It’s been a long time since I’ve done any type of shuffle on this blog. Lots going on at a personal level. But even with all that, music is still my healing mechanism. Once Thanksgiving rolls around, I start getting into the holiday spirit. One of the first places I go to is to music. This year is no exception. This Christmas will hold many firsts for me. And I’m okay with that. So tonight, I am putting aside all the angst and rhetoric that goes along with this blog and focusing on music. Songs from my earliest memories to the present day. I’ll do a “read more” thing for this one because it is long and I understand Christmas music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
“Christmas Eve”, Gwen Stefani- This is a new 2017 Christmas song. From Stefani’s recent Christmas album. The holidays can get lonely at times. Especially when we’ve lost those who are dear to us. I lost three this year, all within about a week. It has been tougher than I realize. Each one came from a different aspect of my life which spread the grief. I know all three of them are in better places now. I pray they will watch over those who cared about them and give them some joy this Christmas.
“Little Altar Boy”, Andy Williams- I can’t remember a time when I didn’t listen to Christmas songs by Andy Williams. My mother played him all the time during the holidays. For me, it is just a part of Christmas, as essential as a Christmas tree or a Nativity set.
“Christmas Song”, Dave Matthews- In 1997, “A Very Special Christmas 3” came out. This compilation album of different artists singing holiday tunes reminds me of a time when I felt very alone. I moved back from Sweden earlier that year and for the longest time I had to put on that brave face. The weight of my decision hit me like a ton of bricks that Christmas season. The weight of it almost buried me but with the help of friends I was able to rise above it.
“I Believe In Father Christmas”, Greg Lake- Santa Claus. The guy always stymied me. I knew he was real from the moment I first heard of him. How could he not be? In the off-chance children are reading this, I won’t go into details of the origin of Santa. I believe Christmas has become this obscene commercial thing based more on Santa than the true meaning, the birth of Jesus Christ.
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, Oxford St. Peter’s Choir- Back in 2010, Amazon offered a free download called “The 99 Most Essential Christmas Masterpieces”. It is a beautiful album filled with orchestral and choir pieces. I remember as a child playing this song on the piano and singing it. “Oh tidings of comfort and joy.” Perhaps it was my religious upbringing that made me appreciate Christmas. But I have always believed the meaning of Christmas has been lost to far too many.
“2000 Miles”, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones- The Pretenders did it great. The Bosstones took it and ran away with it. We all have people in our lives we miss and wish we could spend time with. Distance can be a cruel beast. “I’ll think of you wherever I go.”
“Step Into Christmas”, Elton John- This is a funny song. Some years I hate it and others I love it. Kind of like that Paul McCartney tune. Both probably came out around the same time. I like the Elton song better than the Paul song. Just my personal taste.
“Some Children See Him”, George Winston- I’m going to start this off by saying George Winston is one of the best pianists ever. My favorite album of his is “December”. If you celebrate Christmas, you most likely know a lot of the songs. But the way George plays them is superb. He chooses the right moments to hold a key and when to just have silence. For me, Christmas is always about the kids. The joy and wonder of it all. I do my best to teach my son what it’s all about. The birth of a child in a manger who was destined to save the world. For me, this isn’t just a matter of belief but also faith. It is the heart of this season. I’m okay with the rest of it at times as long as that birth is at the center of it all.
“Feliz Navidad”, Jose Feliciano- How many times have non-Spanish speaking people tried to sing this song and completely butchered it? This was a rather huge topic for me and a co-worker two weeks ago. It is one of those songs where people know parts of the main chorus but wing it on the rest. Always cracks me up! But I was very impressed with my co-worker when she asked an Hispanic co-worker for a translation of the rest of the words. He wrote down the lyrics for her. “Prospero año y felicidad” means Happy New Year and Happiness. Sing it Feliciano!
“Song For A Winter’s Night”, Sarah McLachlan- I love when we get a snowfall before Christmas. Going outside in the middle of the night as the snow falls. Everything is still and calm. Total peace and serenity. Most people are asleep. Christmas lights on around you. A time of healing and reflection.
“Gabriel’s Message”, Sting- Most people think of Christmas as the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. I look at what happened before as being integral to the whole story. When the angel Gabriel basically told Mary, “Look, you’re pregnant even though you have never been with a man. Your baby is going to grow up and perform miracles and teach the world about forgiveness. By the way, he is the Son of God.” I can’t imagine what that must have been like for Mary. And what would she tell Joseph? Would he understand the whole “most highly favored” thing? Would she lose him?
“Christmas Is Now Drawing Near”, Steve Winwood- another track from the 1997 masterpiece. The lyrics say it all: “So proud and lofty do some people go, dressing themselves like players in the show. They patch and paint and dress with idle stuff, as if God had not made them fine enough.”
“O Come All Ye Faithful”, Bobby Darin- I remember going to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It seemed like every church sang this song. Due to work and home stuff, I haven’t been to midnight mass in over ten years. That is going to change this year. I want to come and adore him, and this year I will be doing that by celebrating his birth in the oldest way I remember.
“The Heart Of Christmas”, Matthew West- If you are sensing an overall theme with these songs, you would be right. “I wish we could slow down and remember the meaning of it all.” Being less affluent than I’ve been during prior Christmas seasons (translation: I’m poor), I’ve learned to reflect more this year on the heart of Christmas. Hearing kids sing Christmas songs at the Dover tree lighting, singing Christmas carols on The Green in Dover a week later, making sure my house was decorated by December 1st to give my son some holiday comfort during a huge transition year for him, and doing what I can to help those in need. I got sidetracked by recent political events, a health issue for myself, and the three recent deaths I wrote about. But, as shown by this very article, I’m back in the holiday spirit!
“Christmas, Please Come Home”, U2 and Darlene Love- I don’t usually write about the same song sung by two different musical artists, but I had to with this one. For the longest time I thought this was a U2 original. I only recently heard the original Darlene Love version from 1963. No matter which of them sing it, both sing it with all they have. A Christmas classic!
“The Little Drummer Boy”, Harry Simeone Chorale- Growing up when I did, many from my generation have a favorite Christmas special or cartoon. For me, it has always been “The Little Drummer Boy”. Like many songs and Christmas stories, they didn’t actually happen. The intent is to capture the true meaning of Christmas. In this story, a poor orphaned boy hears about the new King by The Three Wise Men. In the animated special, we learn the boy was a slave and he was very angry. As he plays his drums for the Baby Jesus, his heart warms and he cries tears of joy. His heart becomes alive again. His gift was one from the heart which is more valuable than any gift in the world. Makes me cry every single time I see it.
“Blue Christmas”, The Lumineers- Nobody likes to be sad. Especially during the holidays. If you see someone who looks lost, lonely, or sad reach out to them. Let them know you understand how they feel. If you can afford it and have the time, buy them a cup of coffee and sit down with them. You never know, it could save someone. It could also give you a friendship you never counted on.
“The Season’s Upon Us”, The Dropkick Murphys- I love this song because of how real it is. “If you think your family is messed up, you should see mine.” While the song talks about dysfunctional families during the holidays, it is a reality for many. Only a Celtic punk band from Boston could rhyme certain words like this!
“The Cat Song”, Meryn Cadell- By far, the MOST depressing Christmas song ever. I bought a Canadian Christmas song compilation back in 2002 or so. This little gem was on there. I appreciate the spirit behind the song about helping others, but this is just too much. Especially if you own or owned cats. Enough said!
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, The Pretenders- I purposely didn’t include their version of “2000 Miles” because I knew this would come up. By far my favorite version of this song. “Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more.” Sing it Chrissy!
“Christmas Is The Time To Say ‘I Love You'”, Billy Squier- probably one of my favorite songs from the early 80s rocker! Perfect bar song. Get the whole bar singing it. I did that once back in my younger days. Fun times! What’s the point of Christmas songs if you can’t sing it and sing ’em loud!
“Christmas Canon”, Trans-Siberian Orchestra- this has grown to be one of my favorite of the “modern” Christmas songs. Mixing the classical masterpiece of The Pachelbel Canon into a Christmas song was a stroke of genius. The Pachelbel holds many special memories for me throughout my limited time on this planet. Some of those memories I’ve struggled with over the past year. But I made peace with those memories and recognize the beauty of those moments. Christmas is a time of birth and hope. Nothing says that more than making peace with yourself as well as others.
“Silent Night”, Stevie Nicks- from the first “A Very Special Christmas” album, the singer from Fleetwood Mac sang her heart out on this song and it shows. As a parent, one of my favorite baby memories of my son was watching him sleep at night. All snuggled up in his crib. I still do this at times. I always check in on him when he goes to sleep and in the morning before I leave for work. I say a silent prayer that in sleep he is at peace and knows how much he is loved.
“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, John Lennon- I miss John Lennon. I sometimes think about the true loss we lost on that cold December night 37 years ago. What would he say about the things we fight about these days? How would he view social media? What would he think about the wars fought since his death? Lennon made us all think about the things dancing around the surface. “So this is Christmas, what have we done?”
“The Holly And The Ivy”, George Winston- for me, Christmas decorations are more than just red, green and twinkling things. They are symbols of my childhood. They are the lights and the things that made Christmas so special for me. It is a star on top of the tree symbolizing the star that led many to the birth of a savior in a dusty old manger. It is Charles Dickens’ characters singing Christmas Carols to the people. It is the candles lighting the way in the darkness. It is a feeling of joy and comfort.
“Christmas Lights”, Coldplay- I’ve lived in Dover for over 13 years now. I love going into downtown Dover during the holidays and seeing the lights up and down Loockerman St. The peace sign on The Green. It is a beautiful thing. I love this town, despite its many faults. It is my home. I may be in a different house, but make no mistake, this is my home. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
“Christmas Mashup In The Christmas Live Lounge”, Bastille- I found this one a few years ago. It was the first Christmas without my mom. She passed earlier that year. I listened to Bastille a lot that summer after she died so it was only fitting that I found this rare gem during the season that always made me think of her. She loved “O Holy Night” and I’m pretty sure she would have enjoyed Bastille lead singer Dan Smith’s sweeping version of this song. Besides the memories of her, any song that can successfully mix “O Holy Night”, “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, “Last Christmas”, “Driving Home For Christmas”, and a song about Mr. Hanky from “South Park” is a keeper for me!
“Do They Know It’s Christmas”, Band Aid- Consistently, year after year, I listen to the heck out of this song. On its own merit, it is true 80s synth-pop. But for me, it holds a ton of memories. Some of my favorite bands and singers, getting together to raise money for the starving children in Ethiopia. The birth of the “rock for charity” movement that created “Live Aid”, “USA For Africa”, and many of the famous concerts of the 1980s to benefit those in need. I think about getting my first job at a comic store during December of 1984. Something I wanted for years but I wasn’t old enough. I think about spending time with my parents and brothers during those last Christmases as a family. I reflect on a power outage my junior year at Cabrini College during an ice storm. The cafeteria was closed for more than a day and several of us changed the lyrics of this song to “Feed Cabrini, let us know it’s dinnertime.” I think about Christmas Eve of 2004 driving to Acme to get groceries with my son Jacob in the back in his car seat. This song comes on the radio and it was very warm outside that year. I put the windows down and sang my heart out. I still remember other drivers looking at me and laughing. I didn’t care. Every year since 2014 I put a video of this song on my Facebook feed solely for Christina board member John Young because he hates and loathes this song with more passion that I’ve ever seen in any Christmas song hater. I get why he hates it but I emphatically and fundamentally disagree with his reasoning.
“A Holly Jolly Christmas”, Burl Ives- once upon a time Christmas didn’t begin for me until I saw the annual screening of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. I knew Rudolph wasn’t real and didn’t exist like the other reindeer in Santa’s pantheon, but I had to see him every single year. Christmas wasn’t the same without him. Then I grew up.
“Frosty The Snowman”, Jimmy Durante- after Rudolph, the next big Christmas tv show to see as a kid was Frosty The Snowman. If I remember correctly, Rudolph was always on CBS and Frosty on ABC. It was a huge event for a kid like me. We didn’t have VCRs or DVD players back then. We couldn’t just record it on our DVR and watch it when we wanted. It was on once a year and if you missed it, you were out of luck.
“Boots”, The Killers- This one came out in 2008 or 2009. It starts out with a scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life” where George Bailey is praying to God for help. Every year for over a decade, The Killers would release their annual Christmas song. I haven’t found one for this year. Out of all of them, this is my favorite. It is a simple song about growing up at Christmas. Snowball fights, mom in the kitchen, dad watching “It’s A Wonderful Life”. And the feeling of a child at Christmas, with all these things going on, feeling like everything is a beautiful wonder. Family, together. “Love was all around me.”
“Merry Christmas Eve”, Better Than Ezra- One of my all-time favorite Christmas Eves of all time. 1999. Even though my girlfriend at the time went to see family in Reno, it was a special day. I spent that morning hanging out with my friend Charlie wrapping Christmas presents. After that, I went to my parents house. Just hanging out. My maternal grandfather was there. No one decked out their house at Christmas more than my Mom did. I made dinner for everyone that night. A huge vat of beef stroganoff. That thing I struggled over two years earlier? I believe I finally made my peace with it that Christmas. Out of immense respect for that person, I won’t go into the details. But even though I hadn’t seen her in over two years, we emailed each other that Christmas. I understood things I hadn’t before and it gave me immense comfort. I learned to forgive myself, something I had to do in earlier situations and ever since with others. It allowed me to move on. Which I did, with all the zest and enthusiasm I could. The next day, my year old niece came over along with my brother and his wife. I remember it started snowing outside and I was holding her. We looked out the window as the snow fell. I don’t know why that Christmas Eve and Christmas stick out more than others, but it does.
“White Christmas”, Otis Redding- You want to talk about someone putting their soul into a song, Otis does it with so much raw power in his voice you feel like he is singing into your own soul. I first heard this during the film “Love Actually” (one of my favorite Christmas songs ever). Sorry Bing, but Otis took your masterpiece and created something far superb!
“Christmastime”, The Smashing Pumpkins- if you told me before 1997 one of my favorite Christmas songs of all-time would be by the Smashing Pumpkins I would have called you crazy. But lo and behold, they came out with this gem on the aforementioned “A Very Special Christmas 3” album. To me, there is something magical about bells in Christmas songs. I think in a lot of us, there is that little child still hoping and wishing for the day to come. It gets buried by all the chaos and life happenings during the season, but if you stop and listen to that inner child, it is still there. It may not be about the toys or presents, but about the love and feeling of togetherness.
“Aspenglow”, John Denver- This will be a long description of what this song means to me. John Denver came out with a Christmas album in 1983. My Mom, being one of the biggest John Denver fans on the planet, played this album non-stop that year. This song was the first song on the album. So guess what I heard all December that year? I didn’t appreciate it until I was older. After my Mom died in 2013, the next four Christmases were a big struggle for me. I just couldn’t get into that Christmas spirit no matter how hard I tried. I think, because my Mom had made it so special for me as a child, I attributed a lot of Christmas to her. When she passed, it didn’t hold the same meaning for me. I allowed myself to get distracted by other matters, especially education. I still remember Christmas Eve of 2015, just getting the Christmas tree up that day and only with the lights. But I made damn sure I got a post up that day about how the US DOE was writing threat letters to state DOEs about opt out. I would listen to all these songs but it seemed like a chore, an old habit. This year has been different though. It feels, in my heart, more like that Christmas spirit of old with a sprinkle of new attached to it. Maybe you have to lose everything you thought you wanted before you can appreciate what you need. For me, everything old is new again and I am enjoying it. But there are times where I just stop and appreciate the quiet and allow myself to feel what it’s all about.
I end this Christmas shuffle with what has become my favorite Christmas song of all-time…
“Fairytale of New York”, The Pogues and Kristy MacColl- Even though this song came out in November of 1987, it took me twenty-five years to discover it. A quarter of a century. For a Christmas song lover like me I don’t know how that is even possible, but it is what it is. This song is a ballad about a drunk and the woman he met in a bar. He is mean and nasty to her but he promised her a better life. He never delivered on his promise. It is about the hope of something new and how that collapses into a miserable reality for the two of them. For those listening to the song, it can very easily offend especially if you don’t know about some cultural differences between the US and the UK. In the song, the male narrator of the story calls his woman “an old slut on junk” while she responds he is “a scumbag a maggot, a cheap lousy faggot”. In the UK, faggot can mean something different from what it does here in America. Many refer to cigarettes in a slang term called “fag”. In Ireland, “faggot” can mean a lazy person. A controversial Christmas song about a couple who love each other immensely in the beginning and are ready to tear each others throats out by the end. There is no NYPD choir. But I view the song as a cautionary tale for youth. Making promises while drunk to a woman is never a wise thing to do. It isn’t right to promise someone the world and never deliver. That’s not what love is about at all. But I digress. There is a reason this song is the most-played Christmas song in the UK during the 21st Century. It’s a damn good song with a duet for the ages! Perhaps because it is one of the most unconventional Christmas songs ever written along with the perfect match of MacColl and Pogues’ lead singer Shane McGowan and an orchestra behind them with sweeping highs and lows is the reason why I love this song.