- JAMES TAYLOR: “Go Tell It on the Mountain”
- CELINE DION/KENNY LOGGINS/RAY CHARLES: “Come All Ye Faithful” / “Celebrate Me Home” / “Winter Wonderland”
- JOEY ALEXANDER: “O Come All Ye Faithful”
- JEFF BECK: “Amazing Grace”
- TAKE 5: “Amen” / EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER: “I Believe in Father Christmas”
- JACOB COLLIER: “I Saw Three Ships”
- DAVID GRISMAN: “Winter Wonderland”
- DIANA KRALL: “Jingle Bells”
- STEVE VAI: “Christmastime Is Here”
- MARK O’CONNOR: “Linus and Lucy”
- CHERISH THE LADIES: “On Christmas Night”
- ANNIE BROADWAY CAST: “Hard Knock Life” / MR. MAGOO: “The Lord’s Bright Blessing” / BING CROSBY: “Happy Holiday” / A CHRISTMAS CAROL CAST: “God Bless Us Every One”
- PACO DE LUCIA: “Concierto de Aranjuez” ( first movement)
- THE BEATLES: “The Beatles’ Christmas Record” (1963)
- THE MONKEES: “Unwrap You at Christmas”
- THE BAND: “Christmas Must Be Tonight (Alternate Version)”
- THE KINKS: “Father Christmas”
- JERRY GARCIA ACOUSTIC BAND: “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’”
- BRIAN WILSON: “The Christmas Song”
- BRIAN WILSON: “Christmas Time”
- COLDPLAY: “Christmas Lights”
- YOKO ONO/PLASTIC ONO BAND: “Listen the Snow Is Falling”
- ELVIS PRESLEY: “If I Get Home on Christmas Day”
- QUEEN: “Thank God It’s Christmas”
- ELTON JOHN: “Step Into Christmas”
- BEN KWELLER: “It Ain’t Christmas Yet”
- JETHRO TULL: “A Christmas Song”
- PAUL McCARTNEY: “The Christmas Song”
- THE BEACH BOYS: “Blue Christmas”
- JOHN & YOKO/THE PLASTIC ONO BAND with THE HARLEM COMMUNITY CHOIR: “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [with dialogue]
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John Stix’s Song Notes:
JAMES TAYLOR: “Go Tell It on the Mountain” Play this track
JT has done a good amount of Christmas music. Much of it is too slick for my taste. But this song is different. It sounds authentic to his style. It sounds like a James Taylor original.
CELINE DION: “Come All Ye Faithful” / KENNY LOGGINS: “Celebrate Me Home” / RAY CHARLES: “Winter Wonderland” Play this track
Celine Dion’s pure voice is perfect for classic Christmas tunes, especially if the arrangement is spare. Kenny Loggins and an acoustic piano get right to my heart. Some will say this song is sappy. It must be — it gets my sap flowing. Ray Charles gets to the joy of the song, and that’s where I want to be. Plus it swings.
JOEY ALEXANDER: “O Come All Ye Faithful” Play this track
Joey Alexander is one of those kid jazz savants who play like a master when their feet still swing from the piano bench. The age thing is most effective with a visual. But the music needs nothing extra to make itself known as the real thing. This man’s got it, even if he’s still just a kid. Let’s give the drummer some too.
JEFF BECK: “Amazing Grace” Play this track
A musician who knows the value of silence, Jeff has amazing grace.
TAKE 5: “Amen” / EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER: “I Believe in Father Christmas” Play this track
Take 5 do their acapella thing on the Impressions classic. Greg Lake and ELP have recorded “I Believe In Father Christmas” a few times. This (original) version with a choir is my favorite and one of the best Christmas songs to combine the “classic Christmas” feel with a rock pedigree. I did this segue on my Nakamichi cassette deck way back when. And these two songs together are a highlight for me every holiday season.
JACOB COLLIER: “I Saw Three Ships” Play this track
I’m late to the party with Jacob Collier. That just means that when I discovered him this year there was a lot of great music for me to catch up on. Jacob is a one-man band who plays all manner of instruments. It sounds to me like he’s got classical training, a jazz man’s love of improv and a rocker’s sense of adventure. On top of that, he is determined to bring his audience along for the ride. If you like this track there’s a ton more music of his to enjoy.
DAVID GRISMAN: “Winter Wonderland” Play this track
A swinging bluegrass take on a classic. Pull up a smile and stay for a while.
DIANA KRALL: “Jingle Bells” Play this track
I just realized how much I like a swinging Christmas song. So here we have a big band bash on a kid’s favorite holiday tune.
STEVE VAI: “Christmastime Is Here” Play this track
This Charlie Brown favorite is played by a guitar player who never left his inner kid behind. Steve Vai is my favorite fun guitarist. Listen up, doesn’t it sound like he is having fun? He always plays with a smile and a sense of surprise and wonder. I love this.
MARK O’CONNOR: “Linus and Lucy” Play this track
Some will say “White Christmas” or “The Christmas Song” are the top Christmas songs but I think “Linus and Lucy” is the ultimate song to usher in the holiday season. This version by Mark O’ Connor and family has an Americana twist, but that Vince Guaraldi/Charlie Brown Christmas spirit still sings on high.
CHERISH THE LADIES: “On Christmas Night” Play this track
My good buddy Mike Connelly was a music lover of the first degree. Among his deep dives were the Beatles, Irish music and Christmas songs. He had more Christmas music then anyone I know, and this was one of his favorite performances. Cherish the Ladies is a New York tri-state vocal group that Mike would follow around just as he went to every McCartney concert. As I was about to write about how much my wife also loves this song, she came into the room and again pronounced her love for it.
ANNIE BROADWAY CAST: “Hard Knock Life” / MR. MAGOO: “The Lord’s Bright Blessing” / BING CROSBY: “Happy Holiday” / A CHRISTMAS CAROL CAST: “God Bless Us Every One” Play this track
Kids singing on Broadway: it must be Annie. I am, as ever, a big fan of “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.” This song taken directly off the VHS tape always makes me cry. They are happy tears, as it brings me back to sitting in the living room and watching TV as a family. The Bing Crosby film “Holiday Inn” gave us “White Christmas” but this version of “Happy Holiday” is my preferred song from that movie. There are many versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and this one came from one of the yearly stage performances staged in NYC. This tune was the finale and just seemed to fit the mood of this segment.
PACO DE LUCIA: “Concierto de Aranjuez” ( first movement) Play this track
The Nutcracker is the go-to classical piece for the season. But why do they occupy this space alone? For me, the first movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez has always brought up visions of snow, wind and the movement in the night. I can easily see sugarplum faeries dancing to this. Why not? So I present you an alternative to The Nutcracker. The themes are easy to follow and repeated often. Let this music provide your visual imagination a palette on which to paint. Make up your own winter movie. On a more straight-up musical note, the adagio movement of this same concierto was the opening number in Miles Davis’ album Sketches of Spain. Chick Corea also uses the adagio movement as the introduction to his classic composition “Spain.”
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and go have fun — JS
Rock Stamberg’s Song Notes:
THE BEATLES: “The Beatles’ Christmas Record” (1963) Play this track
The first of the seven annual fans-only Christmas flexi-discs from the fabs. We’ll include more in our annual NHT Christmas podcasts, I’m sure.
THE MONKEES: “Unwrap You at Christmas” Play this track
Who’da guessed The Monkees would make two really, really good albums in two years? This song was written for them by Andy Partridge, late of XTC.
THE BAND: “Christmas Must Be Tonight (Alternate Version)” Play this track
Sometimes I’d rather play this one.
THE KINKS: “Father Christmas” Play this track
What’s to say? Just play.
JERRY GARCIA ACOUSTIC BAND: “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” Play this track
Pretty jaunty. Spot on, too.
BRIAN WILSON: “The Christmas Song” Play this track
From a Web-only download from the early 2000s, IIRC.
BRIAN WILSON: “Christmas Time” Play this track
An unreleased Christmas track from Brian’s ’80s/’90s collaborations with Andy Paley. Enjoy.
COLDPLAY: “Christmas Lights” Play this track
Evokes the holiday vibe big time.
YOKO ONO/PLASTIC ONO BAND: “Listen the Snow Is Falling” Play this track
This is sooo good. Put your preconceptions on the shelf for a minute.
ELVIS PRESLEY: “If I Get Home on Christmas Day” Play this track
After the schmaltzy intro Elvis and the band get down to a pretty good boil. I just love James Burton’s guitar licks throughout.
QUEEN: “Thank God It’s Christmas” Play this track
ELTON JOHN: “Step Into Christmas” Play this track
It’s not a perennial favorite for nothing. Vibe-y.
BEN KWELLER: “It Ain’t Christmas Yet” Play this track
Ben Kweller’s anticipatory and hard-rockin’ Yuletide salute. An under-the-radar Christmas treat.
JETHRO TULL: “A Christmas Song” Play this track
Another case of What Is There Left To Say?
PAUL McCARTNEY: “The Christmas Song” Play this track
Another long-gone download-only track, which was offered from Paul McCartney’s MPL Productions quite a while back. Nice.
THE BEACH BOYS: “Blue Christmas” Play this track
One of Brian Wilson’s best-ever Beach Boys performances.
JOHN & YOKO/THE PLASTIC ONO BAND with THE HARLEM COMMUNITY CHOIR: “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” [with dialogue] Play this track
A slightly longer take of the well-known green vinyl holiday staple. Can you hear where the extra time plays? LMK.
Happy Christmas everyone! — RS