For as long as I can remember there has always been music and it has always been synonymous with the holiday season. My heart is lifted the very first time I hear a favorite playing in a department store or supermarket. I will sit with that Yule log as if burning embers will fly from the television set and ignite the rug. Without music Christmas would be a different holiday for me.
To mark the season I have compiled a few of my favorites and made them available for all to download and enjoy. I encourage you to go out and purchase these for your holiday collection. In the meanwhile if you like my list, email me and I will reply with a link to where you can download it.
The Christmas Song – Nat ‘King’ Cole
Aunt Sarah absolutely loved Nat Cole. She could tell wonderful stories of hearing his trio play at New York hot spots in her youth. I imagine she must have been distraught when he died of cancer in 1965 because she would drop the needle on the record and cry as if she’d lost her best friend. Then again, it didn’t take much to set her off. She would cry if she were glad to see you. For years, she never opened gifts in front of the giver. It’s rumored that she would wait until she was alone and cry over the thoughtfulness and generosity of each one. I always think of her when anything from the album plays.
Christmastime is Here – The Vince Guaraldi Trio
I love Charlie Brown’s Christmas. My favorite part is when Linus uses his blanket for a tree skirt. The entire soundtrack is classic. This song is my favorite.
It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams
This is the tune that makes me ignore the hustle and bustle of the season. It makes me more patient when someone cuts in front of me on line or is in “12 items or less” with groceries for the year.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas – McCoy Tyner
This is actually one of my favorite songs to sing. I nail it every time. As a child I always wanted my entire family home for Christmas. My grandparents were always so happy when everyone was together. So was I.
My Favorite Things – Al Jarreau featuring Kathleen Battle
Despite her reputation for being a most difficult diva, I adore Kathleen Battle. I’ve had the privilege of seeing three of her live performances. She’s a perfectionist and it’s apparent each time she opens her mouth. I imagine this session with Jarreau, another perfectionist was something to behold.
Our First Christmas – Maureen McGovern
McGovern has one of the most glorious voices with an insane range. Her holiday collection, long out of print, was a gift to me from my pal, Joey. I have played this CD so that my player no longer accepts it. This particular song is my favorite.
What A Wonderful Time – Yolanda Adams
Bouncy and joyous, this song displays the versatility of Yolanda Adams and presents her in a way she’s never seen; with a large swing band. It makes me want to hear her sing jazz standards in a smoky room. Imagine that!
Christmas Medley – The Swingle Singers
Two of my favorite tunes, Carol of the Bells and O Sanctissima frame this medley by one of the most amazing acapella groups of all time. The second is actually the first song I learned to play on piano.
That’s What I Want For Christmas – Nancy Wilson
I’m a Nancy Wilson fan because of my cousin, Philomena. She introduced us when I was about three years old and I’ve loved her since. Anytime I hear Nancy, I think of Philomena. What a wonderful association.
Medley: Let it Snow, Count Your Blessings, We Wish You a Merry Christmas – The Ray Conniff Singers
This group was a favorite of elevator travelers for most of the Twentieth Century. I believe my grandmother and I picked up this album at a garage sale in Rumson, New Jersey when I was about 8 or 9 years old. It became one of my favorites.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Ella Fitzgerald
Presented by Judy Garland in one of my favorite films, Meet Me in St Louis, this song has been covered by just about everyone. I like the way Ella swings it.
This Christmas – Donny Hathaway
It’s not Christmas in any black neighborhood until you hear it.
Give Love on Christmas Day – Ledisi
One of the most amazing vocalists I’ve encountered in my lifetime, Ledisi made me extremely happy when she released her holiday collection.
Christmas Waltz – Frank Sinatra
Another holiday song that I put my own special stank on, Sinatra does it justice and makes me want to sing along.
This is the Season – Rahsaan Patterson
Patterson is another truly gifted vocalist I’ve stumbled upon during my journey. I’m not enamored of his entire collection, but I’ve included two of my favorites.
Caroling, Caroling – Nat King Cole
Silver Bells – The Supremes
My Aunt Jane made ours a Motown household. Not just at Christmas, but anytime the family gathered there had to be some Motor City sounds. You should see her dance to Hitch Hike. It’s a treat.
Sleigh Ride – The Ray Conniff Singers
Last Christmas – Wham
This contemporary song became a classic when it appeared on Music From the Edge of Heaven in 1986. I love to hear it.
White Christmas – Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters
Most folks first heard this while watching Home Alone. Aunt Sarah introduced me to Clyde McPhatter back in the 70s.
Jingle Bells? – Barbra Streisand
Nothing tickles me more than the little Jewish girl singing Christmas carols. This twist on an old favorite is a Christmas classic yet so very Hebrew.
Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms
For some reason I always associate this song with J.J. Newberry in Long Branch, New Jersey. They used to have a lunch counter and uniformed waitresses with updos. Marie, Ms. Pearl and Ms. Gloria were on hand to make your shopping experience a pleasure and make sure you didn’t pilfer from the candy aisle.
Christmas Baby Please Come Home – Various Artists
Some of the most amazing artists have leaned against Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. Darlene Love leads this song featuring all of Spector’s discoveries.
O Tannenbaum – Nat King Cole
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
When I hear this song, visions of decorated trailer parks and truck stops dance in my head.
Father Christmas – The Kinks
When I sold trendy clothing with Steven Isaac at Merry Go Round at the long-defunct Seaview Square Mall, built on a landfill in Ocean Township, New Jersey, this song was part of the holiday play list sent from the home office in Joppa, MD. That mall was responsible for the death of Asbury Park, NJ, where we used to do a lot of Christmas shopping way back in the day.
Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
Another selection from the Merry Go Round play list.
Wonderful Christmastime – Rahsaan Patterson
Originally recorded by Paul McCartney in 1979, this has become a popular holiday classic. I really like Rah’s rendition.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town – The Jackson Five
Again, Christmas in the hood would be incomplete. RIP MJ.
Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt
Madonna be damned! Here is the originator and the innovator. Kitt purrs this tune like the greatest little gold digger that ever breathed. Even Mrs. Clause had to wonder if Santa tasted this tart on the side.
Frosty The Snowman – The Ray Conniff Singers
I sat and watched Frosty and Frosty Returns the other night on the floor and for a minute thought I was in my grandparent’s den on Sixth Avenue. I wonder what ever happened to that beat up console we watched for years.
Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer – The Temptations
Aunt Jane loves her Temptations. She can identify lead singers and cheers them on as if they are giving a private concert in her living room.
The Chipmunk Song – The Clark Sisters
It’s not Alvin, Theodore and Simon, but the sensational Clark Sisters have fun with this Christmas classic from their new Christmas CD. When they start screaming for Alvin, I always imagine they’re calling Jackie.
Amen – The Impressions
Aunt Jane loves her Impressions as much as her Temptations. I always remember this from the greatest hits album that we had when I was a kid.
Celebrate – John P. Kee
Jesus is the reason for the season and no one can call on him like a Kee choir, especially his screaming sopranos. “Let us rejoice! Let’s Celebrate!”
Emmanuel – Norman Hutchins
I first heard this at Clear View Baptist Church in Irvington, NJ by the choir under the direction of Yolanda Grice (Lil’ Twinkie). I instantly made it part of my holiday must-haves. Thanks David Jones!
O Come Emmanuel – The Clark Sisters
Adeste Fideles – Nat King Cole
A Star Stood Still (Song of the Nativity) – Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson’s Silent Night: Songs For Christmas, my mother’s favorite Christmas collection was played to death in our house. I wore out two copies by myself. Sometimes my grandmother would sing these songs and I would wonder why she wasn’t famous. She has an amazing voice. I didn’t think anyone but me knew until my cousin, Jeanette, commented.
Mary Had A Baby – Kathleen Battle
I’ve loved this song since Pam Singleton sang it at a Long Branch High School holiday concert in 1980. Kathleen makes me love it even more. The last note sends me right to heaven.
Medley: O Holy Night; We Three Kings; Deck The Hall – The Ray Conniff Singers
Who Would Imagine A King – Whitney Houston
The Bishop’s Wife was one of my favorite holiday movies growing up so I had to love The Preacher’s Wife. Whitney may be no actress, but she sang her wig off on every track.
A Child Is Born/Some Children See Him – Maureen McGovern
O Little Town of Bethlehem – Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Tharpe was willing to cross the line between sacred and secular by performing inspirational music in nightclubs and concert halls. Her style has been characterized as “witty and idiosyncratic.” Though many church folks found her offensive, she never let them deter her from singing the gospel. Here she sings one of my favorite songs to an entirely different melody.
Peace on Earth - Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie
Another holiday tradition from childhood was the Bing Crosby specials where he pimped his family and sang with popular artists of the day. This recording is from one of those specials.
Away In A Manger – Nat King Cole
Gracious Good Shepherd – Vanessa Williams
I’ve loved Ms. Williams since she sang Happy Days Are Here Again and was subsequently crowned the first African American Miss. America. Over the years she has continued to justify the crown taken from her over a youthful indiscretion. Her holiday collection is a favorite at my house.
I Wonder As I Wander – The New York Voices
Another song I heard at that Long Branch High School holiday concert, performed by the Madrigal Singers. This vocal quintet gives it jazz flavor.
I Saw Three Ships – Nat King Cole
I'll Go – Ledisi
Go Tell It On The Mountain – Mahalia Jackson
Jesus Oh What A Wonderful Child – Mariah Carey
On this track Mariah sounds like she was born and raised in somebody’s church. That is due to Melonie Daniels, one of her former background singers, who is church trained. Daniels can be heard all over this song.
Joy To The World – Whitney Houston
Ring Christmas Bells – The Ray Conniff Singers
Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring – Russ Freeman
From a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, this song, also heard at weddings, never fails to create a peaceful mood. Russ Freeman of The Rippingtons plays it beautifully on his guitar.
Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid
The inspiration for We Are The World, a tune penned by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and performed by music royalty to raise relief and awareness of Ethiopian famine, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure wrote this song to benefit the same cause.
Do You Know It's Christmas – Maureen McGovern
Someday At Christmas – Stevie Wonder
Another song performed by every Motown artist on their Christmas album, Stevie’s is the best rendition.
Let There Be Peace On Earth (Let It Begin With Me) – Gladys Knight and the Pips
This is my grandmother’s favorite Christmas song. She tells wonderful stories of singing it as a child in Mount Vernon, Georgia.
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) – The Arthur Blythe Quartet
I just love Christmas jazz!
Christmas Time Is Here – The Vince Guaraldi Trio
Silent Night – The Temptations