Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

The Gnome of Victory and Celebration is back after spending the last month at church with Pastor Sarah.

He needed it.

Now he's hoping everyone has a very merry Christmas. We've been truly blessed this year.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Great Christmas Music Project, Part 3: New York songs make the season magical

I’m declaring the giant Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center to be the official National Christmas Tree.

I know there’s one near the White House. It’s not an impressive tree.

But the majestic pine raising between 30 Rock and the skating rink is spectacular, and a New York holiday icon.

For the first time since we moved to Michigan, I was able to see the Rockefeller Center tree. It was on the back of a truck when I arrived early in the morning, and I watched crews set it in place later in the afternoon. What a thrill.

New York Christmases are special, and require special holiday songs. We’re continuing with the Great Christmas Music Project, where we assemble an iTunes playlist of the very best versions of each holiday song.

Our next section focuses on songs about Christmas in New York, or mention Christmas in New York, or was inspired by Christmas in New York.

Bonus points if you get a sense that the writer was actually in New York at some point, and not just reading a laundry list of New York landmarks. Don’t get me wrong, we love those, too.

This is part 3 of the project, and we’ll pick up where we left off, with the best version of traditional carols and chestnuts.

59) “New York Christmas” by Rob Thomas

Recorded to assist the Sidewalk Angels charity, this rocker became an instant classic. When Rob sings about gathering “around the big tree,” we know what he means.

60) “Skating With My Baby” by Orrin Hatch

That would be Sen. Orrin Hatch – of Utah. I know. I don’t get it either, other than to say that even people in Utah know Christmas in New York is extra special. The protagonist and his baby are skating in Rockefeller Center, of course, with all the appropriate references.

61) “Listen, the Snow is Falling” by Yoko Ono

A lot of people are going to stop dead in their tracks when they see Yoko’s name there. But this song – the B-side of “Happy X-mas (War is Over)” is beautiful, and even mentions the Empire State Building.

62)  “It’s a Big Country” by Davitt Sigerson

One of my all-time favorites. Sigerson lives in New York and seems to have recorded this as an audio Christmas card to his family, which is spread out across the country – Oklahoma, Los Angeles, Montana and Virginia all get mentioned.

“Got a niece down in Virginia. Hard to picture how she’s grown. It’s your uncle calling, angel. Can you put your momma on the phone?”

He ends with, “It’s a big country. Merry Christmas everybody. Just a word from me and Ann to say ‘We’re fine.’”

I get weepy. We’re spread out, too.

This is from an odd record. “A Christmas Record” is also known as the “The ZE Christmas Record” is a collection of the former ZE labels artists, and it’s not a very Christmasy bunch. But this is where I first was introduced to “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses.

And it also has our next song.

63) “Christmas on Riverside Drive” by August Darnell

The rest of the CD is hit or miss – and the misses really, really miss. But this was the only place to find “Christmas Wrapping” at first, and still seems to be the only place to get “It’s a Big Country,” which is essential to me.

64) “Xmas in New York” by the Rosebuds

I discovered this song only recently, like, this week, thanks to Stubby. I love it already. It’s kind of jazzy.

65) “Christmas in New York” by Annie Hecht

I discovered this one this year, too. It has a Broadway show quality to it.

66) “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-DMC

That’s right; Queens gets a Christmas song, too. Now it’s hard to tell whether Santa really did drop his wallet in the snow or the guys mugged him. Either way, Santa gets his “cold hundreds and Gs” back and we get a fun rap Christmas song – yet another from the classic first “Very Special Christmas” album.

67) “Christmas in New York” by the Christmas in New York Company

These are all different songs with the same title, just so you know. This is a production about Christmas in New York that is being performed in London. This proves that even people in the UK want to go to New York at Christmastime.

68) “Christmas in NYC” by Claudia Mikail

I've never heard of Claudia Mikail, but this is a perky song that name drops all the landmarks.

69) “Christmas in Manhattan” by 5 Chinese Brothers

Well, they’re not Chinese and they’re not brothers. Maybe they were inspired by the 1938 book. But this is a nice folksy song.

70) “NYC (On Christmas Eve)” by Matt Dawson

I confess I had not heard of Matt until I picked up this song. ITunes is great for uncovering these treasures.

71) “Christmas in New York” by Lou Christie

You know Lou from his 1966 hit “Lightning Strikes” and his ultra-high voice.

72) “Christmas in New York” by Joe Horowitz

An acoustic sing-along. “It’s Christmas in New York, where the people all over the world come home to us.”

73) “New York is a Christmas Kind of Town” by Marah

“Every subway stop is a jingle bell hop, every taxi cab is a sleigh.” That’s kind of cool.

74) “Silver Bells” by Relient K

OK, New York isn’t mention anywhere in the lyrics. But the composer said it is based on the silver bells ringing from the Salvation Army’s sidewalk Santas.

There are, of course, a million versions of this song. I like the Relient K version best. It’s got a pop rock feel to it, and bells, of course.

75) “NYC Christmas (1983 Demo#1)” by Nick Vallelonga

It’s a nice soft song with gentle acoustic guitars and bells, and a list of all the appropriate landmarks. He’s been to the city.

76) “Christmas in New York” by Shilelagh Law

The Irish folk band is billed as “New York’s Thirstiest,” and this song came after the September 11 attacks. I get a little weepy when it talks about the police and firefighters. Actually, I get a little weepy at a lot of Christmas songs. You may have noticed. My cousin Mike, a proud Irish New York police officer, sent me this song. I love it. Thanks, Mike!

77) “Christmas in New York” by Joe describes Joe as a “Georgia Cassanova” who mixes classic soul with hip-hop beats and gospel. That sounds about right!

78) “New York Christmas” by The Kings of Christmas

These guys sound like mid-career Chicago, and they mix in lyrics from “New York, New York (On the Town.)” It’s a heck of a town!

79) “New York City Christmas” by The Cover Girls

The urban dance-pop girl band shows Christmas can have a beat!

80) “New York in Wintertime” by Kara DioGuardi & Jason Reeves

81) “Brooklyn Sleigh Ride” by The Red Elephant

I found both of these on an iTunes release called “Gift Wrapped, Vol. II: Snowed In”  The collection is all over the place, but I ended up liking a surprising number of the songs – and it gets points for having two New York-themed songs.  These are both nice acoustic alt-rock songs.

82) “Christmas in the City” by Mary J. Blige and Angie Martinez

Not really much of a song here. It’s pretty much just a beat and Mary and Angie free-styling. At least I think they’re free-styling. I hope they are, because if they actually put time into these lyrics and wrote them down, I’m not real impressed.

83) “We Three Kings of Orient Are” by Miles Davis, Larry Carlton, David Sanborn and Paul Shaffer

OK, it’s not a New York song per se, but it’s from the “Scrooged” soundtrack and the movie is set in New York. The joke here is that these very famous and highly skilled musicians are street players. Bill Murray walks by and says something like “Oh look at this! Rip off the tourists, why don’t ya. Take some lessons!”
This one actually does sound like they got in the studio, jammed for a couple minutes and called it a day. 

And it still works.

Closing in on 100 songs on our best versions Christmas Project, and we’re not done yet!

Don't miss Part 1 and Part 2, and don't forget to share your thoughts in the comments. Any I missing anything?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: No joy in the state of Ohio -- or The Ohio State -- this week

Maybe the bar was lower for experiencing joy back in the day.

This week’s bad postcard is a holiday mystery for sure.

It’s called “Christmas Joys,” and we see Santa – pre Coca-Cola makeover – wrestling with a goose. He’s dropped his basket of bread in the snow, and his dog is all excited, no doubt agitating the already disgruntled goose, who has likely ascertained that he is the main course for the Christmas feast.

I see no joy on Santa’s face.

I see no joy on the goose’s face.

The dog is probably having fun, but I don’t think we’re supposed to see things from his perspective.

The back reads “Reproduced from the December Cover of Successful Farming, by permission of Successful Farming Pub. Co., Des Moines, Iowa.”

Not a ton of details there, though Successful Farming still seems to exist, at least in digital form.

Emma sent this gem to her sister Maryanne, who lived in Baltic, Ohio. Since she’s in Ohio, I suspect she’s not experiencing much joythis weekend. But on the bright side, they still have their couches.

The Great Christmas Music Project, Part 2: Searching for the best versions of carols and chestnuts

My iTunes has 18 versions of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” 15 versions of “The Christmas Song,” and a dozen versions each of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Away in a Manger.”

Many of them sound kind of the same. I like it better when a performer takes a Christmas carol or standard and adds a personal touch to make it stand out from all the other versions. I don’t want just another version of “Joy to the World,” I want to hear a version that stands out.

And I realize that there are plenty of versions of classics that stand out because they are horrible. That’s not what I’m talking about. I like a version that takes a standard, improves upon it and makes me want to listen again and again. The other, similar versions will still be there if I want to go back to the “same old, same old.”

All this comes into play as I continue to create the ultimate iPod playlist of the best versions of each holiday song. In part one, we talked about classics that have been covered by some or many people -- but not topping the original.

Now, a Christmas confession: I don’t like “Silent Night.”

I know. Shudder. I’ll get tossed out of the club for admitting such a thing.

Let me explain.

“Silent Night” can be a beautiful, simple song – especially when you know its history. The problem is that many artists pump it full of holiday hot air into some grandiose anthem. Stevie Nicks – whom I like – and Robbie Neville practically wrestle the song to the ground, strangle it and stomp on it for good measure on the first Very Special Christmas album.

In fact, few versions can compare to the typical candle-lit, a cappella version that is a moving and treasured part of the Christmas Eve service in my mother-in-law’s church. Way too many artists are more Stevie and less Good Shepherd.

So, part 2 of our Christmas Music Project will focus on the best versions of songs that have been standards for decades – more than a hundred years in some cases. The numbering picks up from the last post.

26)  “Silent Night/Away in a Manger/I Celebrate the Day” by Relient K

I know this is coming: “Hey, you just went on and on about how you don’t like ‘Silent Night,’ and it’s right here at the top of the list?’ What gives?”

True. This version is part of a medley and it starts with just Matt Thiessen’s voice and piano, two very simply performed songs about the birth in the manger before sliding into a very personal original song that talks of the impact of the momentous events in the manger, with the full band joining it. There are bells and chimes and wonderful, thoughtful lyrics:

“And the first time, that you opened your eyes did you realize you would be my savior? And the first breath that left your lips, did you know that it would change the world forever?”

27) “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by The Pretenders

There’s an interesting back story to this song, and I think The Pretenders nailed it. It’s supposed to be a sad song, and Chrissie Hyde and friends offer a slow, sparse and lilting version on the first Very Special Christmas album, which, despite Stevie’s wrestling and the worst Bon Jovi song ever, is one the very best Christmas albums of all time.

The song is from the Judy Garland film “Meet me in St. Louis,” and the family is bummed that they have to move from St. Louis to New York.  I get it. It’s tough to uproot and I do love St. Louis, even though the glorious Arch is decades away at this point. I wish there could have been a sequel, where Garland and crew realize that New York is EVEN BETTER and they lived happily ever after, especially starting in 1962 when they had the Mets to root for.

But I digress. The original was, in fact, kind of depressing, and Frank Sinatra had the line “we’ll have to muddle through somehow” changed to “hang a shining star atop the highest bough.” You can find many recordings with either verse.

But, here’s something I recently learned. We’ve heard for years the line, “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.”

I’ve heard some of my favorite Christian bands change that line to “if the Lord allows.” Turns out, that’s the way the song was written, and it was changed for the movie.

Anyway, The Pretenders capture it best, especially if you can find an early version of the CD, which has children talking before the song starts.

Bebo Norman nails it, too. I sneak his version into the playlist too and hope no one notices a repeated song.
We won’t be as long winded with the rest of the songs, I promise. But this portion of the list requires a little more explaination.

28) “The First Noel” by David Crowder*Band

Crowder’s a quirky guy, and does nothing the way you would expect. His “Oh, For Joy” release is a classic, in part because you never know where he’s going or how it will end up.

“Noel” starts simply with voice, guitar and drum tapping steadily like a metronome. Additional instruments slip into the mix, and Crowder adds new lyrics, building to a crescendo. It’s magnificent.

29) "Jingle Bells" by the Singing Dogs

Yeah, I know. But it’s still the most fun version. And the names of the dogs were Dolly, Pearl, Caesar, and King. True stuff.

30) “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Elvis Presley

Gene Autry wrote it, recorded it and first made it a hit, but Elvis’ version is wonderful. It’s right in The King’s wheel house.

There are actually some very religious lyrics in here, which is rare for a Santa-based song.

“Peace on Earth will come to all if we just follow the light. So let’s give thanks to the Lord above, ‘cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

Clockhammer has a wonderful version on the surprisingly essential "A Lump of Coal" CD.

31) “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley

Sticking with The King. The song was around for nearly a decade before Elvis made it his own. Truth be told, Robert Gordon out-kings The King on his version. A bolder person would include that version. But since he’s openly channeling Elvis, it doesn’t seem right.

32)  “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen

The song was already a standard when Bruce recorded this live version at C.W. Post, but it’s his song now. We’re even seeing others use his arrangement.

33) “Run Rudolph Run” by Keith Richards

Chuck Berry wrote it and made it a classic. But I love Keith’s loose and sloppy version.

34) “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” by Carrie Underwood

This has sort of a rolling piano lead that showcases Carrie’s beautiful voice. Most of the Very Special Christmas CDs are uneven, as you would expect from various artist releases. But No. 7 leaves me very cold – expect for this song. Confession: I keep this one on the iPod all year long.

35) “What Child is this?” by Raze

A very soulful version that we stumbled upon.

36) “I’ve Got my Love to Keep Me Warm” by Dean Martin.

 Lots of people have covered this Irving Berlin song that is more about winter than Christmas, but Dean croons it like he owns it.

37) “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful” by Twisted Sister

I’m unapologetic about this. This version, set to the music of “We’re Not Gonna Take it” is brilliant and fun. True story: I was in Best Buy once and this song came over the sound system. I looked around and it seemed like everyone’s head was bobbing to the music.

Dee gets points for not backing away from a very religious song. It’s easy to fill a CD with secular standards.
“A Twisted Christmas” is actually a very, very good CD, especially for long-time fans who can pick out music from other TS classics like “Rock and Roll Savior” used as the foundation for carols. “Silver Bells” and “Let it Snow” also are standouts.

For an awesome version that still rocks hard, but not quite as hard, check out Third Day’s rendition.

38) “Sleigh Ride” by the Ronettes

One of the highlights from the classic and essential Phil Spector Christmas CD.

39) “Christmas Bells” by John Gorka

Almost always listed as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” Gorka’s version appears on Windham Hill’s A Winter Solstice III. He’s rearranged it, and it’s just John and a guitar, which makes it easy to focus on the lyrics.
I confess I get choked up every time I hear Gorka sing: “And in despair I bowed my head, ‘There is no peace on Earth,’ I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song, of ‘Peace on Earth, good will to men.’ Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor does he sleep.”

True fact: The song is based on an 1863 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Times change, but maybe not as much as we think they do.

40) “Gloria” by Michael W. Smith

While Gorka song is sparse, Smith’s reworking of “Angels We Have Heard on High” is effectively bombastic. We get the kitchen sink here, with swelling choirs orchestras, rock guitars, soaring vocals. Like a thrill ride, it’s exhausting and fun.

For something that’s rocking and a little more subtle, I recommend “MercyMe’s wonderful version, also called “Gloria.” The band still tinkers with the lyrics, effectively adding “How could heaven’s heart not break on the day, the day that you came. Salvation’s reason to celebrate on the day, the day that you came.”

41) “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan

This is a wonderful weaving of “God Rest Ye” and “We Three Kings” with acoustic instruments. Canadians can rock, too.

42) “Joy to the World/Unspeakable Joy” by Chris Tomlin

This one, recorded live, absolutely rocks and sounds unquestionably joyful. And it’s a great song for the treadmill, too.

43) “O Holy Night” by Tracy Chapman

This is another one that gets overblown, but Chapman’s acoustic version is lovely.

44) “Merry Christmas Baby” by Laurie Sargent

I don’t know where I stumbled on this CD, “Snow Angels, A Hear Music Holiday Collection,” but it’s wonderful. This is another song that opts for a softer take. Not as bluesy as some of the versions out there, and those are closer to the song’s roots. But this one just clicks.

45) “Go Tell it on the Mountain” by David Crowder*Band

Speaking of a softer take, Crowder takes a song that has a message intended to be shouted, and, being Crowder, does in the other direction.

46) “Winter Wonderland,” by Johnny Mathis

We’re kicking old school now. My parents had the Johnny Mathis Christmas album, and this is the version I always think of, and it brings a smile every time.

47) “River” by Sixpence None the Richer

I know its Joni Mitchell’s song, but I’m convinced that Leigh Nash has the voice of angels.

48) “The Holly and the Ivy” by George Winston

I discovered “December,” George Winston’s collection of piano solos, while attending University of Missouri, when the head of the residence hall had it blasting from his room. There are many amazing songs on there, but this one is my favorite.

49) “Cool Yule” by Louis Armstrong and the Commanders

I went to New Orleans a few years ago for an education writers conference and really got into the music, which seemed to flow from every other store front on Bourbon Street. I’ve found a couple New Orleans themed Christmas CDs, and this song is one the best of that group.

50) “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” by Chicago

I am the least musical person you know. I cannot play an instrument, I cannot sing and I can barely clap in time. So it was a big deal that I got to be in an elementary school Christmas concert as part of the Sixth Grade Boys Chorus, which you could not get cut from. This is the song we sang. Chicago’s version was undeniably better. We never performed again, and I don’t think that’s entirely my fault.

51) “Happy Holiday” by Andy Williams

52) “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams

Williams, for many years, was apparently the king of Christmas, and his 1963 album, which contains both of these songs, was one of the most popular holiday collections ever.

53) “The 12 Days of Christmas” by Bob and Doug McKenzie

Yes, it’s a silly song to begin with. So if you’re going to be silly, you might as go all the way. “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a beer….in a tree.”

54) “Baby, it’s Cold Outside,” by Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera

As people have started pointing out, it’s kind of a creepy song. The line “What’s in this drink” has call kinds of icky undertones. So, if you’re you are going to have a racy, sort of icky Christmas song, might as well go for Cee Lo and Christina, who seem to revel in such things. The written lyrics refer to the people in the song as “mouse” and “wolf.” OK.

55) “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella” by Young Fresh Fellows

If you want the soft, mellow version, Heart has a nice one. This one rocks! And it morphs into the “Welcome Christmas” song from the Grinch. Awesome! It’s on the glorious “A Lump of Coal” disc.

56) "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by John Mellencamp

Another song from the first "Very Special Christmas" album. Perfectly captures Mellencap during is "Lonesome Jubilee" stage when the bad was playing all those rootsy instruments.

57) "Do You Hear What I Hear?" by Seventh Day Slumber

These guys are Christian rockers, and this version is pretty heavy.

58) "Mary Did You Know" by Kutless

Another of my favorite Christian rockers 

That’s the end of part 2 – and I've made some additions to the first part as I've uncovered some more classics. Next we’ll hit one some New York-themed holiday songs.

Here's the link to part 1 on the project, which focuses on the original versions of songs that are covered by other artists.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Great Christmas Music Project, Part 1: Picking the best versions of each holiday tune

I love Christmas music. This is not a secret.

I start looking for new releases around October and sneak off each November to build iTunes playlists so we can start listening as soon as it is socially acceptable. This runs contrary to my decorating philosophy, which is to wait until the second week of December.  

Several years ago I created what I thought was the ultimate Christmas music playlist that would be perfect for our five-hour drives to and from Illinois. Aside from the usual artist-specific playlists, I created a monster playlist that included every single Christmas song in the collection – all 1,000+ songs.

The idea was to set the playlist on “shuffle” as we pull out of the driveway and jingle all the way to the Land of Lincoln, with a wonderful salad of styles, eras and artists.

Good idea, in theory. Here’s where went astray. There are some standards that just about everyone records. “O, Holy Night” sung by a dozen different artists is still a dozen times we heard “O, Holy Night.” And a little a-rump-a-pum-pum goes a long way. The family rebelled about half-way through the trip. Lucky for them, Santa had already made his lists because I’m sure their thoughts were coal-worthy.

So I devised a new plan. Rather than include every song, I included the best version of each song. That way we avoided multiple airings of “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and still enjoyed the variety of styles and artists.

But this was a monumental task.

I noticed songs fell into several categories.

You have the carols that have been around for a 100 years or more, many times sounding pretty much the same. Points here to those artists who tried to shake things up a little.

You have comparatively recent songs – still around for decades – that also have been recorded by many people. Think “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Then you have more recent songs that have been recorded by many people, but the original version stands head, shoulders and antlers above the rest. Think Nat “King” Cole’s “The Christmas Song.”

Then you have original songs that, depending on the artist, can be wonderful and refreshing or stale cookies.

I love them all.

So here’s Part 1 of the list, sometimes with an explanation.

First we have the classics from the original artists, or at least the artists who made the song popular, that are getting covered by other performers.

1) “Happy X-Mas (War is Over)” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

The idea of a protest song weaved into a Christmas song isn’t my idea of making merry, but Lennon was so incredibly talented that he pulls it off. Not everyone can. Billy Joel, I’m talking to you. “Christmas in Fallujah” is horrible.

2) “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney

Where Lennon was so talented that he could take something subversive and make it a classic, McCartney is talented enough that he can produce a song that sounds like he churned it out while everyone else in the studio was taking a lunch break with a melody – and probably the lyrics – made up as he went and make it a classic, too.

3) “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby

4) “The Christmas Song” by Nat “King” Cole

Two songs covered by everybody -- and the originals are still the best

5) “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses

Perhaps the only Christmas classic with the word “damn” in it.

6) “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry

I confess I don’t like any versions, perhaps tainted by the depressing Rankin-Bass special. But Autry’s original has an old-school charm.

7) “Do They Know it’s Christmas” by Band Aid

There are a surprising number of versions of this out there now. It’s on its way to being a standard.

8) “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives

9) “The Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeone Chorale

This was originally called “Carol of the Drum” and recorded by the von Trapp family. But Harry Simeone changed the name and his 1957 version is the earliest one that most people know and love.

10) “Step into Christmas” by Elton John

Elton’s homage to Phil Spector was released within weeks of the Mets appearing in the 1973 World Series. The Wedding Present’s version is pretty neat, too.

11) “Father Christmas” by the Kinks

12) “I Believe in Father Christmas” by Greg Lake

There’s a full Emerson, Lake and Palmer version out there, too. I like U2’s cover, but the original is still the best.

13) “Christmas Must Be Tonight” by The Band

Robbie Robertson has two very different versions of the song he wrote and recorded with The Band, and they are all awesome.

14) “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee

Lee was only 13 when she recorded this hit.

15) “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms

My wife hates this song. I was surprised it was considered rockabilly. The Hall and Oates versions -- they each recorded one as two sides of a single -- is darned good, too.

16) “2000 Miles” by The Pretenders

The Pretenders have two melancholy Christmas classics. This one's an original, the other will appear later.  

17) “Last Christmas” by Wham!

It seems like everybody has a version of this now

18) “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love

The U2 version is great, but this is Love’s song, recorded first on the Phil Spector Christmas album from 1963. Fun fact: Love sang background on the U2 version. I might throw both versions into the playlist if I’m feeling sassy.

19) “All I Want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey

Everybody seems to be jumping on this song now. And the original, too, echos back the the Phil Spector Christmas album, released 50 years ago this year.

20) “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown

The Eagles probably made this a modern standard, but Brown’s bluesy original is a classic.

21) "Christmas is the Time to Say 'I Love You'" by Billy Squier

Billy is loose and bouncy and fun in this live recording.  

22) "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano

For a fun, loud treat, check out El Vez's version on the Punk Rock X-Mas CD. 

23) “The Chipmunk Song” by The Chipmunks

I know. There are a number of covers out there – at least one with the Chipmunks joining in. The Lost Dogs’ version is great, too! The version I saw on "Glee" last week, not so much

24) "Christmastime is Here" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio

There are two versions of the jazzy song on the essential soundtrack, both are wonderful.

25) "Santa Baby" by Ertha Kitt

True fact: This was co-written by Joan Javits, niece of the former New York senator. Madonna should have owned this, being the Material Girl and all. Instead, she goes all Betty Boop in her version on A Very Special Christmas. Ertha purrs to perfection in the original.

But that's part one, with many more to come. You're free to disagree. Share your opinions in the comments.

Here's the link to part 2 of the project, which focuses on best versions of carols and chestnuts.