Monday, December 15, 2008

Best. Christmas Carols. Ever (2008 version)

As evidenced by my last entry, my brother Tom and I have made an annual tradition of raging over bad holiday music in the blogosphere. But to prove to Holly Jacobs and others that we aren't actually sarcastic Scrooges and do secretly love Christmas music, we also post our favorites.

Long story short, here are some of our favorite Christmas carols that haven't appeared on previous lists!:

TOM: My first pick is “The Christmas Waltz” by Frank Sinatra. This one makes me think of my grandparents. I can picture them dancing to this song in their youth and it gives me a nostalgic feeling.

TRACY: Actually, they tend to polka more than waltz. At least, before poor Grandma’s knees went. But I know what you mean.

My new Christmas carol love is “Lechon, Lechon, Lechon” by Victor Manuelle, which was a free iTunes download last year. Funny story: I burned this on a CD for a vegetarian friend of mine before I bothered to figure out what a “lechon” was. It's not a word that I've heard before--who knows if it's even used in Honduras? (Actually, Mom would know, but I'm too lazy to call her.) Ergo, I didn’t know it.

Anyhoo, Manuelle is singing about a traditional dish they make every holiday season. I assumed the root was “leche,” Spanish for “milk,” and figured that it might be similar to these homemade caramel things my husband’s mom makes from Cuba.

Unfortunately, “lechon” is roast pork, so this is not a vegetarian-friendly song. I’m hoping she never looks it up. But for all you carnivores out there, it’s a really fun salsa song with an infectious beat! Because everyone’s holiday needs a little Latino flavor!

TOM: In that spirit, how about “Aquellos Diciembres?” This is a Spanish song about the past Decembers.

TRACY: Hence you have the added bonus of not offending PETA and having them come after your iPod with a can of spray paint! Excellent!

TOM: This brings out the Latino in me and is a fun upbeat song. It is on iTunes, but without most of the verses. Usually, I have to settle to listening to an old record that our parents have at home. If anyone out there has a good digital copy, please pass it along!

TRACY: YES! Tom and I picked this up on a trip to visit our family in Honduras when I was 9 and he was 5. It’s old, but it holds up. I dare you to not start dancing when the conga drums kick in!

One more Latin entry—"Ay, Ay, Ay, It’s Christmas” by Ricky Martin. For some awful, awful reason, the only version that’s available on iTunes also features Rosie O’Donnell bleating in the background. I don’t mind Rosie, but girlfriend. You cannot sing. It is time to face that fact and let GOOOOOOOOO of your musical aspirations. I’m convinced her habit of randomly breaking out into showtunes is what really killed her show.

But even Rosie cannot ruin the wonderfulness that is this song. Sweet, charming, romantic, and totally danceable. Christmas music doesn’t get much better than this!

TOM: “Sleigh Ride” by Barenaked Ladies. I can pictures my brother, sister, and I singinig this in the back of our parents car, annoying the heck out of them when we were younger. So fun!

TRACY: Annoying Mom is always fun!

New kid-friendly discovery—“Frosty the Snowman” by Kimberly Locke. I’m not a huge Kimberly Locke fan—I think she always sounds like she’s about to kick your ass when she sings. “You can be my Eighth World Wonder! And then I’ll kick your ass!”

But I have to say, she added a bunch of charm and a dash of old-school soul into this holiday classic. My daughters love Frosty—the show, the song, the rewindable preview on Tivo—and so I am heartily sick of Jimmy Durante’s version. It was a blessed relief to discover this on Sirius while driving the other day. The girls loved it and immediately made me download it when we got home, and I’m glad I did!

TOM: "Veni Veni," by Manheim Steamroller. This is a song directed by John Rutter, who by the way directed me in my performace at Carnegie Hall. (okay - I was part of a mass choir, but I had to throw that in!) I like it because he puts together Gregorian Chant with handbells and makes a cool haunting sound. Anyway, it is a great song--music and vocal.

TRACY: People are SO going to make fun of us for liking Manheim Steamroller. You do know that, right?

Anyhoo, seeing how we verbally decimated Boney M. for reggae-tizing Christmas songs in our list of holiday worsts, I thought I’d offer up “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Alana Davis as an example of how to add a dash of reggae to a carol and do it right. I ADORE singer/songwriter Alana Davis, and I really admire her flair for covering songs in ways that are always wholly original and a lot of fun. She put her own spin on “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “32 Flavors,” and they are just genius. Her one Christmas song in existence is no exception to this rule. Brilliant!

TOM: "Here comes Santa Claus," by Elvis. I love this! I always get caught imitating the King when this comes on. You don't sing "Here comes Santa Claus." You sing "HerecomeSanClaus."

TRACY: Oh, and I know you like haunting holiday music. Have you heard Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma’s “Wexford Carol?” BEST! VERSION! EVAH! Krauss puts her trademark bluegrass spin on this classic, and accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma’s so-beautiful-you-want-to-cry strings, it’s absolute perfection. I’m burning it to a CD right now and popping it in the mail.

TOM: "Caroling, Caroling," by Nat King Cole. I am a big Nat King Cole fan and love a lot of his Christmas songs.

TRACY: Me, too!

TOM: This one makes you want to go skipping through the snow. Then, you realize that you live in Minnesota and that it is 20 below out and it will take you 20 minutes to get dressed properly and then you can't skip because of the sheer volume of clothing that you have on! On a tangent--if you live in a cold area, try this trick. If it is 0 degrees or below 0, heat a mug of water in the microwave (boiling)--quickly race to the door and through the water into the air outside. You will get a cool reaction when the water hits the outside temperature!

TRACY: What does it do? COME ON, you have to tell me what it does?!

I LOVE Loreena McKennitt, who started out as a Celtic musician and then let her world travels influence her music so now it’s a hybrid of Celtic, Arabic, and other styles from across the globe. She FINALLY put out a full-length holiday CD this year, and it’s five-hundred kinds of gorgeous. If I had to pick just a couple, they would be “Snow” and “The Seven Rejoices of Mary.”

TOM: "A Marshmellow World (Live)," by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. I had to sing this in choir in high school and HATED it. But, listening to these 2 guys do it is fun! Plus, the live version contain the audience laughing (at who knows what) Frank calling Dean a Pumpkinhead, and of course both of them improvising. Too bad that we will never see specials with moments like this ever again. You will never have 2 big name stars do anything like this. Instead, you might get Paris Hilton and Trischelle.

TRACY: Clannad lead-singer Maire Brennan (who recently changed her name to “Moya” Brennan for all the people out there who used to pronounce her Gaelic name “mare.” Like, oh, ME.) released a solo Christmas album last year, and I have to say, her version of “Carol of the Bells” is probably the most brilliant version I’ve ever heard. Most people who try to put this song to words just end up sounding like dumbasses. “Ding! Dong! Christmas is here! Ring! Ring!” YOU ARE NOT A BELL! QUIT ACTING LIKE IT BEFORE SOMEONE HAS YOU COMMITTED!

But Moya/Maire avoids the pitfall of the ringy-ding-dings and just riffs on the “Christmas is here” part and a lot of Celtic zhoosh. The result—pure gorgeousness.

TOM: "Silent Night," by Joe Piscapo as Frank Sinatra on SNL. Okay - not a classic but a funny moment. My favorite line is: "Round that virgin chick, she had a kid...."

TRACY AND TOM: "He grew up to be famous. You all know what he did!"

TOM: This takes place on the Gumby Christmas special with eddie murphy as Gumby dammit. This reminds me that I have too many holiday things to watch on blu-ray and dvd before the year ends!

TRACY: Just heard Tracy Chapman's "O, Holy Night" on the radio while I was driving to pick up the kids from school. Josh Groban and Faith Hill, meet Tracy Chapman. And then cry, because you so suck in comparison.

TOM: A final comment: I find a lot of good Christmas songs come in small bites. Sirius/XM has been playing some piano and other instrumental transitions in between songs. Very soothing and good musically. they always end so fast (only about 15 seconds) and they get me wanting more. It also reminds me of SNL when the band would play Christmas Carols going into commercials. One that I remember is "Good King Wenceslaus" being played on a sousaphone. So cool!

TRACY: Yeah, Manheim Steamroller AND "Good King Wenceslaus" on a sousaphone? People are SO going to point and laugh at us after this one. Especially after the sarcastic attack we had in the last post.

Anyway, happy holidays, everyone! For those of you who celebrate Christmas, any new Christmas carols y'all are loving this year? Or old favorites?


HollyJacobs said...

LOL Tracy! I didn't think you two were scrooges... I just have an unnatural fondness for pretty much any Christmas carol. And I noticed you didn't have Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer on your list! LOL

Holly...planning to hum that one all morning and think of you!

Leesa said...

Too funny. I bought the Yo Yo Ma CD this year too. Loving it.
Favorite Christmas CD is not made anymore. I bought a bunch of them and have horded them. It's all acoustic.

Tracy Montoya said...

Holly, I'm coming to your house with "Christmas Shoes" and Bob Seger, and then we're going to talk. : D

I actually have an unnatural fondness for "Grandma" because it reminds me of my own grandma, who cracks up hard over that song.

Tracy Montoya said...

I didn't actually buy the whole YoYo Ma CD--Just "Wexford Carol." I'm trying to be less insane with the Xmas music buying, Leesa.

HollyJacobs said...


"Grandma" reminds me of my MIL. She was a teacher at my kids' grade-school, and they had a Christmas pageant every year. My MIL and one of her friends acted out the song one year. I still have it on video. It was a riot, and really reflected her joy for the season, so alas, yes, it's one of my favorites! LOL


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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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