Holiday Music – Love It or Hate It?

Well, it’s the holidays, and with it comes a deluge of music, special events and performances surrounding the celebrations. And holiday music, like golf pants, can either be colorful, kitschy fun or excruciating, pencils-in the ears nonsense that can drive listeners from the room. 

That is to say, it’s wildly subjective. So here, presented to both cheers and groans, is Snapback’s James Katalbas–a new and regular contributor to Knitting Factory News–on Mariah Carey and possibly the most successful holiday record of all time.

This day in hip hop history: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” makes the top music charts two decades after its release (the accompanying video has almost 340 million views).


Born March 27, 1970, Mariah Carey may be most well recognized for her beloved old school Christmas smash, “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” This hit has made the charts every year since it’s release, and continues to do so decades later. Her song has been more successful than any other non-traditional Christmas song! This old school piece has been so well received that admiring fans have even dubbed Mariah Carey the Queen of Christmas. Mariah Carey admits that she loves the holiday season to an abnormal extent, but humbly rejects the title of Queen of Christmas.

Although there is another, earlier song known as “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Mariah’s version uses entirely different lyrics and music. Her producer programmed almost all of the instruments you hear in the background of the song! Although the music video shows Mariah and her husband frolicking through a winter landscape, the song was actually produced in August. At the time, neither she nor her producer had considered that the song had even a remote chance of becoming popular, and the producer claims the day of its release made no lasting impression on him. He was wildly surprised to see how successful it has become. It’s great to hear Mariah belt out those high notes every winter season, but we’d love it even more if she would make a comeback!

–James Katalbas

And lest you scoff, Hip-Hop Bible Complex agrees with him.

Well, in case you think we’re just going to drop that bomb and let it sit there, here’s some other holiday records we have in a dusty corner of the hard drive or a box under the stereo that run the gamut of style and substance (leaving out perhaps everyone’s favorite, Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”)

If you ever wanted to know what it sounds like when the artist doesn’t move their lips when singing, then 1988’s “Christmas Island” by jazz blues legend Leon Redbone is the holiday record for you. Amazon’s Martin Keller writes, “…Leon Redbone has kept much of America’s blues and jazz music alive with his foggy baritone voice and understated manner. And that’s what you get on Christmas Island; mostly popular standards, with the exception of “That Old Christmas Moon,” “Christmas Ball Blues,” and “Kitty Cats’ Christmas,”–a captivating calypso original penned by Leon and Blake Redbone. Dr. John joins in for a soulful and lively rendition of “Frosty The Snowman,” while Redbone dutifully covers both “White” and “Blue” Christmas, “Let It Snow,” and “Winter Wonderland.” But a highlight you won’t want to miss is his version of “Toyland,” sung with what can best be described as Redbone passion, embracing dashes of longing, nostalgia, and pleasure as deep as the voice that breathes life into a song about every kid’s Christmas fantasy.” Redbone wasn’t done with this record though; He and Zooey Deschanel also recorded the charming “Baby it’s Cold Outside” for the soundtrack of 2003’s holiday classic, ELF.


I googled “Red Hot Chili Peppers Christmas” and surprise, surprise, there was a result: their version of “Deck the Halls” as a bonus track from 1994’s “Out in LA.” Of course, YouTube started to build a playlist, beginning with Guns n’ Roses’ “White Christmas” and moved on to Metallica’s “Carol of the Bells;” AC/DC’s “Jingle Hell’s Bells;” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Christmas Time Again;” and Kiss’ “White Christmas,” I had to quit after that. Twisted Sister and Bad Religion have whole albums. If your tastes run in this direction, skip this nonsense and just get your hands on “We Wish you a Metal Christmas (and a Headbanging New Year).”

I’ve had a soft spot in my heart all my life for Canadian folk rock activist Bruce Cockburn. He’s the guy we wish we had at Stand up for Standing Rock. Anyway, his holiday record is unique for fresh takes on classics and both tub thumping and earnest tunes you’ve never heard of and might not recognize, in English, French and Spanish. Fun fact: do you know what a luthier is? Don’t click yet…OK. It’s someone that makes guitars. Thanks, Wikipedia.

I think the reason perhaps that contemporary artists–ranging from Arcade Fire to Frank Zappa (if you can count his “Xmas Values”)–have had such a hard time with holiday music, is that the singers of the 30’s-60’s say, from big band to Rat Pack cut such a deep furrow that those that followed simply fell in and disappeared. From the pre-war baritone growl of Louis Armstrong to the booze-soaked croon of Dean Martin, these artists bring the of irony, nostalgia and hep cat swing to the genre in a way that’s very, VERY hard to follow.

Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails Volume 1 and 2. So, my copy of this two-disc set, given to me by record exec Phil Sandhaus, actually has a real faux leopard-print cover and came with a matching Santa hat. It’s out of print so you’ve got to scour record shops or the internets to get this one. Vol. 2 is the best with the standout track “Baby it’s Cold Outside” by Dean Martin.

Christmas with the Rat Pack. We agree with Complex on this one, too: ” Sammy Davis Jr. is the real star of this album. The one-eyed black Jew could do it all better than anybody. When he gets done tearing up “Jingle Bells” there’s really no need for anybody else to sing the song ever again.”

Croon and Swoon Vol. 2. Again, second time’s the charm for some of these discs. Standout track here is “Santa Baby” by the cat so hep she played an animated one in “Emperor’s Got a New Groove,” Eartha Kitt.

Nothing beats Satchmo for holiday tunes. There’s probably a dozen compilations featuring Louis Amrstrong, but I picked this one because our favorite, Christmas in New Orleans, is the opening track and it’s a nice remaster of an older pressing of the record.


Finally, we all have perennial favorite holiday songs and one of mine is “The Little Drummer Boy.” It’s sappy and saccharine, but it’s complicated musically, and here’s a very cool jazz version of it from Kenny Burrell. But it’s best known for the performance by David Bowie and Bing Crosby. Recorded in 1977, it’s one of the first mashups, really, where Bowie sings one song and Bing Crosby since another. To quote John Cage, “for your convenience, we performed them together.”


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Lisa Bianconi
Author: Lisa Bianconi

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