Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas! Rob Joyner would like to share with you his 12 Songs of Christmas.
‘Tis the Season! That’s what I titled the 2 CD compilation of Christmas songs I created in 2006. After personally giving and sending some through the mail to family members, friends and co-workers I received a lot of wonderful feedback. In the years since many of the recipients still tell me they play the set every Christmas day. That does my heart good. Because the set includes 57 songs it was a little difficult to narrow my top picks down to just 12. Ultimately, nostalgia and memories of my childhood won over. With the exception of just a few, all are classic renditions everyone knows.
And no matter what your year has been like, good or bad, just remember there are so many more others who had it worse than you. So this holiday season, please give whatever you can to a favorite charity. From your local food bank to your Humane Society, there are many souls on two feet and four who could use a little extra love.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has been recorded by a variety of artists, including Dean Martin, Merle Haggard, The Temptations, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Barry Manilow and Ringo Starr. But my favorite version is by Gene Autry, released in 1949. Most noted for his cowboy songs, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is still Autry’s biggest selling single. It was written by Johnny Marks, who also wrote the Christmas classics “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”, “Run Rudolph Run” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas”.
“Frosty the Snowman” was first recorded by Gene Autry in 1950. But it’s the 1969 TV show gravel-voiced version by Jimmy Durante that I like best. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without it. Happy Birthday and cha-cha-cha!
“Jingle Bell Rock” was recorded by Bobby Helms and released just before Christmas in 1957. Helms was actually a country singer, but also had crossover hits on the pop charts. ”Jingle Bell Rock” was a top chart hit for Helms every Christmas season for years after it was originally released. It’s now an annual classic that’s still played on both country and rock radio.
”Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”, another Johnny Marks composition, has been recorded by Alabama, Cyndi Lauper, Toby Keith, Green Day, Chicago and even The Partridge Family, among others. But nobody sings it like Brenda Lee. And…she was only 13 years old when she recorded it in 1958!
Jimmy Buffett’s ”I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is from his 1996 Christmas Island album. Though he’s known for his laid back island music, Buffett’s version of this classic is my favorite. It’s simple and pretty. A little bluesy. A little jazzy. If you find yourself away from home during the holidays and feeling blue, this song just may help a little bit.
”Winter Wonderland” by Leon Redbone. It’s difficult to classify Redbone’s music. Dixieland, blues, vaudeville, ragtime, jazz. He plays all of these kinds of music. Maybe the best way to classify his music is simply Americana. This song is from Redbone’s 1987 album, Christmas Island. It’s one of my favorites, and also includes ”Let It Snow”, ”White Christmas”, ”I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, ”Frosty The Snowman” and ”Blue Christmas”, among others. If you want to step back in time to when the streets were rattling with Model Ts and a kid could sell lemonade without being hassled by a bureaucrat, then Leon Redbone’s music is for you.
”Run Rudolph Run” was written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie. I love Chuck Berry. To me, he will always be the King of Rock and Roll, above Bill Haley and even Elvis. This is my favorite Christmas rocker. Often mistakenly called “Run Run Rudolph”, Berry recorded ”Run Rudolph Run” in 1958.
Next is ”You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, the book, was published Christmastime in 1957 by every kid’s best friend, Dr. Seuss. Then it came to life on CBS in 1966 through the magic of the great Chuck Jones. The opening credits state that “the sounds of the Grinch are by Boris Karloff…and read by Boris Karloff too!” This is not exactly correct because the song ”You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft. For whatever reason, his name was left off the credits. You may not know his name, but you know his voice. He voiced Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger for decades.
After A Charlie Brown Christmas, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is my favorite Christmas show. To me, it’s much more than just a show for children:
Perhaps you have seen it, or maybe you’ve not.
But if you do, you’ll like it a lot.
The message that’s there is really quite clear,
That compassion and tolerance is so very dear.
”Linus and Lucy”. This instrumental was first recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio for their 1964 album Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown. The next year the first Charlie Brown TV special aired. A Charlie Brown Christmas has become one of the most beloved specials ever and is my favorite Christmas show. Since then ”Linus and Lucy” has become the main theme music for anything Charlie Brown.
”Aspenglow” by John Denver. It was released in 1970 on Denver’s Take Me To Tomorrow album. He later re-recorded it in 1975 for his first Christmas album, Rocky Mountain Christmas. It’s not really a “Christmas” song per se, but I feel it fits in quite nicely. Here is my favorite version, the 1970 original. I think the haunting melody makes it one of Denver’s most beautiful songs.
I remember very clearly watching Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas special. It was at my aunt and uncle’s house and aired November of 1977, just a month after Crosby’s death. I had heard that David Bowie was going to be on it, and being a fan of his then new song ”Heroes”, I was looking forward to seeing him perform it. But the real highlight of the show was Crosby and Bowie’s duet. What I saw was simply magical. The story is that Bowie didn’t particularly care for ”The Little Drummer Boy”, the song Crosby planned to sing. So the show’s writers came up with a unique idea. They decided to write a new song which Bowie could sing along with Crosby’s rendition of ”The Little Drummer Boy”. And so ”Peace On Earth” was born. The duo then recorded ”Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” for the special with less than an hour of rehearsal.
And now we come to my favorite Christmas song – another Johnny Marks classic, “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives. This is the version found on Ives’ 1965 album Have A Holly Jolly Christmas, and not the faster version which is heard on the Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special released the next year. Ives had a long and successful career as a singer, writer and actor on stage, in film and TV. But for me, he will always be Sam the Snowman from the Rudolph TV special.
”A Holly Jolly Christmas” is my favorite because it’s simply saying to have fun and, gosh darn it, just try to be nice to people – something to remember year-round.