Saturday, December 25, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 25: All Is Well (Michael W. Smith)

SONG: All Is Well
ARTIST: Michael W. Smith
ALBUM: Christmas
AVAILABILITY: Amazon ( CD | 2-pack | MP3 )

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 24: O Holy Night (Sufjan Stevens)

SONG: O Holy Night
ARTIST: Sufjan Stevens
ALBUM: Songs For Christmas, Vol. 3
AVAILABILITY: CD/MP3 (5-pack of EPs)

"O Holy Night" has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs, and I was excited when I heard that Sufjan Stevens did a version of it. But when I first heard it, I wasn't quite sure what to think. In fact, I was even a little offended. It seemed almost sacrilegiously low-effort and bizarre. But eventually it won me over with its down-to-Earth charm, and now I think it's one of the best arrangements there is. It actually represents the subject matter perfectly. Because people were anticipating the birth of a messiah for centuries; and when they were told that it finally happened, and it was just some poor people in a stable, and he wasn't even planning to overthrow the government or anything, they also couldn't help but wonder: "Is this it?" But it couldn't have happened any other way. And that's the feeling that this version of the song captures, for me. When all of the instruments finally come in for the final chorus, it gives me chills.

So yeah, I just proved that if you don't like Sufjan's version of this song you don't know the true meaning of Christmas. I win!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 23: White As Snow (U2)

SONG: White As Snow
ALBUM: No Line On The Horizon
AVAILABILITY: Amazon ( CD | Deluxe | Vinyl | MP3 )

This U2 song about a dying soldier is heavily based on "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel".

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 22: Greensleeves / What Child Is This (Kevin Max)

SONG: Greensleeves / What Child Is This
ARTIST: Kevin Max
ALBUM: Holy Night

Each of these two tracks would seem incomplete without its counterpart, so I included them both. Kevin Max's 2005 Christmas album adhered to traditional hymnal classics rather than songs about Santa Claus and stuff, but he even went so far as to include the medieval predecessor to "What Child Is This" in a brief, one-verse-one-chorus format. This gives him some leeway to double up on the "What Child" verses and choruses, lining them straight up instead of alternating between verse and chorus. It's thanks to this that we get my favorite moment on the album: the full-octave jump between verses 1 and 2. It demonstrates not only Kevin's amazing range, but that he sounds great at either end of it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 21: Flight Into Egypt (Phil Keaggy)

SONG: Nativity Suite part 3: Flight Into Egypt
ARTIST: Phil Keaggy (featuring the London Festival Orchestra)
ALBUM: Majesty & Wonder: An Instrumental Christmas

The soundtrack to a Christmas movie that doesn't exist. Well actually, I guess the movie probably does exist... well, you know what I mean.

Monday, December 20, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 20: Walking In The Air (Howard Blake)

SONG: Walking In The Air
ARTIST: Howard Blake
ALBUM: The Snowman
AVAILABILITY: Amazon Marketplace ( CD | MP3 )

"The Snowman" is an odd little animated short. It sort of came out of nowhere, adapting a children's book most people weren't particularly familiar with. And the animation isn't really "good" on a technical level (although it definitely works, stylistically). And it's mostly silent, and a little depressing. But the score, by relative unknown Howard Blake, is legendary, and this main theme is the epitome of haunting Christmas music.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 19: Evergreen (Switchfoot)

SONG: Evergreen
ARTIST: Switchfoot
ALBUM: Happy Christmas Vol. 2 (BEC) / Happy Christmas Vol. 4 (Tooth & Nail)
RELEASED: 1998 / 2005
AVAILABILITY: Amazon ( original CD compilation [discontinued?] | newer CD compilation | MP3 )

This Switchfoot rarity, available only on compilations, is one of the better "I've got the Christmas blues" type of songs out there. It starts off with the usual stuff about not feeling too great on Christmas, but then it employs the frequently-forgotten symbolism of a Christmas tree -- a tree that lives all year round, ironically enough -- to turn the singer's pity party into an object lesson about the holiday.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 18: Adoration (Newsboys)

SONG: Adoration
ARTIST: Newsboys
ALBUM: Adoration

Without really being advertised as a Christmas song, "Adoration" was quietly snuck onto the Newsboys' "worship" album of the same name. Although I would generally regard this phase of their career as a mistake, some really high-quality songs still came out of it, and this is one of the best new Christmas songs in ages. It's a little sad how much better it is than the so-called Newsboys Christmas album that recently came out, which is really just a Michael Tait Christmas album with an indistinguishable studio backup band... but I digress.

Friday, December 17, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 17: Take a Break, Guys! (The Brian Setzer Orchestra)

SONG: Take a Break, Guys!
ARTIST: The Brian Setzer Orchestra
ALBUM: Wolfgang's Big Night Out
AVAILABILITY: Amazon ( CD | MP3 | Greatest Hits CD/DVD )

Fulfilling the prophecy by Mr. Bean, this swingin' arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" (think about the title for a minute) first appeared on Setzer's classical music reinterpretation project, but it's also showed up on his Christmas compilations.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 16: Siberian Sleigh Ride (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)

SONG: Siberian Sleigh Ride
ARTIST: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
ALBUM: The Lost Christmas Eve
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (CD | MP3 | 3-pack)

This probably needs no introduction at this point; it's another good Trans-Siberian Orchestra instrumental.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 15: Winter Wonderland / Misty Mountain Hop (Fleming & John)

SONG: Winter Wonderland / Misty Mountain Hop
ARTIST: Fleming & John
ALBUM: (None)
RELEASED: I'm honestly not really sure

A little soon for another version of Winter Wonderland, you say?  Well, it's never too soon for more Fleming & John, especially since their particular version of the song sets it to the tune of Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop".  This also guarantees that it will never get any sort of mass distribution, as the Zep guys aren't exactly known for their lenient stance on copyright, so get it while you can!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 14: Emmanuel (Michael W. Smith)

SONG: Emmanuel
ARTIST: Michael W. Smith
ALBUM: Christmastime
AVAILABILITY: Amazon - ( CD | 2-pack | MP3 )

I don't like Michael W. Smith's second Christmas album nearly as much as the first, but it does have its moments.  This is one of them.

Monday, December 13, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 13: Wonderful Christmastime (Earthsuit

SONG: Wonderful Christmastime
ARTIST: Earthsuit
ALBUM: Happy Christmas vol. 3 (compilation)
AVAILABILITY: Amazon Marketplace (CD)

If you've ever found Paul McCartney's original arrangement of this song to be too cheesy or oddly disturbing, consider giving this one a shot.  It's by Earthsuit, the greatest failed band of all time, and even though it lacks many aspects of their trademark sound, they still brought the song to life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 12: The Nutcracker Suite (Brian Setzer Orchestra)

SONG: The Nutcracker Suite
ARTIST: The Brian Setzer Orchestra
ALBUM: Boogie Woogie Christmas
AVAILABILITY: Amazon ( CD | MP3 | Greatest Hits CD/DVD )

To me, Christmas and big band / jazz music have always gone together nicely for some reason.  So I was glad when Brian Setzer gave it a shot, even though making 2 Christmas albums and then a "Christmas Greatest Hits" was overkill.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 11: Winter Wonderland (Steve Taylor)

SONG: Winter Wonderland
ARTIST: Steve Taylor
ALBUM: Christmas (compilation)
AVAILABILITY: Amazon Marketplace (CD)

This full-on mariachi arrangement of "Winter Wonderland" is actually one of the first versions I can ever remember hearing, so to me, it's always just felt natural.  It's by Steve Taylor, the satirical pop singer/songwriter/producer best known as the guy who finally made the Newsboys good.  (WHERE ARE YOU NOW, STEVE?!)  He also produced Sixpence None The Richer's self-titled album, which included the mega-hit "Kiss Me."  Currently, he's working on the upcoming Blue Like Jazz movie.

Friday, December 10, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 10: Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time! (Sufjan Stevens)

SONG: Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!
ARTIST: Sufjan Stevens
ALBUM: Songs For Christmas, Vol. 4
AVAILABILITY: CD/MP3 (5-pack of EPs)

In contrast to the "What Child Is This?" I posted earlier, this is one of Sufjan's original Christmas songs, and it actually sounds more "modern" than most of his other work.  It's almost unheard-of for him to use an electric guitar riff as the main part of a song.  But it's Christmas time, so I guess anything can happen.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 8: Christmas Jazz (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)

SONG: Christmas Jazz (Good King Wenceslas)
ARTIST: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
ALBUM: The Lost Christmas Eve
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (CD | MP3 | 3-pack)

A bit different from the Trans-Sbierian Orchestra you may be used to; this is a very pleasant jazzed-up acoustic arrangement of everybody's favorite "I don't know what this means but it sounds nice" Christmas Carol, "Good King Wenceslas".

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 8: Carol of the Bells (Fleming & John)

SONG: Carol of the Bells
ARTIST: Fleming & John
ALBUM: (None)

Most lyrical versions of "Carol of the Bells" sound stupid.  Luckily, Fleming & John are incapable of sounding stupid.  They're the world's coolest married couple, with Fleming doing lead vocals and John Painter playing every instrument known to man.  I don't think this has been on any compilations, but it was made available on their web site a while ago.  Their 2 albums are well worth seeking out.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 7: Must Be Santa (Bob Dylan)

SONG: Must Be Santa
ARTIST: Bob Dylan
ALBUM: Christmas In The Heart
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (CD | Deluxe | Vinyl)

Last year, Bob Dylan confounded the world by releasing an album of completely straightforward, traditional arrangements of Christmas songs.  At least, they would be straightforward, but they're sung by 2009 Bob Dylan.  This is actually the least bizarre song of the bunch... and impossible to get out of your head.  You're welcome.

Monday, December 06, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 6: First Snow (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)

SONG: First Snow
ARTIST: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
ALBUM: Christmas Eve and Other Stories
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (CD | MP3 | 3-pack)

Modern, original Christmas instrumentals are hard to come by, but I think this shows that we could use more of them.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 5: The Little Drummer Boy (White Heart)

SONG: The Little Drummer Boy
ARTIST: White Heart
ALBUM: Christmas (compilation)
AVAILABILITY: Amazon Marketplace (CD)

And now for something completely '80s. "The Little Drummer Boy" has always been a hard song for me to take seriously what with the rum-pa-pum-pums and all that, so I think ramping the cheese factor up to 11 is actually the best thing to do with it. It's so '80s it hurts... but it hurts so good. "Me and my DRUUUUUUUUUM!"

Saturday, December 04, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 4: What Child Is This, Anyway? (Sufjan Stevens)

SONG: What Child Is This, Anyway?
ARTIST: Sufjan Stevens
ALBUM: Songs For Christmas, Vol. 2
AVAILABILITY: CD/MP3 (5-pack of EPs)

Sufjan originally recorded this (and the rest of his Christmas EPs) as a gift for his family & friends, which makes the production and overall quality pretty impressive. Despite the slightly irreverent title of this track, it's a very classy and haunting take on the traditional song, with the only major differences being an odd chord here and there. It takes on a trance-like, mystical feel. My favorite thing about it is probably the tone used on the guitar (or whatever instrument that is, you never know with him).  For some reason, it reminds me of the music that comes out of the speakers of those various terrible electronic Christmas decorations I've seen over the years, like electromagnetic skating rinks and animatronic choir boy dolls. And if that's not haunting, I don't know what is.

And uh, it also reminds me of the cave music from Yoshi's Island.

Friday, December 03, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 3: O Holy Night (Rebecca St. James)

SONG: O Holy Night
ARTIST: Rebecca St. James
ALBUM: Christmas

It takes guts to tamper so heavily with one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time, but in this case it definitely pays off. Not that there's anything wrong with the original, but after so many straightforward covers, a little change couldn't hurt. Rebecca's version manages to retain everything that's good about the original song despite being in a different time signature and having several different chords.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 2: Christmas Time (Is Here Again) - The Beatles

SONG: Christmas Time (Is Here Again)
ARTIST: The Beatles
ALBUM: Free As A Bird single, limited edition vinyls, bootlegs

As if The Beatles didn't already do everything there is to do as a band, they also recorded about an EP's worth of Christmas material.  By "material" I mean some quirky radio drama stuff and a couple of musical bits.  This here is their only full-fledged "Christmas song", though, but it's a good one.  If a tad repetitive.

Below, you will find a full-length, but lower-quality, recording.  The above edit is the B-side to the "Free As A Bird" single.  (Note that this long version seems to be from a slightly sped-up vinyl.)

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 1: Gloria (Michael W. Smith)

Hey guys, I feel like posting a bunch of Christmas music!  On Wednesday, December 1st, I hastily decided to find a Christmas song on YouTube and post it on Facebook before going to work.  Then I figured I could make this a regular thing.  So I've rounded up 25 Christmas songs "of interest" and I'm gonna post them and talk about them a little.  Sound good?  Okay!  Sound legal?  Partially!  This is all gonna be Rule Of YouTube, folks.

Essentially I guess this is a "list" of Christmas songs.  But don't think it means anything.  There's no theme here.  It's not THE BEST Christmas songs ever.  And it's not necessarily "the most underrated Christmas songs".  No. It's just 25 relatively non-redundant Christmas songs I feel like sharing, and I have a feeling everyone will find at least one thing they haven't heard before, or at least haven't heard in a while.  They're in no particular order other than what I think makes some sort of musical sense.

#1 is not necessarily what I wanted to lead off with, since it's pretty climactic, especially in its original context.  But I think I can work around it.

ARTIST: Michael W. Smith
ALBUM: Christmas
AVAILABILITY: Amazon - regular CD, 2-pack, MP3

As I mentioned earlier, this song is the climax of Michael W. Smith's 1989 Christmas album, which is probably the finest Christmas album ever recorded.  It's effective on its own, but it's even better when you've followed the whole orchestral suite, with the "Gloria" motif introduced in the first track and then paying off here, while also being combined with "Angels We Have Heard On High".  And even though you can probably guess that it came out in the '80s, it really doesn't sound that dated.

At the risk of "spoilers", this isn't this album's last appearance on the list.

Stay tuned for Day 2, which will be a few minutes from now!  And then Day 3, tomorrow.