Christmas is a time for family, love, and thankfulness. Since it’s almost upon us, it’s also a time for holiday music everywhere. In the spirit of that, here are my top 10 favorite Christmas songs that you may or may not enjoy yourself because after all, this isn’t your top 10. Counting down from 10 to 1, let’s start at…
10. “Christmas in Hollis”- Run DMC
Back in 1987, there was an album called A Very Special Christmas, produced to benefit the Special Olympics. This song was the feature and since then has become moderately popular, being featured in several movies and TV shows. It’s best to watch the music video, a video as fun as it is bizarre. With bombastic, funky production and family-friendly lyrics aggressively performed in the typical manner rappers gave back in the day, this song is definitely great for switch up the usual playlist at a Christmas gathering without ruining the mood. Note: Rev Run narrates how he refrains from stealing Santa’s wallet and puts it in a street corner mailbox; almost immediately afterwards, Rev gets home to see the money that was in the wallet under his tree. So yes: Santa is always watching. Intensely.
9. “Silent Night”
This holiday classic is too peaceful and serene to not love. You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the melody, atmosphere, and usually great singing. There’s no specific rendition of the song I prefer, as it all resonates with me. The version I think of is probably an ideal version I haven’t actually heard, based on what I used to hear in church. An interesting tidbit about this song is that in 1914, during War World I, there were several well-documented and spontaneous Christmas truces. This didn’t happen everywhere, but it was surprising enough, being in the middle of war. According to one account, the soldier heard “Silent Night” sung not only in his trench, but in the enemy trench, along with lights from makeshift decorations and candles. Given the atmosphere of this song, that particular detail doesn’t surprise me.
8. “Jingle Bells” – The Joker
Yes, by the Joker I mean the one from Batman. “Jingle Bells” of any version deserves a spot but if you’ve heard it, you’ve probably heard the Batman version that goes, “Jingle bells, Batman smells”, if not as in a recorded song, then just as a poem repeated by children. In the ’90s Batman: The Animated Series, there’s a Christmas episode where the inmates of Arkham Asylum are singing the original “Jingle Bells” and the Joker- voiced by MarkHamill- starts singing the Batman version while escaping from Arkham with a missile disguised as the prison Christmas tree. It’s a brief clip, but it counts as a song.
7. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”- Elmo and Patsy
Written by Randy Brooks, Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire, this song was self-released in 1979 and didn’t take long to become a seasonal hit. My love for this song stems from the 2002 animated movie with the same name. While that movie is lighthearted -even the song doesn’t take itself seriously- the narrative told within the song is kind of morbid. A hoof print on the forehead is certainly not the most pleasant way to go. Regardless, it’s a fun, humorous listen anyone may enjoy. I wouldn’t know whether to return or keep the gifts bought for Grandma, either.
6. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”- Andy Williams
What is there to say about such a Christmas classic? It describes the ideal Christmas season and in essence what any holiday or celebration should feel like.
5. “The Little Drummer Boy” – Harry Simeone Chorale
This song tells the story of a little drummer boy too poor to buy a gift for the baby Jesus, so he plays his drum and receives a smile from the infant. The original Harry Simeone Chorale is probably the most iconic version, and certainly my favorite. I love this song not just for the arrangement, but the concept. A poor boy with nothing to offer but his music is both sad and inspiring, an offering to baby Jesus no less. It all comes together.
4. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” – Thur Ravenscroft or Jim Carrey
This song is one of my all-time Christmas favorites, and that’s frustrating because I can never decide which version I like the best. ThurRavenscroft is the original performer of the song that played within the 1966 cartoon special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! I love everything about it- except I feel the instrumentation between Ravenscroft’s verses is way too short. The first segment between the first and second verses set the tone, yet in every other segment, by the time I’m expecting three more seconds of pure music, Ravenscroft’s trash talking the Grinch again. It’s too abrupt for me. The Jim Carrey version from the live movie does more of what I would like- and Jim’s range of voices make it more entertaining- but then there’s sound effects, like a snorting noise, that I find unnecessary. All in all, I like both versions. Credit is due to Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Giesel, most of all for writing classic, timeless lyrics composed entirely of talking smack.
3. “Feliz Navidad” – José Feliciano
An attractive quality about Christmas songs is they are, more often than not, happy. “Feliz Navidad” neatly falls in this category. It’s very simply written: the repeated Spanish phrase, “feliz navidad”, means Merry Christmas, and the English part of the song is “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart”. There’s not much else to say as the song doesn’t try too hard; it ends up a fantastic listen by doing nothing but staying simple and true to the holiday spirit.
2. “Little St. Nick” – The Beach Boys
I don’t listen to The Beach Boys. I’ll listen to almost anything, but I’ve never had the time to go through their discography. If I needed a good reason however, “Little St. Nick” is among the best of them. I absolutely cannot get enough of the song: the singing, the music, the upbeat rhythm, the songwriting about Santa Clause and how it all meshes together. The only way I may sum it up is frankly, this song is the definition of cool.
1. “Christmas in Harlem” – Kanye West, Cyhi Da Prynce and Teyana Taylor
This is song is easily my favorite modern Christmas song, and for now of all time. Hit-Boy, who produced the song, transforms he music he samples, giving imagery of a proper Christmas night… I suppose in Harlem. Kanye West raps behind the persona of a family man, enjoying his family. Cyhi raps as Santa Clause, cleverly as to not sound corny. Teyana steals the show with her singing, and is really the key to not just the concept -Teyana is Harlem born and raised- but the execution of the classic Christmas feel. The key thing about the lyrics is the cleanness. There’s no cursing, no painfully obvious innuendoes that ruin the family-friendly orientation of the music and it’s no longer than it needs to be. This is all present however in the extended version, featuring other artists. It’s no surprise that when you buy the song, the more succinct version is the one that sells as a genuine single. All things considered, “Christmas in Harlem” is an intriguing Hip-Hop song that- like all the other songs on the list- reminds the listener of the meaning of the holidays: family, love, and thankfulness. Even if there aren’t any gifts, as long as loved ones are around, it’ll “feel like we’ve bought it all”
Shorter, succinct version: http://soundowl.com/track/7hg/kanye-west-christmas-in-harlem-ft-cyhi-da-prynce-teyana-taylor
Extended version with Big Sean, Pusha T, Vado, Cam’Ron and Jim Jones:
Happy Holidays Everyone!
–Kristopher Jordan-Taylor Johnson