Image © James Taylor.
Everyone’s taste is music is personal and subjective, and probably never moreso than when it comes to holiday music. I’ve been loading my favorites on my iPod the past few weeks, so here’s my list.
JAMES TAYLOR AT CHRISTMAS is the newest entry in my seasonal favorites. James waited a long time to release a Christmas album, and that seemed to work well for him. I find every track a delight, though his version of “Jingle Bells” is a bit too New Orleans for me. James has long been one of my favorite artists, and I can listen to this one over and over. And, has anyone else covered Joni Mitchell’s “River”? I like James’ version better than hers! Then there’s the delightful duet with Natalie Cole, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Great stuff. JAMES TAYLOR AT CHRISTMAS
CHRISTMAS WITH THE CANADIAN BRASS teams them up with the massive pipe organ from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, a great combination. I like brass quintets, and this is one of the best, very creative arrangements, and they seem to be having a great time playing them. I also include some tracks from A CANADIAN BRASS CHRISTMAS, another album of theirs I like, but not quite as much. CHRISTMAS WITH THE CANADIAN BRASS
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, The Vince Guaraldi Trio. The soundtrack from the first Peanuts special has some of the best jazz arrangements of Christmas music ever, in my opinion, and it brings back happy memories of that great TV program too. There are a few cuts that didn’t make it onto the show I like just as well. A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE MORNING and THE JOHN RUTTER CHRISTMAS ALBUM, John Rutter conducts The Cambridge Singers. Two of my favorite collections of choral music and carols for the season. In addition to many fine arrangements, Rutter wrote several of his own Christmas-themed pieces that are possibly the best things on these albums. And his choir is superb. CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE MORNING
JOHN RUTTER CHRISTMAS ALBUM
A CHRISTMAS TOGETHER, John Denver and The Muppets. Even if you haven’t seen the TV program that this material came from, if you like The Muppets or John Denver, you’re bound to enjoy this album. John does a few of his own songs, a few were written for the show by others, and there are plenty of familiar tunes with a typical Muppets twist. My favorite bit is in “Christmas is Coming,” when Miss Piggy questions the lyrics. “Piggy pudding?!” “No, FIGGY pudding, made with figs,” Gonzo replies. Then adds, under his breath, “and bacon.” A CHRISTMAS TOGETHER
A GUITAR FOR CHRISTMAS, Liona Boyd. This came out decades ago, but I still think it’s the very best Christmas record featuring classical guitar and orchestra, including later ones by Boyd. The arrangements are great, and the playing impressive. A GUITAR FOR CHRISTMAS
WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS, John Williams and the Boston Pops. The best all-around classical music take on Christmas music, with great arrangements and medleys by Leroy Anderson, Billy May and others. If you only know Williams for his film scores, this might be a nice surprise. WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS
COUNTERPOINT SINGS NOEL and CHRISTMAS IN VERMONT by Counterpoint, conducted by Robert DeCormier. These are fairly recent favorites, and I may be a bit biased as my old friend Linda Radtke sings with this small group of fantastic voices, a sort of all-pro madrigal group. DeCormier has had a long and illustrious career as an arranger and choral conductor, beginning with artists like Harry Belafonte and Peter, Paul and Mary. I went to a number of concerts he conducted in New York City when he headed the New York Choral Society that were wonderful. Then he retired to Vermont and started this group. If you’re tired of the usual Christmas music, these recordings have lots that you may not have heard often or at all, collected from all over the world. “Christmas in Vermont” also includes Daniel Pinkham’s “Christmas Cantata,” which I think is an unsung modern classic, and one of my favorites. COUNTERPOINT SINGS NOEL
CHRISTMAS IN VERMONT
In addition to those complete albums, I have a few dozen other individual songs or pieces including:
Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite”
“Go Tell It On The Mountain,” by Simon & Garfunkle
“A Christmas Carol” by Tom Lehrer
“My Favorite Things” by Julie Andrews from “The Sound of Music”
“I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day” by Lucy and Carly Simon
“The Skaters’ Waltz” by Waldteufel
“March of the Toys” by Victor Herbert from “Babes in Toyland”
“A’Soalin'” and “The Wonderful Toy” by Peter, Paul and Mary
“Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson
“Boston” and “The Shepherd’s Carol” by William Billings, performed by the Gregg Smith Singers
“I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas” by Toby Deane
“Frosty the Snowman” by Gene Autrey
“White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song” by Bing Crosby
“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from that Dr. Seuss animated special, sung by Thurlstone Ravenscroft
“A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives from the Rudolph animated TV show
“The Twelve Gifts of Christmas” by Allan Sherman
“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon
“I Believe in Father Christmas” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer
“The Chipmunk Song” by of course, The Chipmunks
“Santa and the Doodle-li-Boop,” not the version by Art Carney, but another one from my childhood 45rpm collection by Sam Ulano
“Christmas for Cowboys” by John Denver
and a few other tracks from various choirs.
That’s my list! I’ve been enjoying it all week. I’ll probably add more next year, but this is plenty for now.
Todd, I’m a big James Taylor fan, so your post caught my attention. As far as “River”, which has become one of my favorite songs, I’d point you towards Robert Downey Jr.’s version on the Ally McBeal Christmas album. Breaks my heart every time I hear it.
or itunes: http://is.gd/nURrnV
Those Counterpoint albums sound good. I performed the Pinkham cantata with my church choir last year and I agree, it’s a wonderful work.
My friends and I were just discussing “My Favorite Things” earlier today. We don’t understand why some people consider it a Christmas song. Granted, it mentions mittens, sleigh bells, and snowflakes, but that’s a weak justification. Your thoughts?
You’re right about “My Favorite Things.” I keep hearing it at Christmas, and I suppose it’s crept into my holiday pantheon that way.