Each year, dozens of new Christmas albums are released, and every artist tries to record one song that will break through and become a new Christmas classic. I remember back in 1993, right at the height of the Harry Connick Jr. craze (He sounds like Frank Sinatra! He really does!), Connick released a Christmas album with the title track, “When My Heart Finds Christmas,” braced to become a yearly carol.
He tried so hard. But it didn’t happen; you rarely hear this song anymore, and it, like *NYSNC’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” and that Toby Keith tear-jerker “Jesus Gets Jealous of Santa Claus,” started collecting dust on the Island of Misfit Christmas Songs.
But what has managed to survive among the countless versions of “White Christmas” and “Sleigh Ride”? I give you 10 candidates for modern Christmas classics, some of which are unknown but may slowly invade your holiday this year:
- “All I Want for Christmas is You” – Mariah Carey. Duh. For all of the bashing I’ve given Ms. Carey, this song is simply brilliant. As Any Major Dude commented last week on a previous post, ”
Phil Spector must have flown into a murderous rage upon hearing it and realizing that it came three decades too late to feature on his great Christmas album.” Absolutely right — Mariah channels the girl groups perfectly on a song that she allegedly co-wrote. Wow.
- “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – Darlene Love (and U2). This one was on Phil’s Christmas album but didn’t really catch on at the time, for it was overshadowed by the Ronettes’ “Frosty the Snowman” and “Sleigh Ride”. U2’s version of the song, though, caught hold, and dozens of artists have now covered this bittersweet song.
- “Please Come Home For Christmas” – Charles Brown (and the Eagles). I must admit I didn’t know Charles Brown or his version of this song even existed before doing research for this post. This song now belongs to the Eagles, for better or for worse.
- “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Band Aid. Not really a Christmas song per se, with, you know, deck them halls and all that stuff. But it’s such a great song that typifies the 80s for me. I’ll find any excuse to play it.
- “Grown-Up Christmas List” – David Foster (and Amy Grant). I may get ragged on for this one. I mean, it’s David Foster. But given that Popdose dedicated an entire series of posts to one man’s obsession with David Foster, maybe he’s coming into acceptance. And I do love Amy Grant; she is the cause of the umpteen million versions of this song being played until our ears bleed, but hers is the best.
- “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” – John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band. Like most John Lennon solo efforts, it features poignant lyrics, catchy verses, and a so-so middle eight. Ignore that and Yoko’s voice, and you have a charming little Christmas song.
- “Wonderful Christmastime” – Paul McCartney. This makes a lot of people’s Worst Christmas Song lists, and with good reason. It sounds as if Paul spent about 15 minutes writing it and performed it on a second generation Casio keyboard. Still, it is Sir Paul, it’s played quite a bit, and even if he did spend only 15 minutes writing it, he still seems to have captured the essence of Christmas in it.
- “Last Christmas” – Wham! I don’t know how this has become a Christmas classic, but you hear it everywhere. I don’t know if that makes it right. But I give it a pass since I’m a closet Wham! fan (no pun intended).
- “Christmas All Over Again” – Tom Petty. How did this song get past me for 16 years? I first heard it last year and immediately clamped onto its irresistible hooks. It sounds like a George Harrison cover.
- “River” – Joni Mitchell (Allison Crowe). Again, this one had escaped me for almost my entire life until I heard it at a restaurant this week. My friends and I craned our necks toward the speakers amid the loud conversations to catch a snip of the lyrics or get Shazam to tell us what it was. We finally traced it to Joni Mitchell, but the version we heard was by Allison Crowe. Listen, and enjoy.