At the risk of sounding like an old man, it seems like holiday music starts leaking out of the radio earlier and earlier every year. A local Christian station started playing 24-hour Christmas tunes on November 1st--I guess you wouldn't want to sully them with Halloween or anything. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, at least 1/3 of the FM band will be devoted to traditional holiday classics, and contemporary abominations (I'm looking at you, Mariah Carey). And at least once a day, I will be ambushed with that damn "Hippopotamus for Christmas" song, which will then be in my head until a better alternative arrives (as it now is in yours...you're welcome).
But fear not, for there are safe zones in the wilderness. These are the songs that invariably arrive every December that I can listen to again and again, and none of them will drive me to do something that will get me in the papers tomorrow.
The Carpenters, "Sleigh Ride"
Hands-down my favorite version of my favorite Christmas carol. It's ironically tragic that some of the most heart-warming and time-tested holiday songs were performed by such a troubled figure in Karen Carpenter. Those husky vocals never fail to make me crave coffee and pumpkin pie (their version of "Home For the Holidays" also makes me want home-made pumpkin pie, in Pennsylvania no less).
The Muppets, "12 Days of Christmas"
BAH-DOM-bom-bom! John Denver and the Muppets...it's like Rogers and Astair, Lewis and Martin, Farley and Spade, Chocolate and Peanut Butter. I'm pretty sure that this is the version that actually taught me the song as a child, though it was a little embarrassing when I realized that one verse isn't actually just "ME-ME ME-ME ME-ME!" a-la Beaker.
Bing Crosby and David Bowie, "Little Drummer Boy"
If there are two more different people performing a song together, I'm having a hard time coming up with it (well, maybe Elton John and Eminem, but that wasn't a Christmas song...). But it totally works--Bing, old school baritone, Bowie, vaguely androginous tenor, and just perfect harmony. This one is my wife's personal favorite, I think at least partly because it reminds her of the time she snuck out of the house to travel across the state to see Bowie play with Nine Inch Nails when she was in high school--and grounded. Sorry honey, secret's out.
Paul McCartney, "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time"
I'm a rather well-known Beatle-disliker (I'm probably the only person on Earth who likes McCartney with Wings better than with the other Liverpudlians). But there's just something about that opening synthesizer that hooks my attention every time. Though if you play this song too many times in a row, I think a large part of the world loses all meaning. (Ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong-dong-dong-dong...)
Trans-Siberian Orchestra, "Wizards in Winter"
If you've never seen TSO in concert, do so. Like, tomorrow. But until then, the video clip above will hold you over. Christmas lights synced to this song is actually a pretty popular trend lately, since the Miller commercial last year featured it (incidentally on a house a few miles from my own...fun fact). I wavered between this one and the always powerful "Sarajevo 12/24" but went with "Wizards" because it's more rarely heard in the wild. Rock on, Kringle.
Vince Guaraldi, "Christmas Time is Here"
I'd like to finish with the quintessential "watching evening snow" melody. The Charlie Brown specials have lost a little bit of luster for me personally as I've gotten older, but when you have kids you rediscover the things that you always truly loved about them. Vince Guaraldi's soft jazz is one of those things, and is always a comfort to troubled souls. Enjoy...