12 Ways to Carry Ourselves to the End of 2020 (finally!)
In the category of "music calms the savage beast," a pivotal thing has happened to me this week. Well, one more pivotal thing in a year permanently branded by many pivotal things.
Call it hormonal, call it coronavirus-itis, call it Scrooge or Grinch behavior, call it a thin threshold of patience. Call it just plain tired after a tiring year. Whatever I choose to call it, the intensity of an already hectic time has been ramped up a notch. Even with the pandemic gutting an historically full social calendar and a subsequently shorter Christmas to-do list, I am plugged in, just with a shorter fuse.
Then on a long drive home from a long few days of being a dutiful daughter, a responsible realtor, and a not-so-handy homeowner, I rediscovered a familiar salve for my drained and dreadful disposition. A throwback, "catch all" playlist into which I had dumped many of my favorite Christmas songs and full albums (remember those??).
Festive...silly...moving...uplifting...nostalgic...brilliantly arranged or performed (or both)...and VERY singable in the car (as loud as I wanted).
So here's my list, and I've checked it twice.
Suggestions From My Collection To Yours
May these musical moments lift your soul, bless your heart, and immerse you in the season. Or offer you an escape as they did me, even if just for the length of the track, or the highway.
1) LUTHER VANDROSS - This Is Christmas
No one does smooth like Luther (Skinny Luther, at the time of this recording). The title song, This Is Christmas is a powerful, poetic and poignant tribute to the Baby Jesus. Luther knows just when to whisper and just when to boom it out. Come see the baby!! Good stuff. He left us too soon.
Mistletoe Jam...not sure why they put this somewhat irreverent song immediately following the powerful, poetic and poignant tribute to the Baby Jesus, but it's a fun one and will get you moving. And Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas feels like silk.
2) MARY J. BLIGE - A Mary Christmas
Yes, that Mary J. Blige. I never realized how incredible her voice is until I really listened to this album, accompanied by an orchestra.
It's all good! But if you like jazz, you'll especially enjoy Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Yes, the artist credited with marrying R & B with hip hop can basically sing the phone book. Her version of Mary Did You Know is also one of the most lovely I've heard.
3) 4 HIM - The Season of Love
Do You Hear What I Hear? is quite possibly my most favorite Christmas song ever, and this group's perfect harmony, syncopated song writing and passion for the subject matter will blow you away. Ignore the cheesy cover art and make sure you have it cranked when you get to the verse about what the king says to the people everywhere.
Strange Way to Save the World is the Bethlehem story told from Joseph's point of view and imagines his human take on what was happening in the manger. (Yes, he was there too.)
I have to call out The Little Drummer Boy for its pure story-telling value, if nothing else. It pierces me in the place that questions what I could possibly have to offer Jesus...and then answers this question in the sweetest, simplest way. 4 Him's version is especially well done, and many other great artists have made it come to life for me over time.
4) HARRY CONNICK, JR. - When My Heart Finds Christmas
This one made it into my collection because I just like him. Bonus! I also like the entire album. Judging purely from the cover photo, When Harry Finds Cool occurs sometime after this album was released in 1993. (wink) If you like him too, there are many more Christmas selections in his prolific repertoire to choose from, as well.
If I had to pick one song from this one, it would be I Pray on Christmas...I hope this is really how Harry prays, and I have a feeling it is. New Orleans jazz style, happy beat, and All Harry. Gotta love it.
Also Santa Claus...New Orleans jazz style, happy beat, and All Harry. Happy Ho Ho Ho to you! Harry's version of Ave Maria deserves mention...a prayer for all prayers and a beautiful balance to the Nola jive.
5) AMY GRANT - A Christmas Album
In 1983, it seemed nearly every co-ed on our sorority floor brought this album back from Thanksgiving break, so it played behind dorm room doors every day for the few short weeks left in the semester. Sweet memories.
Highlight...Emmanuel leading straight into a creative re-arrangement of O Little Town of Bethlehem (I always listen to them together).
My favorite seasonal church hymn is Angels We Have Heard on High (In Ex-Cel-sis Deeeeeoooooo). Amy's blend with A Mighty Fortress does it justice.
6) GEORGE WINSTON - December
Timeless, even the cover art. Best background music for a socially-distant, outdoor holiday dinner party or evening alone relaxing with a nice glass of wine after a long day of Internet shopping.
Carol of the Bells is my favorite...oh, how I wish I could play the piano like that...close your eyes as you listen and you will be transformed.
Side note: You've probably never heard of Jim Brickman, but if you're adding more relaxing piano solos to your world, you will enjoy his Joy To The World.
7) HANDEL'S MESSIAH - A Soulful Celebration
Not your grandpa's classical music. This unique, fresh composition won the 1992 Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album and the 1992 Dove Award for Contemporary Gospel Album of the Year. Brace yourself for multiple genres of African-American music including spirituals, blues, jazz, ragtime, big band, fusion, R&B, and hip-hop.
Check out Every Valley, in particular. Talk about making a joyful noise!!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Hallelujah Chorus/Worthy Is The Lamb medley by Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. I'm a big fan of this Grammy and Dove award winning, 300+ person choir from a pool of so much talent you have to audition to join. If this holiday classic-of-all-classics traditionally fills your heart, it will surely overflow from this rendition.
8) OLDIES BUT GOODIES
Did anyone else's grandmother have one of the "Great Songs of Christmas" records in the '60's? Sponsored by Goodyear (which seems weird now, right?), there was a "new" compilation released each year. Without it, I'm not sure I would have known of Steve Lawrence and Edyie Gorme, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis or Mahalia Jackson. And no one delivers O Holy Night like The Queen of Gospel, herself.
For two new structures to old school standards, check out Peggy Lee's Sleigh Ride and Frank Sinatra's Jingle Bells. I promise you will never ever forget how to spell "JINGLE."
Shows With Songs...Songs With Shows
9) A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
The beloved Peanuts characters and the melodic piano-centric score, along with the eternal metaphor of the "Charlie Brown tree," have so successfully cemented themselves into pop culture you almost forget they quote Luke verbatim. If the dance scene featuring its classic theme song doesn't put a pep in your step, you're even more of a Grinch than you think. (See cover image.)
I find it interesting this legendary piano instrumental could be played year round, but for some reason, it isn't. And if you're wondering what passing cars might have seen on I-75 as I was driving home and singing in the car that day, this image is probably pretty close.
10) RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER
In 1964 (a very good year), an animated show for kids was produced using this newfangled, innovative technology called "claymation." Decades later, it remains an icon for our generation. The annual early-December air date is the official kickoff of the holiday season for me.
Burl Ives as a snowman narrator in a plaid vest!! It doesn't get much better than that, except when he sings Have a Holly Jolly Christmas and then every time you hear it in the mall you think of him in this role. Hermey DOES want to be a dentist, and Bumbles DO bounce! It never gets old, even when I do. (OK...maybe I'm just a little obsessed...)
Two Not Really Christmas Songs Except For Sometimes
11) MY FAVORITE THINGS
According to billboard.com, the first time My Favorite Things became associated with Christmas was in 1961, when Julie Andrews performed the song on a Garry Moore TV holiday special – 4 years before she starred in the movie version of The Sound of Music. The original song was written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein in 1959 and sung by Mary Martin as Maria on Broadway, although Julie's version is undoubtably the most well known.
On my playlist, both Luther and Mary J. have each recorded their own fabulous versions. Which kind of makes me laugh, as I assume neither of them grew up eating schnitzel with noodles (nor did I).
The point is, when life brings you down, focus on things which lift you up. A timely (and timeless) message.
12) WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR
In this season where a star led the way and we celebrate love for all people, the lyrics to this song have a place. Attributed to Jimminy Cricket in Pinocchio and now the Disney theme song. Since Sister Mary J. included it on her Christmas album, and paired her pipes with those of none other than Barbra Streisand, it also now has a place on my list of faves.
When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires will come to you.
God Bless Us, Every One.