>Picture me rolling through Nashville with sleighbells on my Solara and two mugs of holiday cheer in the cupholders. Seems all I’m doing these days is running errands and listening to the single greatest assortment of Christmas music this side of a live Manheim Steamroller concert.
So, come on down and join the fun. Here’s what’s In My Stereo, THE CHRISTMAS EDITION!
(Quick disclaimer: Those who don’t celebrate Christmas might be hoping for non-Christmas holiday songs on this list. I’m sad to say there aren’t any. Not because I don’t like other holiday songs, but because I have never in my life heard any, outside of that “dradle ditty.” If any of you would like to send me your Hannukah catalogue, or if any of you would like to send me your Kwanzaa tunes, I’m all ears and incredibly easy to persuade, especially if money and/or burritos are somehow involved.)
“White Christmas,” Otis Redding
Maybe it’s the organ riff that sounds remarkably like the outtro from My Morning Jacket’s “I Will Sing You Songs.” Maybe it’s the placement in Love Actually. Maybe it’s the fact that Otis Redding could sing in German and still sound better than everything not named “Emmylou Harris.” If you like your holiday music “snuggly,” look no further.
“Light of the Stable,” Emmylou Harris
Hey, speaking of Emmylou Harris, here she is, sounding like a combination of 1) great woman and 2) heaven itself. I swear to you right here and now I’d gladly marry any member of her extended family if it guaranteed a private Emmylou performance twice a year (say, around the Thanksgiving table, and fireside Christmas Eve, just spitballing).
“Angels We Have Heard on High,” Relient K
You’d be surprised how well time-honored Christmas hymns lend themselves to SoCal mall-punk songwriting tropes. Trust me.
“Father Christmas,” The Kinks
A few years back, I broke down all Christmas songs into three categories:
1) Religious (“Away in a Manger,” “O Holy Night,” etc.)
2) Secular (“Jingle Bells,” “White Christmas,” etc.)
3) Pop (“Blue Christmas,” “Merry Christmas, Baby,” etc.)
For whatever reason, it’s hard to find rock songs that fall into the third category. Enter The Kinks, who rob Santa at gunpoint and take his money, telling him to “give all the toys/to the little rich boys.” If you listen to this song and don’t enjoy it, I will eat a hobnailed boot.
“Christmas All Over Again,” Tom Petty
Three or, at most, four chords? Check. The best, no-brainer of a melody you can possibly imagine? Check. A heart-warming, genuinely goofy, but overall winning sentimen? Check. It’s everything a Tom Petty Christmas song should be. And more?
“Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” Phantom Planet
I’ve often used this space to extol the underappreciated virtues of Phantom Planet, a smart, incredibly poppy band from California that has been kicking around in different forms since the turn of the century. Well, hey, look, they recorded a version of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” and it’s smart and incredibly poppy. If this is part of a Phantom Planet Sings Christmas Songs full album, someone needs to 1) alert me immediately and 2) just go ahead and send it to Milam HQ. Thanks.
“Carol of the Bells,” Any instrumental version
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: this song shouldn’t have singing. It’s awesome as is. I don’t need the boys choir chanting “bells, bellsy bells!” in the background. Some things are better without talking, like “Carol of the Bells,” or “Jessica Simpson.”
“Theme from the Nutcracker,” Tchaikovsky
Kidding. Kind of.
“The Christmas Song,” Vince Guaraldi Trio (aka, the Peanuts Christmas music)
I have to be honest: I know nothing about Vince Guaraldi or his greater catalogue. I don’t know who he is or where he came from or where he’s headed. In truth, I don’t care. All I know is that his work on the Peanuts Christmas soundtrack is among the greatest achievements of Western Civilization. It stands beside “democracy” and “Megan Fox” as the pinnacles of human achievement.
Christmastime is full of family and friends and merriment and cheer and nog and (probably) accidental fires in the living room that you blame on the cat. It’s a great time of year (someone called it “most wonderful,” but I don’t buy into hyperbole), and it’s usually a time of happiness. But it’s also a little sad, too. A lot of the best Christmas songs capture the unique blend of joy and melancholy that characterizes the holiday season. The Peanuts Christmas soundtrack does it as well as any I’ve heard.
God bless Vince Guaraldi. Whoever the hell he is.
What’s in your Christmastime stereo?
Bells bellsy bells,