Monday, December 22, 2008

Top 5 Christmas Songs

Well, 'tis the time of the season again when students put down their pencils and relax for a few weeks. What better time to re-establish a long-dormant blog with a festive-like post.

Much of the last month of my life was spent sitting in my designated studying room thumbing through notes in a vain attempt to understand Creditors' Remedies or staring blankly at an equally blank computer screen trying to write a 30-page opinion letter. To help pass the time, and in the spirit of the holidays, I listened to what amounted to be more than my share of Christmas music.

There are many opinions on Christmas music - some have an insatiable appetite for it; others are ready to string up their "White Christmas"-loving co-worker by December 2nd. I usually fall somewhere in the middle; however, this year, with a trip to Disneyland planned for the end of exams, listening to repetitive and largely inane music served to desensitize me to "It's a Small World" (which, incidentally, mixes in Christmas carols with its nauseating title song this time of year).

However, I did discover that in the morass of Christmas schlock 'n' roll out there, you might just find a few great songs. And, as such, I present my top 5 Christmas tunes:

#5: Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Carol of the Bells
OK, now, it would probably be fair to substitute any of TSO's Christmas instrumentals in this slot, but Carol of the Bells is probably the peak of their achievement. Alternating between timid and intense, this song is pretty evocative of the season to me - you get the stillness of the season mixed together with the chaos brought forth from a winter storm. Good to crank this out on a night when the snow is falling hard (which has happened often of late).

#4: Stevie Wonder - Someday at Christmas
A lot of people love John Lennon's "Happy Christmas" for its message, but I don't think it holds a candle to this gem from the artist formerly known as Stevland Hardaway Judkins. While Lennon's song brings you down with its subdued children's chorus, Stevie is filled with unbridled optimism and a fun rhythm as he sings:

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

That's good stuff.

#3: Bing Crosby - Do You Hear what I Hear?
To me, Bing Crosby's voice is the sound of Christmas. Whether he be hitting the climactic high note in "O Holy Night" or having a bit more fun in "Walking in a Winter Wonderland", it wouldn't be Christmas for me without hearing the grand old man sing. In "Do You Hear" he is at the height of his power, though. Get to the fourth verse - "the King to the people everywhere" - and just hear that voice boom. If Bing were King, the people would listen to what he said.

#2: Roger Miller - Old Toy Trains
Full disclosure on this song: the first version of it that I ever heard was by none other than Raffi. Yes, the same man responsible for "Banana Phone". However, as the years go by, one matures; tastes grow a little more refined; the Internet allows one to seek out the original version of songs. The man who made "King of the Road" famous wrote this song for his young son, and I think what I always enjoyed about it was that it was written for a male. Even though (as far as I remember) the Raffi version attempted to sanitize it ("little one" instead of "little boy"), the toys were trains and tracks, not dolls, or sugarplums, or anything girlish. A classic, even though it is laden with the now-unfortunate line "little boy toys coming from a sack." I can forgive that.

#1: David Bowie and Bing Crosby - Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy
From what I wrote earlier, you can tell that it takes a lot to bump Bing Crosby from the top of the hill of Christmas songs for me. That said, David Bowie owns the spotlight in this song. I realize that Ziggy only did the song because his mother would enjoy it, and he abandoned doing the "Drummer Boy" duet at the last minute in favour of the overlapping tunes, but whatever the backstory, it works, and it's magic. There really isn't much to "Peace on Earth" but Bowie gets every drop out of it. And with Bing in the background playing his best for Him (pa rum pa pum pum), the sum becomes greater than the parts. Top-notch all the way.

Tomorrow (or thereabouts): The bottom 5.