(Pictured: I was going to post a pic of Emmylou Harris alone, but when you can post three queens all at once, you do it. This is from the 2019 Musicares gala.)
I never get through my entire laptop Christmas library every year. In fact, some of the stuff on it hasn’t been favored by the gods of shuffle in a long time. To assemble this playlist, I loaded up everything that hasn’t been on since 2015 or earlier.
“Child of Winter (Christmas Song)”/Beach Boys. The band released the hit compilation Endless Summer in June 1974, so the marketplace would have been primed for something new that Christmas. But they dropped “Child of Winter” on December 23, 1974, which made sure practically nobody heard it. And by Christmas of 1975, it was forgotten.
“The Little Drummer Boy”/Harry Simeone Chorale. I have said many times over the years that the Chorale’s 1958 recording is the only version of “The Little Drummer Boy” you need. A ghostly mixed chorus carries the melody over a bed of manly rum-pa-pum-pums, and you can get lost in the sound of it. Every other vocal version foregrounds the verse and you have to actually listen to the words, which dilutes the charm of it pretty fast.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem”/Emmylou Harris. From Light of the Stable, released in 1979, an album I remember playing on the radio as a little baby DJ. Like the rest of the album, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is gorgeous, and Emmylou sings a verse you don’t frequently hear.
“My Favorite Things”/Supremes. This year’s annoying millennial Internet Christmas trope, which I have seen several times already, is “why is ‘My Favorite Things’ a Christmas song?” I refer you (and them) to this 2017 piece from Billboard, which traces it to a 1964 Jack Jones album. His producer didn’t think it was Christmassy either, until a song plugger said, “Just put some sleigh bells on it.”
“The Christmas Song”/John Edwards. Edwards was recently mentioned at this site in a discussion of porn mogul Michael Thevis and the record labels he used to launder money. This draggy 1976 version of the Nat King Cole classic runs five minutes and seems longer.
“Christmas Song”/Phoebe Bridgers. This is a different song from the one Edwards is singing, and I don’t care much for the watery, distorted production on it, or the unresolved chord it ends on. (Those sorts of tricks are done everywhere now, in pop, country, indie, and elsewhere, and I’m old, so it’s clearly a Me Problem.) Despite that, Bridgers sings a devastating lyric beautifully: “The sadness comes crashing like a brick through the window / And it’s Christmas so no one can fix it.”
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas”/Kim Weston. Just as Bridgers’ “Christmas Song” is not Nat’s, Weston’s “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is not the round many of us learned to sing in grade school. Weston, one of Motown’s early stars, recorded it in 1962, which you could probably guess from the sound of it.
“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”/Roomful of Blues. The 1997 album Roomful of Christmas is never one I consciously put on and listen to in its entirety, but every time a track comes up on shuffle I think, “Damn, this stuff is really good.”
“Yingle Bells”/Yogi Yorgesson. Ol’ Yogi, the alter ego of parodist Harry Stewart, is mentioned at this website most Christmases, I think. Dad was a fan, and I have inherited the singles he bought in the early 1950s. “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” is most famous, but this was the flip side.
“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”/Sarah McLachlan. Certain songs probably shouldn’t be covered because the originals are so compelling and unique, so that’s one reason to dislike this. It also has a children’s chorus on it, which is another. But you know what? I’ll allow it, mostly because the video (linked above) is a lovely thing, inspiring the sort of warm feelings and good cheer we all hope to feel at Christmastime, and because McLachlan sings the song beautifully.
The Christmas Shuffle series began at this website in 2007, and in each of the last several years, I have managed to do it only once. Will there be a second shuffle before the big day arrives? It’s always a mystery.