In this special Holiday version of RXCOMMENDS, our Team sat down around the yule log (extra monitor from our Operations crew playing a 10 hour YouTube loop sitting on a space heater) and figured out how to get the lunch room coffee machine to dispense eggnog (without knowing how to put it back, sorry reception) to come up with our favourite Holiday tracks that we both enjoy listening to and programming for our clients.
We understand that Holiday music is a divisive genre. Some people revel in it, putting their normal listening habits on a shelf and letting a combination of dusty crooners and today’s pop stars drenched in bells and glitter control the aux for a whole month. Some people have taken advantage of recent grocery store delivery and pick up features to not have to hear the Mariah Carey’s holiday siren call while looking through the cereal aisle. Some people (me) are in the middle, looking forward to hearing some Vince Guaraldi Trio, Motown holiday hits and The Beach Boys but avoiding songs about grandmothers being mauled by caribous, little girls asking for endangered water species for Christmas and songs about wanting to make out with Santa (seriously? What’s with this? He’s here for the kids! Relax!).
We think these tunes will jam with the jolly and can hang with the (bah) humbugs. – Michael Primiani
“It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” – Andy Williams
By: Michael Primiani
Although it’s been covered by the likes of Johnny Mathis, Harry Connick Jr., Blake Shelton, Toni Braxton and Kylie Minogue (just to name a few) this track was written for Andy Williams by Edward Pola and George Wyle for The Andy Williams Christmas Album released in 1963 and it’s magnificent! The tremendous jazz band and backup singers accompanying Williams add such a grandiose quality to this song that you can’t help but be swept up into it. Plus, it is in my favourite Christmas movie (if not one of my favourite movies of all time) Home Alone (the second one, but I usually group them together). Lyrically, the song touches on everything wonderful that I love about the holiday season. Getting together with family under the bright glow of Christmas lights to reminisce and make new memories being the best thing about the Holiday season. Eating a copious amount of sweets, seeing everyone in a good mood and singing goofy holiday songs are great too.
However, something that I wish we had more of at Christmas are the telling of “scary ghost stories”. This lyric roots back to Victorian times, where telling ghost stories (and having séances) on Christmas was more commonplace. The most enduring artifact from this century old love of a spooky Christmas is Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol – a Victorian era ghost story that adorns our TV screens every year through many different iterations (the best in my opinion being Scrooge (1951) starring Alastair Sim as the titular character). I’m such a horror head that I try to fill my holiday season with at least one or two killer Santa movies to keep the scary ghost story tradition alive (a recent fav in this genre is Christmas Evil starring Brandon Maggart AKA Fiona Apple’s dad).
I love this song and I crank it up every Holiday season. However, it’s use in the Staples back to school commercials? To borrow a line from Home Alone’s Kevin McCallister – woof!
“Must Be Santa” – Bob Dylan
By: Matt Lipson
I find Bob Dylan’s 2009 album Christmas in the Heart hard to listen to; his voice has somehow softened since then, but on that album Dylan croaks and rasps his way through. In fact, I’ve never even been sure whether the album is a sincere effort or an ironic, tongue-in-cheek jab at shmaltzy yuletide wholesomeness. One track that has wormed its way into my heart, though, is “Must Be Santa”. It’s a bonkers track, breathless, always staggering toward its titular refrain. The highlight for me is Dylan rattling off Santa’s reindeer with perfect detachment, filling the blanks with the names of American presidents: “Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton” It’s partly why I think Dylan might be making a mockery of the holiday spirit, or those presidents at the very least.
The video for this song is intentionally hilarious and expectedly surreal; Dylan sports a wig of long blonde locks and a top hat. He’s hosting a holiday party over which he’s lost control, his guests drinking copiously, swinging each other around euphorically in circles, and eventually outright brawling. Dylan crops up in different rooms seemingly unbothered by the chaos around him, as though he orchestrated the whole thing for his sick pleasure. It’s a confounding and joyous spectacle, and I really do prefer to continue wondering why he ever did it.
“Let it Snow (Feat. Brian McKnight)” – Boyz II Men
By: Adulis Mokanan
You know that feeling you get when wear your favourite hoodie fresh out the laundry? The hoodie is warm, it smells like fabric softener and add your favourite blanket, a warm beverage, and you are in the most comfortable place in the world. That’s the same feeling this classic holiday song by Boyz II Men featuring Brian McKnight puts me in. It’s the feeling of Christmas Eve, when all of the family is together and chillin’ out. “Let it Snow” sets the mood, takes away all the worries in the world and brings me into the moment. It’s the Christmas feeling encapsulated into a song, enjoy!
“Merry Christmas Baby” – Charles Brown
By: Steve Panacci
One of the most important traditions of the Holiday season is the music. It’s everywhere you go, and you can’t escape it. “Merry Christmas Baby” was one of the first “Americanized” Holiday recordings. Its sound stays true to its time period, encapsulating that late 1940s soft-toned, slow-paced nightclub influenced West Coast Blues. While there has been debate about who actually wrote the song, it’s stood the test of time and has since been recorded by over eight artists – including Bruce Springsteen, Kelly Clarkson, and Otis Redding.
“I Wish It Was Christmas Today” – Julian Casablancas
By: Jonathan Knox
In a genre so full of over-done cover songs, having the front-man of Indie Rock superpower, The Strokes, cover an original Saturday Night Live Christmas song, sounds almost like a bad joke in itself. Fortunately then, Julian Casablancas’ take on “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” is a gift-wrapped treat that winningly expands on the original’s instant catchiness and irresistible Holiday charm. The sound of Santa’s sleigh bells open the track, quickly followed by a festive new wave rush with Casablancas’ focus and urgency set on the season: “I don’t care what the neighbors say /Christmas time is near /I don’t care what anyone says /Christmas is full of cheer”. In the 11 years since the Casablancas version was released, the song has managed to become a modern Holiday staple (particularly in crowds where the mood is wanting something more than just traditional) because while it is absolutely fun and undeniably catchy, most everyone can relate to – at some point – wishing it was Christmas today.
“I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm – STUHR Remix” – Kay Starr
By: Laura MacInnes-Rae
If the jazz purists want to hold their breath for 3:22, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm – Kay Starr (STUHR remix)” is a 2003 revitalization of this seasonal big band darling. A jazz standard that squeaks by as a Christmas classic, Irving Berlin’s 1937 ode to romanticizing winter has long since been covered by jazz giants; most notably Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Perhaps it’s the boosted rolling bass line or the impeccably timed big band refrain that aligns perfectly with Starr’s crisp trill. This BPM bump pleads a strong case for a seductive electro swing rework of an old but unwavering classic. Okay exhale.
“I Saw Three Ships” – Sting
By: Regan McDonnell
Sting’s beautiful take on this holiday traditional track is a personal favourite. The swaying repetitive rhythm locks the listener in and creates the feeling of beautiful release and resolve as the bass line shifts from the droning single note pulse and merges with the lead line melody near the song’s completion.
“I Saw Three Ships” was recorded by Sting in 1997 and is featured on A Very Special Christmas 3, an ongoing Christmas music compilation series which benefits the Special Olympics.
Check out a live rendition of the tune below, featuring an array of added solos, as well as backing vocals by friend of RX Music, CBC host/accomplished Jazz artist, Laila Biali.
“2000 Miles” – The Pretenders
By: Annie Hemming
“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders is one of those classic Christmas songs that isn’t actually a Christmas song. Many see this song as a sweet, winter ballad about our hearts at Christmastime. In reality, the song is about Pretenders founding member, James Honeyman-Scott who died of a drug overdose. Kind of a downer but it remains a gorgeous track that will always be my favourite holiday song. What kind of indie music fan would I be if I liked happy songs?
“2000 Miles” still charts every December and has been covered by countless artists. Check out the video for a wild ride through a winter wonderland below. Happy Holidays and don’t forget to take a minute to be thankful for how cool Chrissy Hynde is.
“Christmas Time Is Here – Vocal” – Vince Guaraldi Trio
By: Ben Birchard
For me, Christmas is a time of traditions. We get to turn back the clock and inhabit the spaces we grew up in. Re-visit that time when getting the right He-Man action figure was literally the most important issue I had to deal with. Who wouldn’t want to trade whatever they face as an adult in 2021 for that?
Nothing takes me back with more presence and power than music, and for Christmas there are two composers to take me there instantly. Handel – “The Messiah” was the soundtrack of opening gifts and sharing time with my parents and sister, and we were all happy to be together. But the one who got the most play leading up to that morning is Vince Guaraldi.
The iconic soundtrack to the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas was spun on our record player a lot. It served not only as the kickoff to the Christmas season, but as an introduction to jazz. The brushes on the snare are like light snowflakes falling on your tongue, the understated piano glides over your ears like it’s on skates, and the warmth of the upright bass ties it all together nicely.
Sure, over the years, the hot chocolate has been replaced with Bailey’s in my coffee, but the feeling, and the sound remain the same, still spinning endlessly on that record player.
You can find our Holiday picks in the Spotify playlist below. From all of us here at RX Music, have a happy holidays and a joyous New Year!