‘Twas two days after Christmas, and all through the land
Holiday music still played, all joyful, though bland.
If you know me well, you probably know I don’t like Christmas music. Maybe more than any other genre of pop music, our experiences and traditions shape what songs we put on once Black Friday starts. For me, a few years working in retail – with its crazed, often rude customers and non-stop cheery Christmas playlist – was enough to turn me off most of it. But I’m not being entirely truthful when I say I hate Christmas music. There are a few songs I need to listen to every year before it really feels like Christmas. Here they are, in no particular order.
Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Christmastime Is Here”
I listen to the whole soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas a few times every holiday season, and though “Skating” is a runner-up, “Christmastime Is Here” is my favorite. Like most people, I grew up on the Peanuts holiday specials, and Vince Guaraldi’s melancholy-tinged soundtrack grants the music an extra bit of nostalgia. What I love best about “Christmastime Is Here” is its unusual melody, which descends through a major triad. The song features a lot of major 7 chords (in this case, “major-major” seventh chords), which give you the feeling of wanting to linger. It’s different from most Christmas carols, which have more more predictable chords and ascending melodies: think of the first few notes of the choruses of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” or “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”.
Leroy Anderson, “Sleigh Ride”
When I was in college, the wind symphony played “Sleigh Ride” every year in the holiday concert. The one year that it didn’t show up on the program, a petition circulated throughout the band, but we were unsuccessful at getting it in the concert. I think every wind band person loves “Sleigh Ride” because it’s a fun, well-written song, and it has something for everyone. The percussion parts are great, of course (like the best whip part in history, first appearing here at 1:07), but everyone envies the low brass when the song slips inexplicably – and wonderfully – into a swing feel for one refrain (starting around 1:54). And of course, there’s the amusing horse whinny played by the trumpet at the end.
Bob Wells and Mel Tormé, “The Christmas Song”
I have memories of MTV doing a Christmas special on a sunny beach every year, and for some reason the perennially-cool Mel Tormé was always there with a digital keyboard to perform “The Christmas Song”. I love the laid-back nature of this one. I recently learned that Wells and Tormé wrote this one on a very hot summer day. Wells had jotted down some phrases like “Folks dressed up like eskimos” in an attempt to cool himself off. He and Tormé made it into a hit song in less than an hour.
Stevie Wonder, “What Christmas Means To Me”
This is one of the few songs I actually enjoyed from my days working in retail. I worked at Old Navy for a little while, and this was on the regular Christmas mix (along with some good Brian Setzer covers). Though it will always remind me of Polar Fleece, I like this one.
Mariah Carey, “All I Want For Christmas Is You”
Don’t judge. At least it gives me an excuse to link you to this amazingness. (h/t Tenley)