12 Days of Christmas Music That Isn’t Awful (Day 12)

I have saved my favorite for last.

Straight No Chaser may be the first a cappella group to have signed with a major recording label.  These guys started singing together in college back in the 90s and have been doing it ever since.  They’ve managed to make a career out of singing, even all these years later.  And next month, one of these guys (Mike) is going to become my cousin-in-law when he marries my cousin Zoë.  Yay!  They make an adorable couple.

This video is how she introduced him to the family — well, those of us in the extended family who didn’t live in the same part of the country as they did.  (That includes me.)

If you’ve been keeping up with this series, thank you.  Happiest of holidays.  🙂

12 Days of Christmas Music That Isn’t Awful (Day 9)

One of my very favorite Yuletide songs is “Carol of the Bells.”  When I was a child, I knew this song only as a lovely and too-short instrumental piece, but when I sang in the mixed chorus in high school and actually learned there were words and what they were, it became the one song in the repertory I looked most forward to singing.  Like probably every other high school chorus ever, we sang it a cappella, of course, in four-part harmony, of course, but to me, it was special.  It was also one of the first songs from which I ever learned to appreciate the complex workings of overlaid voices, and everything coming together at once felt sort of magical.

Many versions of this song have been made. I’m rather partial to George Winston’s piano rendition on his album December (Windham Hill, 1982) — which is a great album, by the way, if you like piano music.  Actually, the only version of this song I’ve ever heard that I did not like is the one they play on Houston’s Official Christmas Music Station.  (I’m sure you’re shocked by this.)  I don’t even know who’s responsible for that version; they sound like a typical 1970s mixed adult chorus who are probably all wearing matching polyester with matching helmet hair and are swaying and snapping their fingers in a matching Stepford-like pattern.  The accompanying music screams jazz hands.  This version of the song has very different and extremely religiously-charged lyrics.  (Now, obviously, I understand that there is a very healthy foundation in this holiday which is religious, and I have no problem with that.  I actually like many religious carols, too.  But the way they screwed up this one, ugh.  Bad doggie, no biscuit.)

Enough of that.  I’m presenting to you two videos of this song.  The first is from a television special that came on when I was young; it had the California Raisins and other Claymation figures performing Christmas music in a sort of variety show format reminiscent of Sha-Na-Na. (Do you remember that show? No? God, I’m old.)

Here, maybe this will jog your memory.  Because how could anyone forget Bowzer?
Here, maybe this will jog your memory. Because how could anyone forget Bowzer?


Anyway, the California Raisins and Claymation in general were a big deal back then, too, and my dad had recorded this Christmas music special onto a VHS tape, and we must have worn it out just rewinding and rewatching the “Dumb Bell” segment because we thought it was so funny.



But in case this kind of camp isn’t to your taste anymore — and you would have all my sympathies if it weren’t — I’ve also found this lovely video of ThePianoGuys that might be more your speed.  Enjoy.



Happy Yule.  🙂

12 Days of Christmas Music That Isn’t Awful (Day 8)

Have you ever wanted to cry from a Christmas song?  I don’t mean in the my-ears-are-bleeding-and-I-can’t-believe-someone-committed-this-refuse-to-a-recording-for-sadistic-posterity sense, but in the unexplainable sense.  The way it feels when something just triggers your tear reflex, and you weep for no apparent reason that you or anyone else can discern.

When I was a child, “Christmas Time Is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas made me cry.

Now, I looked forward to this holiday special every year and never missed it, but inevitably the scene of the children all skating on the pond, of Snoopy flying across the ice like joyfulness personified, struck a chord in me I didn’t like to acknowledge.  I didn’t have the conscious vocabulary then to express Charlie Brown’s angst myself, but I definitely felt a malaise come December 27th, after the holiday was finished and my cousins and I had separated from our inevitable holiday sleepover and there was nothing to look forward to but going back to awful school.  (I think that’s why I celebrate New Year’s Eve so persistently now.)  My father explained to me, when I was a child, that I had the “Christmas blues” and was sad that the holidays were over, and while this made sense to me logically, it didn’t really scratch the itch of not understanding my sadness.

And this song made me cry, inexplicably, every time I heard it, even into my early adulthood.  It doesn’t anymore, and in fact I rather like it.  I’m not sure, honestly, I ever didn’t like it.  Such a conundrum.

So this morning my kids gave their holidays concerts at school.  They sang with everyone else in their grades a delightful collection of holiday songs highlighting Christmas, Hanukkah, the winter weather, and world peace.  My son’s concert was fun and sweet, several dozen first graders bravely soldiering through some very cute melodies.  Then the third grade arrived, with my daughter front and center.  The opening notes of the first song wafted out of the piano, and boom — they opened with this song.  It was beautiful, clear, charming, and even better than Vince Guaraldi’s chorus of cherubs.  I very nearly started crying again, and this time I think I understood.

It’s not just about angst.  It’s not just about the emotional confusion of being a child and not understanding everything you want to know about yourself yet, or having the language to know how to ask someone else to explain it to you.  It’s not just about being younger than most when you come to the epiphany that life has a dark side, too.

It’s also about beauty and love and the preciousness of a singular moment when things fall into place the way they’re supposed to, and recognizing that sometimes that gift can happen to you, too.



So now we’re out of school.  I still have a few finals left to grade today and tonight, and then I’ll be done with this semester.  Yay.

12 Days of Christmas Music That Isn’t Awful (Day 7)

There is one Christmas song that’s just so funny and smart and entertaining it’s on my iPod playlist year-round:  “Elf’s Lament” by the Barenaked Ladies.  If you come across the original recording — not hard to do — go for that, because it features Michael Buble and sounds awesome (even if you, like me, aren’t all that excited about Michael Buble).  There is a video on YouTube in which someone has set the original song to a video made from scenes from the old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie, featuring the elf who wants to be a dentist but who is really a stand-in for any cultural taboo.  (Come to think of it, that movie contained a lot of subtext about cultural taboos…)  That’s a cute video, too.

But here I present to you the BNL performing this song by themselves, live.


12 Days of Christmas Music That Isn’t Awful (Day 6)

No video today.  The reason?  Because the song I’m about to share with you has never been recorded other than written down in words.  Here.

One of my favorite Christmas songs when I was a kid was “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  Maybe it was because of the repetition, maybe it was because of the variety of objects.  Maybe it was because, in my imagination, the song contained a visual smorgasbord of fantastic things.  I just loved singing it.  A lot.  On the swingset, in the shower, while I was setting the table for dinner, while I was wrapping gifts — you name it.  (Of course, I also indulged in marathon singing sessions of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” with my grandmother on car trips, to the unbelievable annoyance of my parents, I’m sure.)

Anyway, a couple of years ago, my husband and I came up with new lyrics for the delightful carol.  We were at breakfast with our kids, who were hyper.  It was about this time of year.  We had much to do and not nearly enough time to do it.  Saturday stretched ahead of us like one long divide-and-conquer list.  And these new lyrics arose organically from our collective stress and enjoyment of the season — in other words, from our punchiness.

Click here to read “The New Twelve Days of Christmas.”

You enjoy.  I’m going to go try and finish grading finals by tomorrow afternoon.  I’m going to try not to fail.



12 Days of Christmas Music That Isn’t Awful (Day 5)

Time is slipping away from me, and I need to send out my New Year’s Eve party invitations.  I mean, we’ve been throwing this party for about fifteen years, and our friends generally know (I think) to expect it, but it’s wise to make it official, so that’s a task for later today.  To help me remember to do it between grading finals, this song is on my mind.

In keeping with the theme of nostalgia from yesterday, I thought about offering up the Nancy Wilson version, which I rather like, but I found this video of Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and thought it was too adorable to pass up.

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?


12 Days of Christmas Music That Isn’t Awful (Day 4)

So much of the Christmas music I encounter is from the 1940s and 1950s.  It seems a certain nostalgia for this time period follows the winter holidays about half the time.  I’ve been trying to puzzle out why, what it’s about.  If you have any ideas, please post them in the comments here.

In the meantime, here’s a song from 1941 that I happen to love.  It’s not specifically about any holiday in particular, but about the weather, and since I live in a place where it’s easy to love the weather in the winter time…

Here’s Peggy Lee and Art Lund and the Benny Goodman Orchestra with “Winter Weather.”  Enjoy the song and the charming slideshow of Peggy Lee!