Tis the season to be jolly. I don't mean to be a curmudgeon and fire the opening shots in this year's War on Christmas, but the expression, "'Tis the season," grates on my nerves, and that's all you're going to see in every commercial and advertisement from now until Christmas.
Even in editorials and on TV talk shows, someone will inevitably say, "'Tis the season." We don't say, "'Tis nice to meet you," or "'Tis a beauteous evening," without deserving a backhand across the cheek with a leather glove. But we say it when we see a coworker get schnockered at the office Christmas party. He doesn't get on all fours and bray like a jackass all the time but, 'tis the season. The expression excuses all manner of bad behavior. Some highly strung doomsday prepper is bound to get drunk at the family dinner and send a child running from the room screaming, "Mommy, Mommy, Uncle Jim-Bob is hitting Uncle Ned in the head with a lead pipe," and she will answer, "Well, 'tis the season."
But that's not what I wanted to talk about. When we began to witness the law of diminishing returns regarding Christmas cards and ceased the practice, I sent around a CD compilation of what I believe are the greatest soulful Christmas songs. Now that CD is extinct, but I figured if I gave you a list, you kids today with your downloading and your e-phones, could probably find them on the MeTube and put together some mellow tunes to hear on your iRod. Then turn it up so everyone can enjoy a violence-free Christmas, lost in a winter wonderland of the mind. Forget your Frank Sinatra, your Perry Como, and your Johnny Mathis. My list is a different thing. So, here 'tis:
1. "The Christmas Song" by Nat "King" Cole. The most elegant Christmas song and singer OF ALL TIME. Written by Mel Torme, who used to remind his audience of that fact every chance he got. But then, who wouldn't? The standard by which all other Christmas songs are measured. I could listen to this one all year.
2. "This Christmas" by Donnie Hathaway. My personal favorite, even though listening to Donnie Hathaway sometimes makes me cry. Love the musical hook with the horns and the jingle bells. Can't do better than this one.
3. "White Christmas" by the Drifters. Never mind "Der Bingle." The Drifters' doo-wop version with Clyde McPhatter is delightful and unforgettable. I've heard rumors that every time this song is played, Irving Berlin rolls over in his grave.
4. "Merry Christmas, Baby" by Charles Brown, who sings, "I haven't had a drink this morning, but I'm all lit up like a Christmas tree." The most laid-back of all Christmas songs. There are also good versions by Elvis and Otis Redding, but Charles Brown is the real deal.
5. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" by Al Green. There are many great interpretations of this song, but the Reverend Al takes it to church, where he usually is anyway.
6. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Lou Rawls. Big band, swing style. When Lou sings in that baritone voice, you've got to groove, whatever your method may be. A real finger-popper. After listening, you'll say, "Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about."
7. "Let it Snow" by Aaron Neville. An old tune refreshingly sung in the Neville brother's unique, jaunty, (I used the word "jaunty,") style. Extremely danceable. Stop looking for other versions. You'll thank me.
8. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Take 6. The worlds greatest a capella group adds a few musicians, specifically, the Yellowjackets. Both vocal and musical arrangements on this track are amazing. You've never heard this song done this way before, but it will sure stay with you.
9. "Gee Whiz, It's Christmas" by Carla Thomas. Upbeat and filled with joyous teenage innocence, and it's our Queen, for gosh sakes. This is my wife's favorite song, and Melody asked me to say, "We love you Carla." We really do.
10. "Santa, Go Straight to the Ghetto" by James Brown. If anybody's going to tell the truth, it's the Godfather, who sings, "You know that I know what you will see/ 'Cause that was once me." And, "Never thought I'd realize/ I'd be singing a song with water in my eyes." Did I mention that it was also funky? Mr. Dynamite died on Christmas day, 2006, so every year we dust off the Walgreen's dancing and singing James Brown figure, give him fresh batteries, and place him in a place of prominence in what passes for Christmas decorations at our house, so he can do the Camel Walk.
You could add to this group the entire scandalous 1957 Elvis' Christmas Album, and A Christmas Gift to You from Phil Spector, which is a terrific record, but knowing the guy's doing life for murder makes it all a little creepy to listen to now. It's like receiving a flowery wedding announcement from Charles Manson.
There are so many more great songs, but I wanted to get this out to you early so you can begin preparing your playlist for the family festivities. I'm sure you can steal them anywhere. 'Tis the season.