My Top Ten Christmas Songs
Dead Artists Edition, by Rich Paschall
Whenever I listen to holiday songs on the local Christmas music radio station, one fact becomes apparent to me. Almost all of the songs I hear are performed by artists who have gone on to that great holiday party in the sky. This is, of course, a nice way of saying they are dead. Nevertheless, we continue to listen to their songs year in and year out. In fact, some of these have been flying across the airwaves for many decades and there is no sign they will ever stop being played.
It is safe to say that all of these songs have been covered many times over. Any singer with staying power in the industry has a Christmas album. It is true that a few of these songs received great success from other artists, but there are certain versions of these holiday hits with the ability to live on long after the artist has gone. It is these well-remembered and honored songs that fill my playlist.
Your 8-track and cassette tape versions of these may have become tangled and broken, your records and CDs may have become scratched and broken, but you can still download and stream these hits because they are not going away. First I will offer up an honorable mention.
In 1977, David Bowie (1947-2016) was to appear on the Bing Crosby Christmas television special recorded in London. He was asked to sing Little Drummer Boy, but did not like the song and asked for something else. As a result, a counterpoint to the song called Peace on Earth was written for Bowie and Crosby sang Little Drummer Boy. We could simply say the rest is duet history, but that would not exactly be true. The now well-beloved version may have died away if not for the popularity of a bootleg recording. As a result, RCA released the song as a single in 1982. Sadly Crosby died after the show was recorded and before it was ever played for the public.
Now if you will put the yule log on the fire, get a glass of eggnog, and some Christmas cookies, we will present my top Christmas tunes from artists whose songs continue to echo down your decked halls.
10. Blue Christmas, Elvis Presley (1935-1977) The song was first recorded in 1948, but the 1957 recording by Elvis remains the most popular.
9. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Gene Autrey (1907-1998) The 1949 song hit number 1 on the charts.
8. A Holly Jolly Christmas, Burl Ives (1909-1995) The song was released in 1965 after being featured the previous year in the animated cartoon classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
7. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland (1922-1969) The tune was written for the 1944 film “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
6. Jingle Bell Rock, Bobby Helms (1933-1997) The 1957 “Rockabilly” sound was an immediate hit and eventually went gold for Helms.
5. Christmas Time Is Here, Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976) The jazz musician is best known for composing the score to 17 Peanuts animated television specials and a feature-length film. The first of these was A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965. Words to this jazz tune were provided by the Charlie Brown television producer, Lee Mendelson (1933-2008). The network, as well as the producers, thought the show was too depressing and predicted a failure with the public. It won an Emmy, a Peabody, and the love of generations of kids.
4. The Christmas Song, Nat “King” Cole (1919-1965) The tune was written by Bob Wells (1922-1998) and another will known singer, Mel Torme (1925-1999), in 1945. In June 1946 Cole recorded the song, then recorded it again in August with more instruments. The second version was released. There was a third recording, then a fourth in stereo in 1961. It is that last version you hear so much today. Torme also recorded The Christmas Song some years later, but it is the Nat King Cole version that is best remembered.
3. (There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays, Perry Como (1912-2001) The popular crooner recorded the song in 1954 and sang it for the next 40 years. “Mr. C” recorded it in stereo in 1959 and it is this version you probably hear today. Like many popular television variety stars of his era, Como continued holiday shows after his weekly TV shows ended. This video is from his 1969 Christmas special.
2. It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Andy Williams (1927-2012). Williams was another popular television crooner. The song was written in 1963 and recorded by Williams for his first Christmas album. It was used on his television show the same year and became a Christmas standard over time. It is one of the top 10 Christmas songs of all time. In this video, Williams appears to be singing along with the popular recording.
1. White Christmas, Bing Crosby (1903-1977) The Irving Berlin hit was apparently written for the movie Holiday Inn (no-telling with the prolific Mr. Berlin). Crosby first sang it on his radio show in 1941 but recorded it in 1942 for the Holiday Inn movie. It was recorded again in 1947 as the original master wore out from frequent use. The song appeared in two other movies and Crosby sang it for the rest of his life. This video is the final performance. He died soon after, doing what he liked best, playing golf.