1st & 10 is a segment published on the 1st of each month featuring themed “Top 10” lists. Growing up, Sundays were for church and the Green Bay Packers, hence the name of this segment. Check out “Sunday’s Best” to discover the best new songs each week, and “Sunday’s Best – An Introduction” to get to know the inspiration behind this blog!
December 1st is a glorious day. It’s the day I can finally unplug my headphones, and listen to Christmas music in public without judgment. While there is no shortage of great Christmas music, there is also quite a lot of bad out there. December is simply not long enough to sift through the masses of holiday themed tunes to find the gems. As someone who begins humming carols in early October, I’ve bared through the horrid pop renditions of “O Holy Night,” and trudged through “The 12 Days of Christmas” while honing down my Christmas playlist. The following 10 songs are my favorites on that list:
No Christmas melody matches the fanfare of Andy Williams’ holiday classic. Each time it plays, I imagine the trumpets outside every Macy’s entrance coming to life, and every shopper dancing along. Parties, friends, glowing hearts, marshmallows, bells, everything wonderful about Christmas is packed into two and a half cheery minutes. Andy Williams’ clear voice rises above the pageantry to remind every listener how wonderful the holiday spirit truly can be.
While “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” employs a bright air to highlight everything great about December, “We Need a Little Christmas” uses the same brightness to disguise a darker message. December represents the encroachment of seasonal depression for many, and the holiday spirit is only a temporary relief from the gloomy days ahead. The song, originally sung on the Broadway show, Mame, captures the desperate need for something bright during December.
When the cast of Glee sings the relatable refrain, “For I’ve grown a little leaner/Grown a little colder/Grown a little sadder/Grown a little older,” they do so with clenched smiles. The show often felt like a desperate attempt to appeal to far too many demographics: millennials, moms, pre-teens, the entire LGBTQ community, etc. Fortunately, that desperation matches the song perfectly. The exhibited feeling, coupled with the cast’s amazing voices, earns “We Need a Little Christmas” the ninth spot on this list.
“All is calm. All is bright.” Strip away religion for a second, and think about “Silent Night” as a song about birth, rest, and hope – about a night you can remember where all was calm and all was bright. Whether you attain that type of calm through meditation, walks, yoga, prayer, cardio, or however else, we all know it’s a great (but rare) feeling. I think that’s why “Silent Night” has remained such an important song to me, even after I ceased being religious. The song’s essence is calm and bright, and acts as a necessary reminder to breathe. Frank Sinatra’s voice brightly and clearly portrays that essence.
“A Holly Jolly Christmas” is a two minute, melodic way to say, “Fuck it. Let’s party.” The writer, Johny Marks, is apparently just going around saying hi to everyone, and telling his friends to kiss girls for him. The line, “Somebody waits for you. Kiss her once for me,” is a bit weird, but it’s what makes the song so fantastic. It’s uninhibited fun. Also, “a cup of cheer” is still a great way to refer to alcohol. Burl Ives’ version appears at the end of “Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer,” a Christmas special that has only gotten more precious as the special effects have become more outdated.
If I was a teenager in 1963, this slot would belong to “Little St. Nick,” by the Beach Boys. 7 years later, I would’ve chosen “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” by the Jackson 5. If I was born in 1980, I may have picked Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” But I’m a product of my time, and I can’t leave out a song I catch myself singing absentmindedly year round.
“Mistletoe” is not a great song by any means. The line, “The wise men followed a star the way I followed my heart, and it led me to a miracle,” is one of the flimsiest excuses for a metaphor I’ve ever heard, and the word “shawty” was already outdated when the song was released in 2011. My high school self didn’t care about any of that, though. Instead, I cared about the image Justin Bieber created with the line, “I should be playin’ in the winter snow, but I’ma be under the mistletoe with you.” There is nothing more important to a self-absorbed high schooler than having a date to the high school party. Justin Bieber understood that. For that, he earns spot number 6.
Since I listen to Christmas music regularly starting in October, I get tired of many of the poppier tunes by December. Fortunately, songs like “Sleigh Ride” by Ella Fitzgerald exist when I need a break from J Biebs. The world has been hearing Ella Fitgerald’s voice for over 75 years, and hasn’t grown tired of it yet.
The Vince Guaraldi Trio does justice to the best Christmas special on TV with one of the best Christmas albums ever. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is my favorite background music throughout the year, but especially during the holidays. “O Tannenbaum,” “My Little Drum,” and “Skating” are all beautiful, but “What Child Is This” is special. It helps that “What Child Is This” is already a great song. Then, The Vince Guaraldi Trio embellishes it with enough piano runs and pauses to make it unique without detracting from the original melody.
Too many artists don’t seem to understand that “Silver Bells” is about Christmas in a bustling city. They slow the tune down to unreasonable tempos, try to add fluffy chorus voices, and extend every note too long. Not Stevie Wonder. He sings about the “busy sidewalks,” and the “shoppers rush(ing) home with their treasures” at a steady, determined pace. The point of the song is that even “above all this bustle you hear silver bells.” Though Christmas is hectic, little things like silver bells and people “meeting smile after smile” make it a magical time. “Silver Bells” manages to romanticize shopping malls and traffic, which is reason enough to place it in my top three.
This wouldn’t be a very exciting list if I just picked my ten favorite Pentatonix Christmas songs so I decided on just one. “Little Drummer Boy” ended up edging out “Carol of the Bells” for a few reasons:
- The a Cappella genre adds to the message of “Little Drummer Boy.” The song is about a poor boy whose only gift for Jesus is his drum playing, yet the gift is enough to make Jesus smile. A Cappella is about using the simplest instrument, one’s voice, to make people smile.
- The build-up to 2:34.
- Kevin Olusola’s spectacular vocal percussion.
Cozy, cool, and classic.
Well, there you go! The internet now has yet another ranking of Christmas music. Thanks for reading. Have a great December, and “although it’s been said many times many ways, merry Christmas to you.”