One of the nice Thanksgiving traditions in my household (followed more, I think for Zan’s benefit than mine) is that it is officially the first day it’s OK to play Christmas music around the house/in the car.  As such, I spend a little bit of time browsing through my Christmas music, checking out the set lists I’ll be accompanying at church in the next month, and creating some play-lists for the car.

I also got to wondering what everyone else listens to in the way of music for this season in which we celebrate Christ’s birth (even though his actual birth date was more likely in September).  In that spirit, I’m sharing some of my favorite songs/albums in the hopes you’ll share yours with me (including links to check them out, if available).

YouTube Preview Image

Albums:

  1. Andrew Peterson: Behold the Lamb of God:  By far, this is my favorite Christmas album, and it’s the only one that is exempt from the “Only between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25″ rule (above).  BtLoG, itself, aside from a couple of instrumental pieces, is not traditional Christmas music, but is all set around the story of the coming of Jesus – from the birth of Moses, through the kings of Israel and the writings of Isaiah, and into the events told in the Gospels.  In many ways, the music is one continuous 45-minute work that builds and tells a story, building on the emotion and yearning of the people involved.  Andrew (and a number of Nashville musicians) travel each December, performing this piece, along with some of their own music.  If they’re stopping near you, I’d highly recommend them!  [If you're interested, you can also listen to the entire thing - legally - here.]
  2. The Chieftains: The Bells of Dublin: This is still a sentimental favorite of mine, as it was probably my first real foray into Irish music.  Again, this is an album that flows almost as a single, integrated work.  It has a number of traditional carols (both in English and Gaelic), along with a few new songs.  As is often the case with the Chieftains, they have a number of guest singers/performers.  My two favorites on the album are Burgess Meredith (yes, you read that correctly) narrating Don Oiche Ud I Mbeithil, and The Rebel Jesus with Van Morrison.  Probably the only out-of-place song on the album is The St. Stephen’s Day Murders (with guest composer/vocalist Elvis Costello) – about unpleasant family gatherings – but it makes me laugh every time I hear it, so all is forgiven!
  3. George Winston: December:  Even if you don’t know who George Winston is, chances are you’ve heard multiple songs from this album on TV, in movies or in stores during Christmas-time.  This was probably one of the first Christmas CD’s I ever owned.  It is all piano (no vocals), and it incredibly intricate (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed trying to pick out some of these songs on the piano).  While December (the month) always seems to be hectic at work and at home, when I play December, everything slows down – which is just perfect.  (PS: This is probably not ODM approved, as it kicked off Windham Hill records, which is the major publisher of “New Age” music – before “New Age” meant something bad.  In reality, it is just simple folk music with a pastoral feel to it.)
  4. Michael W. Smith: Christmas and Amy Grant: A Christmas Album: While I realize that MWS and Amy Grant have a gazillion Christmas albums, it seems, their first ones are still my favorites (though they probably date me).  Of all my Christmas albums, these two are so intertwined with where I was in life during the late eighties, that it’s hard to separate the music from the memories.  As a student at Milligan College in East Tennessee, Grant’s Tennessee Christmas, in particular, still takes me back to one of my favorite places on earth at my favorite time of year.  What’s more to like than that?
  5. Amy Grant, Art Garfunkel, Jimmy Webb: The Animals’ Christmas: Another one of my first Christmas CD purchases, The Animals’ Christmas (which is now out of print and only available for MP3 purchase) has a number of big name musicians providing a single-themed suite of music, all centered around animals experiencing the first Christmas.  I like this as a Christmas Eve album, both for the themes and the varied styles – particularly the children’s choir.  [One note - I am a Garfunkel fan, and Zan is not.  If you're in Zan's camp, you probably won't like the album.]

Songs (not in the above albums):

YouTube Preview Image
  1. U2: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home): A song from the Very Special Christmas album (the only really good album in the series, produced to support the Special Olympics), this is U2 like you’ve probably not heard them before, covering the 1960’s tune by Darlene Love (who – interesting side-note – played Danny Glover’s wife in the Lethal Weapon series).  This song is a “first week of December” song – loud, boisterous and soulful.  Listening to The Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton as back-up “ronettes” just makes it all the more fun… (see above)
  2. Bebo Norman: The Rebel Jesus: Bebo covers the Jackson Browne classic (IMO) better than Van’s original (which is on my #2 album, above) as Christmas music.  This is a song I’ve discussed in a full-length article, last year.   This one is on my favorite list precisely because both the message and the music are so stellar (and spot on).  As for Bebo vs. Browne?  Bebo’s version has a bit of a smooth edge to it (and is slightly more enunciated) – which fits more with Christmas music – and Browne’s is more edgy (which fits the other 11 months of the year).
  3. Casting Crowns: While You Were Sleeping: Another song I posted here last year, this song by Casting Crowns sets up a wonderful parallelism of the cluelessness of Bethlehem in 4 AD and the cluenessness of western civilization 2009 AD.  While I have a slight issue with the pre-mil view possibly portrayed in the final verse, it isn’t overburdening (and the political sentiments – in a Christmas song – are spot-on).  Great music, great lyrics – great song. (listen)
  4. Eden’s Bridge: Christmas is With Us Again: This song by the Irish Christian group, Eden’s Bridge, is a hauntingly beautiful song that intertwines the meaning of Christmas, the family, along with a blatant streak of anti-materialism.  While EB sounds a bit too much like Enya at times, Christmas is With Us Again lays on varied (and broader) instrumentation, and the message is key, so the vocals are not as interlaced as the more famous Irish singer.
  5. Rich Mullins: You Gotta Get Up (Christmas Song): I can’t have a “best” list w/o including Rich somewhere in the mix.  In this particular case, You Gotta Get Up makes me laugh for multiple reasons.  One of the times Rich was staying with us, right after he’d sold Praise to the Lord to Amy Grant, he talked about how he’d been asked to write a song for her Christmas album.  It was a song called Save Me (which did end up on his first album), that had pretty much nothing to do with Christmas – except that he had bells playing in the background.  Naturally, it was rejected by the producers (since they were looking for explicitly Christmas music), and I somwhere in there, Rich was ticked about it (more, I think that they were dictating the theme of a song for him to write, than their rejection of the song he’d written).   Years later, when he put You Gotta Get Up on Liturgy, Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band, I asked him if this was his mea culpa for Save Me.  He just laughed, and I’m still not sure if that was confirmation or denial – or purposely both.  Even so – this song makes me laugh – and cry, just a little bit – especially at the thought that someone would put the line “Save me from Soviet propagandists, Lord, save me from Washington, please save me” in a song intended for Christmas… (listen ‘gotta get up’) (listen ’save me’)

There you go, as far as mine are concerned.  What are your favorites, and why (as my HS English teacher always told me, the “whys” are always more interesting than the “whats”…)

  • Share/Bookmark
This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 at 3:11 pm and is filed under Music and Art, Original Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
+/- Collapse/Expand All

29 Comments(+Add)

1   pastorboy    http://www.crninfo.wordpress.com
December 2nd, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Let me to be the first to celebrate the wonderful revolution of music and arts promised by Brian McLaren that would happen through Emergent.

2   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
December 2nd, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Is it impossible to stay on-topic – even through the first reply? If you want to go off-topic, that’s why we’ve always got an Open Thread Friday post available…

3   pastorboy    http://www.crninfo.wordpress.com
December 2nd, 2009 at 4:53 pm

I cant name this as a favorite?
I mean I have been called an idiot and a liar, shouldn’t I remain in character?

4   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
December 2nd, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I believe I’ve been called a liar in the past as well (by Mr. Rosebrough) and an idiot (by Evan, and others). Welcome to the club. I’ve found, though, that the way to disprove what’s been said negatively about me is to prove them wrong over the long haul (even if I am an ignoramus in a specific circumstance)…

5   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
December 2nd, 2009 at 5:23 pm

I have more Christmas albums than I’m proud to admit. It’s hard for me to pick favorite, but I’ll take a shot.

For Christian albums, I would also put the Andrew Peterson one on top of my list. It’s amazing that he able to take the Christmas story and bring out all the feelings and tension at play in a new way.

Right now, I absolute love Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong. She’s not a Christian to my knowledge, but she sings some the old standards so beautifully that they put other people to shame. I also like the fact that her originals are more in the love song vein and simply not a Christmas-fied version of a silly pop song or worse yet another Christian pop song talking about how Mary felt (which I imagine in reality, was scared sh*tless…).

Another great album is Over the Rhine’s The Darkest Night of the Year. It has to be one of the darkest Christmas albums made, but it really capture the nostalgia of the season in a way that’s hard to describe. It’s like being in an old country church on Christmas Eve.

I’ll name a few others later on.

6   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
December 2nd, 2009 at 5:52 pm

In my opinio two songs are at the top.

O Holy Night

and

What child is this?

Off topic: Can anyone tell me the name of the hymn taht they play whae a presidential casket moves down the street? It a a deeply sad tune.

7   Eric    
December 2nd, 2009 at 6:04 pm

I have to second the U2 song (one of my favorites by them) and Rick’s opinion of “O Holy Night” (most any artist works for me). Being quite eclectic in my tastes, I have many that I like, but one of my favorite albums is 3 Ships by Jon Anderson of Yes fame. Different, but I like it (especially since there is a version of O Holy Night).

8   Eric    
December 2nd, 2009 at 6:07 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ak4-LX0Mqr0

9   pastorboy    http://www.crninfo.wordpress.com
December 2nd, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Another excellent offering

10   Scotty    http://scottysplace-scotty.blogspot.com/
December 2nd, 2009 at 9:24 pm

I guess I’ll be the humbug here. There isn’t a Christmas song in the house.

I’ve just never been into them, although being a muscian and having played in my share of “party” bands, I’ve played my share of ‘em.

Maybe that’s the rub I have…..can’t explain it.

11   Neil    
December 2nd, 2009 at 9:25 pm

I mean I have been called an idiot and a liar… – pastorboy

if you are referring to the other thread – it was “idiot OR liar” – but i suppose taking a longer view your original is correct.

12   Neil    
December 2nd, 2009 at 9:28 pm

from a purely theological pov – my favorite it Hark! The Harold Angels Sing.

from a musical pov i favor a peanuts theme and TSO.

13   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
December 2nd, 2009 at 9:30 pm

You pretty much can’t beat Aretha’s version of Joy to the World (warning to Baptists – may tempt you to dance).

14   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
December 2nd, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Scotty _ I do not celebrate Christmas, however next year we are going to put up lights and a manger etc. in September and see if our neighbors ask us why!

15   Cash    
December 3rd, 2009 at 1:21 am

I’m partial to Twisted Christmas by Twisted Sister. Some deep stuff there. I also like to listen to Ozzy Osbourne’s We Wish you a Metal X-mas on Christmas morning. Puts me in the right mood.

16   troy    http://www.sheepandgoats.blogspot.com
December 3rd, 2009 at 9:18 am

#9
I listened to the whole Bob Dylan Christmas CD on lala.com….just bizarre. And I’m kind of a Dylan fan.

17   Jerry    http://www.dongoldfish.wordpress.com
December 3rd, 2009 at 10:02 am

Chris L.

One year when I was still preaching I did a series at X-mas and at the end of each sermon I played some music. That song by Mullins is one that I played. I love that song just about any time of the year. I have always found it kind of ‘clunky’ but in a wonderful sort of way–a way that only Mullins could make a clunky song sound amazing (like when on the same album he talks about Mail Pouch posters and belching smoke stacks among other things; Legacy is by far my favorite Mullins record).

He had a way of taking words one might not expect to hear in a song and putting them there anyhow–as if to say, “Ha, I can sing that lyric in a song, make it rhyme, and make it beautiful.”

“Last night I heard reindeers on my roof. Well you may think I’m exaggerating but I swear I’m telling you the truth.”

There’s something about the song that makes me a bit misty eyed every time I listen to it. Maybe it’s that he managed to capture innocence in a way that catches me off guard. I remember those days of being so excited about waking up–everyday–for something; those days when being a kid mattered. Now we’re all grown up, as Chesterton wrote, and He is still younger than us.

Well, there I go…drifting off into that place I don’t want to go. There’s a big part of me that wishes I was ten again and waking up to see that new bike my folks bought for me and my brother–matching yellow bikes with banana seats. Oh what a day that was!

Great choice.

18   Scotty    http://scottysplace-scotty.blogspot.com/
December 3rd, 2009 at 10:56 am

#14
Or you could do like the people about five houses away from me, Rick, leave ‘em up year round! Although they do only turn them on during the season…

19   Neil    
December 3rd, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Scotty _ I do not celebrate Christmas, however next year we are going to put up lights and a manger etc. in September and see if our neighbors ask us why!

make sure you put the magi in the neighbors yard – since they didn’t show up until much later.

20   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
December 3rd, 2009 at 2:33 pm

As a father loves his children, so doI have affection for my weaker brethren who observe days and festivals and seasons, even days that never existed. I was once where you are.

But just so you know my own hypocrisy, I will buy a gift for each of my three grandchildren. I figure that makes me more of a hypocrite than anyone.

21   pastorboy    http://www.crninfo.wordpress.com
December 3rd, 2009 at 3:34 pm

The reason I posted those songs was a reflection of what Rick says in #20.

I love the old songs of the season (does that make me modernist?) the old Hymns, all the verses- like O come Emmanuel- that are theologically rich and can really be sung year round.

I also go with Jerry here, that really the modern Christmas celebration is so devoid of Christ and so focussed on spending and rushing around to different celebrations, whether they be church or employment or family related that we do not slow down to take a breath and realize the incredible truth of John 1:14 that the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us. He didn’t come as a mighty king, fully formed as an adult (though God could have done this) but as a helpless babe, born in humble circumstances, taking on flesh in the form of a microscopic egg to complete the entire human experience.

It is rare to get that whole theology and incredible truth in a little song, but I am touched year round when it does. The most modern song I like that reflects Christmas and returns me to the truth of the incarnation story is ‘Its about the Cross’ by gofish.

The celebration of Advent, a preparation of hearts for the arrival of the babe who was born to die is something we could ( or should ) celebrate year round. Like Rick, I have succumbed in a manner where we give gifts to our children at this time of year and we do get together with family and business associates. We focus on the needs of others around the world with offerings and gifts as well. But isn’t this something that would be better spread over a lifetime as believers rather than a few weeks at the end of the year? And what does that look like for those of us with wives, kids, grandkids, and congregations which have expectations of celebration around this part of the calendar?

22   Pastorboy    http://crninfo.wordpress.com
December 5th, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Oh come all ye faithful (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=De47fjH6RKY) is one of my favorites

23   Neil    
December 5th, 2009 at 12:15 pm

wow, pb, i’m not sure what to say…

24   Neil    
December 5th, 2009 at 12:26 pm

technically it’s more of an easter song, but i like this one. i watched them live when they performed on snl in november ‘79. i remember thinking they would mock the song… but as you see, they do not.

The Roches

25   Neil    
December 5th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

re “The Hallelujah Chorus:

course, in the middle of it handel advocated bringing the kingdom to this world- so i suppose he’s to emergent to be taken seriously.

26   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
December 5th, 2009 at 12:44 pm

And Dee Snider never did drugs, or drank, or even smoked. Wholesome! I actually like him outside his persona and I pray he will find Christ.

27   corey    
December 5th, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Phil, thanks for the suggestion on Over the Rhine’s Christmas album. I love them and hadn’t heard it, but with a bit of searching found you can listen to the whole album on their website – http://www.overtherhine.com/recordplayer/recordplayer.html

Also, Sufjan Stevens 5 disc set is the absolute best Christmas music around.

28   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
December 6th, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Corey,
That album, Snow Angels, is actually OtR’s second Christmas album – it’s very good as well, but I think I prefer the first one still. The Darkest Night of the Year is still available on their website.

29   Zan    
December 7th, 2009 at 11:04 am

Phil, I only have a couple OtR songs, but just got onto itunes, and listened to the clips for the Darkest Night, as well as the one Corey mentioned. I am REALLY tired of people just “redoing” traditional songs….(a whole other soapbox…they write beautiful original songs the rest of the year….why not Christmas???? anyway….) but these were eerily beautiful. I will definitely own a few of them by day’s end! Thanks! Next to check out Sufjan. I think that is why I love the Andrew Peterson album. It is so original and good year-round!