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“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”

December 23, 2012

It’s only two days before Christmas and with Christmas comes the onslaught of secular and religious songs and hymns. I have no complaint about Christmas carols and hymns. In fact, some of the best religious music is Christmas music such as standouts like “Joy to the world”, “Silent Night”, “Angels we have heard on high” and “Oh Holy night” or “Hallelujah Chorus” by Handel which might be the best single song of the Baroque period. I suspect many of the rest of you feel the same way. And there is a good reason for this. During the Baroque and Classical and even Romantic periods most of the top-flight music was largely religious and produced by the greatest composers of all time such as Handel, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. Christmas carols were no exception with music from Mendelssohn “Hark the Herald” a prime example.  It is not surprising that Christmas hymns and carols were among the most popular songs of their era.

But when it comes to popular, secular Christmas songs, the sheer quantity of songs or versions of the same song over and over and over again, doesn’t translate into quality in most cases. In fact, it seems like every popular music artist has recorded a Christmas album, which can result in sheer nausea in many cases. Fortunately, there are a few exceptions to the rule. So here is my Top 10 list of popular secular Christmas songs:

#10- “The Twelve Days of Christmas” John Denver and the Muppets— I know the Twelve Days of Christmas is your classic VERY REPETITIVE Christmas song which has a chorus which repeats TWELVE times.  However, the Muppets version has to make you chuckle and that is enough to vault this song into The Braine Trust Top 10.

#9 – “Snoopy’s Christmas” -The Royal Guardsmen— Another light Christmas song with a continuation of the enjoyable Snoopy song series (I highly recommend you also listen to “Snoopy vs The Red Baron” and “The Return of the Red Baron”). And how many Christmas songs do you know where a guy with a bad German accent says to a dog “Merry Christmas, my friend”?

#8 – “Wonderful Christmastime” -Paul McCartney –I had to put a song on the list from one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever. However, I confess that my ulterior motive is that this song drives my wife crazy!

 

#7 -“Happy Xmas (The War is Over) ” -John Lennon–The best of the former  Beatles Christmas songs and one that doesn’t drive my wife crazy.

#6 – “Little Saint Nick” – The Beach Boys— This original Christmas song showcases the Beach Boys great harmonies. And that’s good enough for this Beach Boys fan!

#5-“Run Rudolph Run”- Chuck Berry— I always remember the time capsule that the U.S. sent into outer space on the Voyager Missions in the 1970s which included music from Mozart and Beethoven as well as “Johnny B Goode”, a few other songs and other spoken messages. Supposedly, this was our way of communicating in the event that there really was intelligent life out there. The joke goes that the very first message that came back to the earth from alien life was “Send More Chuck Berry!”

#4– “Silent Night” – The Temptations — this unique soulful rendition of Silent Night reminds me that I love this hymn whether it is sung by The Vienna Boys Choir or by the Temps. (This is definitely not a “secular” song, but it was recorded by a very popular group)

#3(a)–“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” – Bruce Springsteen- Only Springsteen could turn this into a  live rocker including a Clarence Clemons sax solo and Santa arriving at the end, and somehow pull it off.

#3(b) –“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”– Jackson 5- OK so I cheated and have two versions tied at #3. (However,it’s my list and I’ll do what I want to!).  This very spirited and enjoyable version makes it sound like Michael believes Santa is really coming. Given that he was around 12 at the time, he probably did.

#2–The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole– What a great voice he had! There hasn’t been anything close to this song for setting the Christmas mood since it was recorded in 1961.

#1–Sleigh Ride- The Ronettes – This is an outstanding version of a great Christmas song, a well-sung and happy song which is really hard to resist at Christmas. (Honorable mentions: “Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty the Snowman” also by Darlene Love and the Ronettes, with the same great Phil Spector production)

 

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Two obvious missing songs from this list: Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms and White Christmas by Bing Crosby. However, these are songs that I have heard so many times that I have tired of them. Maybe in a few years, I’ll change my mind.

Finally, I should note that there are several very good instrumental collections of holiday music ranging from Windham Hill “new age” jazz to the Boston Pops. A broader collection called Charlie Brown Holiday hits by the Vince Guraldi Trio (which is mostly jazz piano) is also excellent.

So enjoy the music, whatever your favorites are. And have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

From → Music 60s70s

3 Comments
  1. Jeff permalink

    Nice list…I’m right with you on #2. My dad was a big Nat King Cole fan, and I was
    listening to that song from an early point…thanx! JPL

  2. John permalink

    I applaud your pick of the Ronettes’s Sleigh Ride as the No. 1 Xmas song. Not necessarily because I think it’s the top song but because it’s representative of the absolutely BEST Xmas album of all time! Several songs from this spectacular Phil Spector album could interchangeably be my favorite – Frosty the Snowman by the Ronettes, Santa Claus is Coming to Town by the Crystals, Marshmallow World by Darlene Love, Winter Wonderland by Darlene, even Christmas by Darlene Love. And no, I was not on the legal team that defended the convicted felon, Phil Spector.

    Not to appear overly biased for Spector’s album, I would also mention Marshmallow World by Dean Martin. A great version of the song.

    Another ditto from me for Nat King Cole’s beautiful rendition of The Christmas Song although Johnny Mathis’s version is awfully good, too.

  3. I wished I owned that Spector album, just got a few of the songs off of ITunes. Maybe it’s time to get it for next Christmas season.

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