This is an odd little song, but an undeniable Christmas favorite. It was written in 1941 by the American classical composer Katherine Kennicott Davis, and was said to be based on a traditional Czech carol. Davis' interest in writing the song was to produce something that could be sung by amateur and girls' choirs. The original title was "Carol of the Drum."
Although this isn't strictly a Christmas song, its use in the closing scene of It's A Wonderful Life qualifies it as one in my book. And, in any case, it expresses a wonderful sentiment entirely appropriate to the holidays.
Like Robbie Robertson and The Band, Dave Matthews seeks here to craft a retelling of the story of Jesus that might cause us to look at this old tale from a fresh perspective, and consider anew its core meaning. This retelling is a bit more ambitious than Robertson's. Like Jackson Browne, Matthews is not an avowed Christian, and yet he finds deep meaning in this story.
This is a favorite yuletide tune that has been recorded by almost everyone at least once. Note that the lyrics have varied quite a bit since the song's original composition. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, the song was introduced in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis, as performed by Judy Garland.
I've always loved this Christmas song from The Band.
There's nothing terribly fancy or ambitious about it. Robbie Robertson just recounts the story of Christmas, of the birth of Jesus, in a series of familiar scenes, using simple and straightforward language.
Come down to the manger, see the little stranger,
Wrapped in swaddling clothes, the prince of peace.
Wheels start turning, torches start burning,
And the old wise men journey from the East.
On Christmas day in 1863 American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “Christmas Bells.” Longfellow's words from this poem have been set to music by a number of different composers and performers, starting as early as 1872. There are a number of contemporary recordings based on this poem, but the one with which I am particularly taken is a rather obscure track by John Gorka. The music here is Gorka's, and doesn't seem to share anything with other musical renditions of the poem. Gorka dropped three of the stanzas, including those most directly referencing the Civil War, leaving him with four verses for his song.
Every gal struttin' with her beau
Through the streets covered white with snow,
Happy smiles everywhere you go:
It's Christmas night in Harlem.
Phil Spector released his magnum opus in the 1963 holiday season. Titled A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, it's hard to overstate the extent of Spector's ambition and accomplishment on this album.
If Christmas is supposed to return us to home and family, then of course songs will be written about those who are still left yearning for a reunion with loved ones during the holiday season. Charles Brown helped to give us the joyful “Merry Christmas Baby,” but he also first delivered, and co-wrote, the plaintive appeal found in “Please Come Home for Christmas.”