I’m not a religious person, and I’m turned off by the commercialism and pageantry of the winter holiday season. But I adore holiday songs. I wait as long as I can to start listening to them, and then once Thanksgiving is past I put them in heavy rotation.
Not all holiday songs are created equal. Certain songs make me dance and sing along, and certain renditions of songs are vastly superior (in my almost-humble opinion). This December I’m going to count down for you my favorite holiday songs, in the versions I consider definitive — which don’t always match the popular consensus.
Will I mention your favorite song? Am I missing the one, vital tune that would make my winter solstice if only I heard it? Let’s find out.
I missed the first few days of the month, so I’ll cram several entries in today to catch up.
25. We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo (Big John Greer)
One of the first Christmas CDs I ever bought was Hipsters’ Holiday, which features jazz greats performing standards, semi-standards, and wacky stuff that’s awesome. It is hip and suave, sassy and sweet, and all that you could want to kick off your holiday season.
This is my desert island holiday CD, if such a thing is needed.
"We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo" is chock full of bongo and bass-driven Latin rhythms. It features these lyrics:
We like your tummy big and round.
Your kisses have got around.
Just want to see you mambo,
And we hope you won’t let us down.
Any time the insanity of gift-shopping and cookie-baking starts to cause all the muscles in your back to spasm, pop this tune in your player and feel your spine loosen right up.
24. Sleigh Ride (Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme)
Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, that lovely loungy couple, are still performing together after over 57 years in show biz. (Fun fact: Their son David Lawrence composed the score for High School Musical.)
I love their recording of this song, from their album That Holiday Feeling!, for the delightfully fake laughter and jingly bells, and for Steve and Eydie’s general charm. And dig Eydie’s hairstyle on the album cover!
It’s not Christmas until I hear this song.
UPDATE: In my family, Steve and Eydie’s album is one of the essentials of the season, but another — probably more important — is Johnny Mathis’s Merry Christmas. His version of "Sleigh Ride" would probably be called definitive by most people, and I’d have a hard time arguing with them.
23. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Henry Rollins)
Sometimes singing and dancing are not enough to restore the sanity you lost in the mall traffic. Sometimes you need to hear some gun shots and breaking glass. For these times, Henry Rollins’s spoken word rendition of this classic poem is your remedy.
As best I can tell, this gem is available only on the CD A Lump of Coal, which is out of print. Pick up a used copy (click the previous link).
Or listen to it here: "Twas the Night Before Christmas" performed by Henry Rollins.
Then go pick up a copy of A Lump of Coal, because all the other songs on the CD are awesome too, and everyone needs this awesomeness.
More to come! Remember to come back, every day until December 25, for the rest of the countdown.