIU CHIU, MONKEES (1967)
If you are one of those people who think that the Monkees were nothing but a fabricated group, I promise that seeing this clip of them performing this Spanish villicano from the mid-16th century, which they did at the end of their Christmas episode, will change your mind.
Describing the conception and nativity of Jesus, this Spanish language song is one of my personal favorites due to the fact that the melody is exquisite.
Many renditions of this carol exist, one notably from David Archueta of American Idol fame, but it was this version from the so-called "Pre-Fab Four" that made Riu Riu Chiu a classic in my book; Mickey Dolenz's solos were sung so beautifully that it brought a tear or two to my eyes.
That's why this holiday classic is an essential one.
3. LITTLE DRUMMER BOY/PEACE ON EARTH, BING CROSBY AND DAVID BOWIE (1977)
Even though I was only ten years old at the time this song was performed, I knew even then that this pairing of one of the greatest entertainers of all time with the guy who was best known at that time for being Ziggy Stardust and talking to Major Tom from Ground Control was unusual, if not outright weird.
I mean, who ever thought that Bing Crosby would even want to associate with a glam rock star?
That's why when I checked out the clip of this pairing from Crosby's Christmas special, I was blown away, particularly with Bowie's "Peace on Earth", which was written for that show.
The significance of this duet, as it turned out, was that it was recorded one month before Crosby passed away of a heart attack and shown six weeks afterward on November 30th, making this song the legend's last TV performance.
It's safe to say that he went out in style.
2. DO THEY KNOW IT'S CHRISTMAS?, BAND AID (1984)
I clearly remember when this single dropped during my senior year in high school; my primary memory was that I felt a bit upset over never getting the chance to buy this record.
Organized by the Boomtown Rats' Bob Geldof to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia, as millions were starving in that country, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was the first song featuring an all-star cast put together for the purpose of charity, inspiring other projects like Farm Aid, Live Aid, and USA For Africa's iconic "We Are The World".
I particularly loved the African-style beats in the background, as well as the vocals of stars like Sting, Bono, George Michael, Simon LeBon of Duran Duran, and Boy George, who were all riding the crest of their fame back then; Phil Collins playing the drums was a nice touch, too.
The lyrics were outstanding, helping to shoot the song straight to Billboard's number one spot with days of its release at the end of November. Needless to say, it raised millions of dollars for the famine relief effort.
All these years later, I'm still miffed that I didn't buy that single.
1. GABRIEL'S MESSAGE, STING (1987)
To be honest, I never really had a favorite Yuletide song for much of my life; don't ask me why.
That changed very quickly after I heard this cut from the Police's former front man, which was part of the "A Very Special Christmas" album made to raise funds for the Special Olympics.
With its lyrics describing the Virgin Mary being informed by the angel Gabriel that as the "most highly favoured maid", she was going to conceive and give birth to the Saviour, this piece gave me chills and tears.
In fact, "Gabriel's Message" was - and is - so excellent that I consider it the greatest Christmas carol ever made, being that it was beautifully sung and best depicted the true meaning of Christmas, what that holiday is (or should be) all about.
At least, that's how I feel about it.
When you get down to the bottom line here, songs of this genre should convey what Christmas is about an addition to helping, in their own small way, to bring peace on Earth and goodwill to all people, as opposed to just men.
If you do follow my advice and listen to these tunes, if not download or buy them, I certainly hope that they help you get into the holiday spirit - with times being what they are, Lord knows people need that.