A few years ago, I was in the car with my parents as we drove to Niagara Falls, New York to celebrate Christmas with family. I had put in my earbuds after the tenth rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” I was giving up hope in the variety of song selection on the radio. I mean, I love the classics as much as everybody else. That includes the songs that appear in every singer’s Christmas record, most notably Mitch Miller and the Gang’s “Holiday Sing-Along with Mitch.” I also define the term “classics” very loosely. I consider Mariah Carey’s “All I want For Christmas is You” to be a modern classic. But I find myself cringing after an extended period of time when holiday music is playing on the radio. Enough is enough. We have all been there.
But then it happened. The greatest Christmas song of all time tickled my ears. The sonorous oom-pahs of “Dominick the Donkey” by Lou Monte. Who doesn’t love a donkey who helps Santa (Babbo Natale) deliver presents to Italian children, “because the reindeer cannot climb the hills of Italy?” The best line of the song is, “A pair of shoes for Louie, /And a dress for Josephine, /The labels on the inside says, /They’re made in Brooklyn.” I am embarrassed it took me so long to discover the song! Needless to say, the car was jamming out.
This started me on a quest to find songs that I could adopt as my own classics. So far, I have a few favorites. They are all upbeat and mostly talk about winter. Most of these artists or their particular covers are not played on the radio as often as Mariah and Bruce are, so if you need a break but still want to be in the holiday spirit, give these songs a try:
1. Start it off with Harry Connick, Jr.’s cover of “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas.” It is so swanky and reminiscent of another era. It is from his latest Christmas album, 2008’s “What a Night! A Christmas Album.” He finds a groove with it and makes it his own.
2. Billy Gilman and Charlotte Church’s cover of “Sleigh Ride.” I don’t know if anybody else remembers this country star, but his strange pairing with Welsh singer Charlotte Church is absolutely wonderful. Maybe I am blinded by the massive crush I had on him when I was seven. But his rock voice with her operatic trills work so well. It is featured on his 2002 album, “Classic Christmas.”
3. Darlene Love’s cover of “Marshmallow World” celebrates the joys of snow. It was first a hit for my pal Bing Crosby, but we will get to him later.
4. Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means to Me” is a classic. But my second favorite version is by Hanson from their 1997 album “Snowed In.” Who doesn’t love when Zac gets a solo?
5. Adam Sandler’s “Hannukah Song” is as far as I am concerned the only funny thing Adam Sandler ever did ever.
6. “Silver Bells.” If I had to pick a favorite holiday song, it would be that one. It is just so simple and reminds me of what I love about the holidays. It encapsulates the excitement of being in a place where everyone is as happy as you are. The bells in question remind me of the Santas from the Salvation Army who ask for donations. My favorite version has to be Kristin Chenoweth’s from her 2008 album, “A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas.”
7. “We Three Kings” covered by the Roches. This is the name of their album of holiday songs. These sisters can harmonize with the best of them.
8. “White Christmas” by Michael Buble and Shania Twain is one of my newest favorites. It is from Buble’s 2011 album simply titled “Christmas,” and is very jazzy and sweet. They work very well together. But, Bing! How could I leave you off this list? His version of “White Christmas” is, of course, a classic.
9. Speaking of Bing, “The Best Things (Happen While You’re Dancing)” is not a holiday song, but is featured in my favorite scene from the classic film “White Christmas.” It is just so sweet.
This is only a sampling of my favorites. I guess I just love it when my favorite artists over the years covered classic holiday songs. In almost all of these examples, the artist did something new with the song that made it stick out to me. But I will always like the originals as well.