December 14, 2005

Ransom's favourite Christmas songs

With a week and a half to go before Christmas, I decided it was time to get into the spirit of the season a little more than I have up to now. So I thought I'd do something completely unoriginal and get on the Christmas song bandwagon.

Here is my top 5 list of personal favourite Christmas tunes, in order of preference from least most favourite to most most favourite. Some I have included for the sake of the song itself; for others I have a marked preference for a particular rendition.

  • "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch": The high point of the old How the Grinch Stole Christmas television special is this signature tune, played as the Grinch slips through the Who village purloining their goodies. Boris Karloff was the voice of the Grinch, but veteran voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft was his singing voice.

    The charm of the song comes from the increasingly hyperbolic, mock-macabre woes piled upon the Grinch, from "You're as cuddly as a cactus / You're as charming as an eel" to "Your heart is full of unwashed socks / Your soul is full of gunk" to the superlative "Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable mangled up in tangled-up knots." Pure sing-along fun all the way through.

  • "How Great Our Joy": This song makes my list because it's a great one to sing, especially in parts, and especially the refrain. These days, it seems that this traditional German hymn is found more in medleys than on its own, and that's a shame.

  • "Jingle Bell Rock": Not just any version, but the one that appears on Point of Grace's A Christmas Story. I was out buying this album the day after I heard it for the first time, on the strengths of its jazzier numbers: "Jingle Bell Rock," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and a medley of "Let it Snow" and "Sleigh Ride." The entire album embodies the best things about Christmas music, but "Jingle Bell Rock" alone is worth the cost of the whole thing.

  • "Anthem for Christmas": With words by Gloria Gaither and music by Michael W. Smith, this anthem appears on the latter's 1987 album Christmas, and in at least three Christmas canatas I've participated in since 1998. So this is another one that slips in on the basis of its being a joy to perform. Also, I don't think Smitty gets the attention he deserves as a hymnodist.

    For the rest of the year, a less Christmassy version of this song appears on Steve Green's album The Mission, under the name "Anthem."

    And, the #1 song on Ransom's Christmas list is . . .

  • "For Unto Us a Child is Born": Handel's Messiah is properly an Easter oratorio, but with so much of its content being about the Christmas story, it gets a lot of play around Christmas. In fact, the first time I heard it in its entirety was a Christmastime performance. One local church even has an annual event in December, in conjunction with an amateur music society, where it invites the audience to join in, offering a number of rehearsals and a discount ticket price for singers. (I haven't participated yet, but I will if I can ever work up the courage to tackle Handel's score.)

    There are many beautiful choruses in Messiah, but this one is representative of all that is good and lovely about the oratorio.

Coming soon: The five Christmas songs I could use a lot less of.