Okay, being totally honest, I'm a huuuuge sucker for the classic Christmas carols, in their classic forms. Let's get real, though…there are genuinely only SO many times I can listen to "Holly Jolly Christmas" as sung by Burl Ives before I want to sic the Abominable Snowman on a Claymation elf. Around this time in December, I find myself more drawn to the "new" Christmas classics…twists on old favorites, or even totally new songs. The renditions below are currently spinning on repeat in my Spotify: the perfect mid-December refresher!
--"Run Run Rudolph," Kelly Clarkson.
Wrapped in Red, Kelly's holiday album, just came out this year and it reminded me why I was so obsessed with old-school American Idols. It's rocking, jazzy, and wistful in turns, all delivered in her powerhouse vocals. Long live the original American Idol!!
--"Celebrate Me Home," Lady Antebellum
I was "introduced" to this song by The Undertones, Notre Dame's men's a'cappella group…my good friend Hal sang lead on this at their holiday concert my senior year, and since then, it's not really the Christmas season until I've heard it. The Lady Antebellum version is to DIE for with the harmonies. I promise.
--"River," Lea Michele (yes, from Glee)
No shame. I love this song. It's a good "sort-of-depressing but still beautiful" Christmas song. The Sarah McLachlan version is beautiful, but I fell in love with the Glee version, primarily because Lea Michele has such a stunning, plaintive voice. Combined with the purity of the naked piano, this doesn't sound Glee-esque at all.
--"Maybe This Christmas," Ron Sexsmith
Anyone who can name the original source of this song's popularity will instantly have my heart forever. No takers? THE OC CHRISMUKKAH ALBUM, obviously!! I am a hopeless The OC devotee…and Seth Cohen and Chrismukkah was one of the absolute highlights of the show.
--"The 12 Days of Christmas," Straight No Chaser
I actually secretly REALLY hate The 12 Days of Christmas. A lot. This song? NOT your grandma's 12 Days. It's a hilarious, madcap, unpredictable and totally irreverent medley performed by one of my faaaavorite a'cappella groups. If you don't chuckle a couple times on the way though, the ending--a Christmas-ized version of Toto's "Africa"--will leave any Notre Dame alum/Backer lover feeling festive!
--"Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays," N*Sync
Yes. I am aware this AUDITORY MAGIC is not exactly a "newcomer." Dare I say, however, that this might actually be the ultimate new holiday classic? My friends, it is ubiquitous, and for good reason. I DARE you not to feel merry after Justin and Co wish you a happy holiday, 90's-boy-band style.
--"Sleigh Ride," Fun.
This came out before Fun got huge last year, and I kinda really like it. I love "Sleigh Ride" to begin with, but the electro-synth, poppy touches over the old-school strings are charming and quirky and modern.
--"Little Saint Nick," She & Him
Zooey Deschanel can do no wrong. Take the most saccharinely sweet and adorable Christmas song ever, and add vocals by precious Zooey, and THEN top it off with ukelele, and you have the recorded version of…I don't know, hot chocolate with extra marshmallows.
--"What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?," The Head and the Heart
I love TH&TH year-round. This song too, has always made me kind of happy in a sort of wishful, romantic way, and their rendition leaves nothing to be desired. Very soulful, very jazzy, very sweet. There's also a French verse in the middle…um, LOVE.
--"Merry Christmas Baby," Colbie Callait and Brad Paisley
This is a great new-country duet…what a nice update to a sort of offbeat holiday favorite! I really love Colbie and Brad together. Sort of an unexpected combo, but it really works.
--"Carol of the Bells," Pentatonix
Another a'cappella favorite. The harmonies and scat in between the verses/chorus are amazing. Pentatonix's Christmas album is all great, but this stands out--so different.
--"We Need a Little Christmas," AgesandAges
This is another Christmas song I just usually really don't like, but this quirky version makes me happy. A little bit of synth, cool harmonies, and slowing it down totally changed the frenetic, irritatingly chirpy tone of the original…for the better.
--"Cold December Night," Michael Bublé
I love Michael Bublé's entire holiday album. I mean, obviously everyone knows he's the best thing to happen to the classics in a long time…which is why it makes perfect sense that his Christmas album has become an instant new classic. I love this original off the album.
--"White Christmas--Live," Lady Gaga
Um, yes. I put Lady Gaga on a Christmas playlist. This song is sacred to many Christmas lovers, which is why I was kind of shocked when I loved Lady Gaga's version. She adds a verse, and there's some great commentary from her between the chorus and verses. Plus, it sounds kind of awesomely jazzy. You go, Gaga.
--"The Nutcracker Suite," Les Brown and His Band of Renown
This is the Nutcracker as you've never heard it before. For starters, it condenses the highlights of the looong album into a great 6:33 capsule. For seconders…it's AWESOMELY jazzy and swinging. Even if you're not an instrumental music lover…you have to give it a listen!
Yikes. By the time you made it this far, it's probably already New Year's. Go reward yourself with a candy cane or two…and some sweet new tunes to match. Happy holidays, ladies and gents!