Christmas is the best time of year. My parents did what they needed to make sure the three of us enjoyed the holidays. We had parties, friends, and lots of food. I remember scanning the night sky for Rudolph each year after we were sent to bed. My brothers and I never slept. I loved sneaking downstairs to spy on Santa as he placed the gifts. I'm not sure why my parents didn't treat every day like Christmas. Might've made their marriage easier.
My wife and I take great care to give our children the best Christmas possible, especially since (so often) we spend the holiday by ourselves. We've established plenty of traditions (brand new Christmas pajamas, my reading of A Visit from Saint Nicholas, an extra plate for the weary traveler are but a few). Our celebration is always punctuated by music, so I thought I'd share some of my favorite songs. The list won't include any traditional carols. Or anything by Elvis. That just wouldn't be fair.
"Buon Natale" by Nat King Cole. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I first heard this gem. I only knew his signature "Christmas Song" and ended up buying his album. His backup vocalist steals the track, but the entire song is festive and makes me think of our 2013 trip to Italy.
"Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas" by Burl Ives. What could be better than Big Daddy playing the most adorable snowman since Frosty? No Christmas song makes me think of my childhood more than this twangy folk song. We loved those Rankin/Bass animations. And I was definitely the Heat Miser to my big brother's Cold Miser.
"Go Tell It on the Mountain" by Andy Griffith. You might be surprised to know that this NC native and silly sitcom star recorded some great gospel music. I can listen to this one on repeat for the entire morning commute to work.
"Mele Kalikimaka" by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters. I love Bing Crosby's smooth baritone vocals and how they contrast with the angelic harmony of the Andrew Sisters. Plus, there's the pool scene in Christmas Vacation. Enough said.
"It Must've Been Ol' Santa Claus" by Harry Connick, Jr. This one deserves to be at the top of the list if I were ranking them in order. I'm not a big fan of Harry Connick, but this song has the drive of the best bluesy/jazzy numbers ever recorded for the holidays.
"Pretty Paper" by Roy Orbison. Elvis said he had the best voice in rock-n-roll. This song proves it. Written by Willie Nelson. An ode to the 50's (my favorite era) and downtown shoppers.
"That Spirit of Christmas" by Ray Charles. Another song inspired by Christmas Vacation. Brings me to tears every time I see Chevy Chase locked in the attic watching old movies. Jerry Lewis once said great comedians make you laugh. The best make you cry. So true.
"Christmas Bells" by Perry Como. Very Bing Crosby-inspired. Our first Christmas in NC, a custodian at the middle school recommended Perry Como. Here I was trying to impress him with my knowledge of all things black and bluesy, and he hits me with a white crooner. I had to laugh. But, he was right (no surprise). After Elvis, Bing, and Dino, Perry Como is my fourth favorite at Christmas.
"Christmas at Our House" by Lou Monte. I always knew "Pepino the Italian Mouse." My wife's Meemaw gave me Lou Monte's album for Christmas about fifteen years ago. Makes me think of the roll of scotch tape she wrapped up in my present. I still have it. I miss the days we spent with Alexis' family when we were young and first married.
"I Told Santa Claus"/"Christmas is a Special Day" by Fats Domino. Nobody rocks and rolls like the Fat Man. The album was produced as part of a throwback holiday collection that includes a Christmas album by Dion. Both are must-buys. Dion sings all the staples, so no specific ones make my list, but I love his version of "Silent Night," especially the ad-lib interlude about growing up in New York.
The Soul Christmas Album. I put this on the list because it's a collection that every bluesy music fan should own. All the greats are here. Otis Redding (his stirring, soulful cover of "White Christmas" is probably my favorite version of the song), Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Clarence Carter, Carla Thomas (daughter of Memphis legend Rufus Thomas), William Bell. Also has some stunning instrumentals by King Curtis and Booker T. and the MGs. You will listen with a smile the whole way through.
And that's what Christmas is all about for me. Giving happy gifts. I thank all my friends and family (especially my wife and children) for picking me up, not only around the holidays, but all year long.