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Christmas Tunes that Strike the Right Note

Joey Kuhn | Tuesday, December 1, 2009

While I was shopping in the mall over break, I was saddened and sickened to see every store boasting a full Christmas display and blasting Yuletide tunes, a sign of how commercialized and ungodly Christmas has become. But now that Thanksgiving, the official starting flag for the holiday season, is in the rearview mirror, everybody should be ready to bust out the tidings of comfort and joy.
As such, here are a few Christmas music recommendations so that you’re not stuck listening to those same three Bing Crosby songs over and over again for the next month. Take your pick of genre; there’s something here for everybody (that’s the generosity of the Christmas spirit breaking through my hard exterior shell).

An Indie-Folk Christmas
For scenesters and hipsters of all kinds, and also for those who simply enjoy mellow acoustic music with unconventional instrumentation, Sufjan Stevens’s “Songs for Christmas” is the place to start. This is actually a five-disc collection of 42 songs, so there’s no shortage of listening material here. About half the songs are originals, and half are Christmas classics lovingly rearranged in typical Sufjan fashion. That means acoustic guitar, sugary-soft singing, exotic wind instruments whose names I can’t pronounce, and banjo. Lots of banjo. But it’s not annoying banjo; it’s just enough to give the songs a slight, folky twang. This collection is perfect for some chill background music while decorating a tree or snuggling with a special someone. Standout track: “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!”

An Arena Rock Christmas
If you think you haven’t heard the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, you’re probably wrong: Their song “Wizards in Winter” features in that Youtube video of the house whose Christmas lights are perfectly synchronized to music. If you’re still grasping for what they sound like, imagine that Queen and Metallica collaborated to produce a Christmas album. Crunching guitars and blazing solos are mixed in with some softer moments for good variety. They have come out with five full-length albums, three of which are Christmas albums. Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s epic take on holiday favorites can make any trip to the store for more eggnog seem like a wild Christmas adventure. Listen to “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” and you’ll see what I mean.

A Swingin’ Christmas
If you’re more of a flapper than a hipster or a headbanger, then you might enjoy Harry Connick, Jr.’s three Christmas albums. Although he is not exclusively a Christmas artist, Connick has become known for covering holiday favorites with a swinging rhythm section and a smooth, sultry voice. Like the others, his albums consist of both originals and classics, and his music ranges from bouncy to ballad. Listen to “(It Must Have Been Ol’) Santa Claus” and “Sleigh Ride.” Also on the jazz side, check out “Cool Yule” by Louis Armstrong and the Commanders, “Sugar Rum Cherry” by Duke Ellington and “Jingle Bells” by Diana Krall.

A Barenaked Christmas (and Hanukkah)
For those feeling a little bit racy this holiday season, try the Barenaked Ladies’ “Barenaked for the Holidays.” This album contains some of the most fun Christmas songs ever created, and if you like diversity, it has a few Hanukkah songs, too. Here you’ll find zany synthesizer renditions of some classics, more respectful and heartfelt renditions of others and some originals, too. Standout tracks are “Elf’s Lament” (feat. Michael Bublé) and “Auld Lang Syne.”

A Traditional Christmas
Of course, part of the charm of Christmas music is the comfort of hearing the same old songs year after year. Some of the biggies you definitely can’t afford to have missing from your collection: “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by Bruce Springsteen and Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock,” which is enshrined in our memories from the movie “Mean Girls.” Most of these can be obtained easily in one fell swoop by simply purchasing “Now That’s What I Call Christmas!”