In the Silence of the Mind: December 19, 2013
Ultimate Christmas Playlist
It appears to be that time of year again. With less than one week until Santa drops through your chimney and we honor the day Christians of old turned December 25th into one of our biggest holiday celebrations (honoring Jesus) in order to combat other pagan festivals, it seemed fitting to unveil my personal Ultimate Christmas Playlist.
Now, we all know that Christmas albums have become a staple of the music industry with (almost) literally every artist ever born compelled or coerced into creating at least one Christmas song. Heck, even Taco Bell once released a special edition Christmas tape (remember those) that featured Rush Limbaugh on one track. So, there are a lot to choose from. Which means, I’m likely going to miss one of your favorites. So, be sure to support your favorite Christmas jam in the comments section, below.
I also know the likelihood is high that you’ve been listening to Christmas music for weeks (or maybe even months!) by now. So, be sure to mix these tracks into your already existing list as you help me to compile a true “ultimate” playlist in the comments, below. There may be many more tracks that deserve honor and inclusion, but I want to argue that no Christmas playlist is complete without the following:
The Song: “I Celebrate the Day”
The Artist: Relient K
From the Album: Happy Christmas Vol. 4
Why it Makes the Cut: Without hesitation I can say that “I Celebrate the Day” is my favorite Christmas song. While there are many, many great songs that bear the name/genre “Christmas,” this one tops them all due to the heartbreaking self-introspection and simple assertion; “From the first time, that You opened Your eyes, did You realize that You would be my Savior? From the first breath that left Your lips, did You know that it would change this world forever?” Though it is a little more “self” focused than I generally like, this song certainly brings the hope of heaven and true joy of Christmas nearer.
The Song: “The Earth Stood Still”
The Artist: Future of Forestry
From the Album: Advent Christmas EP Vol. 2
Why it Makes the Cut: These top three songs (above and below) all have one thing in common, they are among a small handful of songs that have the strange power to bring me to tears no matter what time of year it is. During Christmas, however, their powers are simply magnified. With compelling instrumentation, beautiful harmony, and that undefinable quality that makes a simply great song, Future of Forestry bring one of the most unforgettable songs ever recorded. Unlike Relient K’s song above, this song focuses everything on the Christ of Christmas, unentangled by our own fallenness, yet still manages to remind the listener that God came down to redeem us undeserving souls.
The Song: “This Christmas”
The Artist: tobyMac
From the Album: This Christmas (Single)
Why It Makes the Cut: Long before the other two tracks (above) made me well up with tears, it was tobyMac’s amazing tale of a young boy who has never experienced Christmas with a family proved one song could get me every time. Though I haven’t been as captivated by tobyMac’s music in recent years, this song is (in my opinion) the high point in his long and definitive career. Yes, I did mean what I just said. This song perfectly captures the child-like wonder that made Christmas something special in all our little hearts, but it is the message of taking care of God’s business in the midst of it that really makes it stick. If I were a screenwriter, I would have turned this into a movie (God willing) long ago.
The Song: “Mary, Did You Know?”
The Artist: Spoken
From the Album: Happy Christmas Vol. 4
Why it Makes the Cut: If memory serves me correctly, this song was originally written by comedian Mark Lowry (lyrics) and Buddy Greene (music). Since then, it has been a favorite on most people’s lists, and with great reason. “Mary, Did You Know?” looks at the intimate side of the birth of Christ from the position of Christ’s very mother. Who couldn’t (male or female) relate to the power in that?
But, it is Spoken’s version that I find definitive. Aside from the fact that Spoken has made most of the lists I’ve created these past few months… and the fact that they will be unveiled shortly as my pick for album of the year… there’s just something magical in Matt Baird’s haunting rendition of this bastion of holiday joy, love, and cheer.
The Song: “Little Drummer Boy”
The Artist: Jars of Clay
From the Album: Drummer Boy EP
Why it Makes the Cut: While there have been fantastic versions of this song from artists as far and wide apart as August Burns Red and Richie Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, it is Jars of Clay’s version that most strikes me. Though I am not typically a fan of Jars, aside from a few stellar songs here and there, I find their version to hit just the right balance of haunting vocals mixed with a real sense of unworthiness before the King.
That said, if I could pick a second version of the song, it would be Audio Adrenaline’s rock version from Wow Christmas!
The Song: “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
The Artist: Third Day
From the Album: WOW Christmas
Why it Makes the Cut: This is another case where I normally am not too captured by the artist. In this, everything that I said about the song immediately above applies here. Still, there is just something about Mark Powell’s handling of this Christmas classic that just stands above all the rest for me.
Once again, if I could choose a second version, it would be Flyleaf (Lacey Sturm)’s haunting take.
The Song: “This is Christmas”
The Artist: Kutless
From the Album: O Come All Ye Faithful
Why it Makes the Cut: More than any other song like it, Kutless strips away the shopping, buying, fighting, wanting, of the holiday that should be called Santaganza in honor of the endless shopping, and reminds us that it is Christ that truly stands above all during the Christmas season. By the time it gets to the “Gloria” reprise… I’m hooked.
“What is Christmas, if there never was a Savior wrapped in a manger? What is Christmas, if the angels never sang, ‘glory to the newborn King’? What is Christmas without Christ? There’d be no Gloria…”
The Song: “Carol of the Bells”
The Artist: August Burns Red
From the Album: “X Christmas”
Why it Makes the Cut: Want to hear someone laugh? Just tell them that August Burns Red is overhyped in the musical talent department. Without a single word, ABR take a timeless Christmas classic and not only make it their own, but do so without overdoing the heaviness of the song.
Though they have released many great Christmas songs since, it is “Carol of the Bells” that still proves to be a heavy-metal Christmas classic.
The Song: “What Child is This?”
The Artist: Mercy Me
From the Album: WOW Christmas
Why it Makes the Cut: Once again, Mercy Me is an artist that I normally don’t tend to prefer (aside from the occasional masterpiece like “I Can Only Imagine”)… and once again it is impossible to deny how powerfully Bart’s voice takes such an iconic Christmas classic and makes it even more iconic by having touched it.
In terms of Christmas songs themselves, there is no list that can exclude “What Child is This?” and Mercy Me somehow make it that much better.
The Song: “Misfit Toys”
The Artist: Project 86
From the Album: This Time of Year EP
Why it Makes the Cut: If you would have told me several years ago (in the Truthless Heroes era) that Project 86 would write an original Christmas song that not only captures the Christmas essence that has made other songs so lastingly memorable, but also stick true to their style… I would have told you you were crazy. Not that I doubt Schwab’s talent in the least… His storied career proves that he is in a class nearly by himself entirely… but Project 86’s style just didn’t scream compatibility with Christmas music.
Two Christmas EP’s later, however, I look forward to Project 86’s yuletide anthems more than almost any other. With “Misfit Toys,” Schwab manages to balance his edgy style/message with a classic Christmas cartoon-theme and mix in a haunting spiritual message that outshines most other holiday fare. Seriously, if you haven’t heard this EP, yet…. You haven’t experienced Christmas music.
The Song: “O, Holy Night”
The Artist: Chris Tomlin
From the Album: Glory in the Highest – Christmas Songs of Worship
Why it Makes the Cut: Since Christmas music often has more worshipful lyrics than many modern worship songs, I’m not sure why a modern worship artist didn’t think of making a Christmas worship album sooner. Tomlin, who has produced some amazing worship songs himself, outdoes himself in applying his worshipful passion to Christmas songs of old. It is “O, Holy Night,” however, that stands at the head of the pack, like Rudolf himself.
Aside from the fact that this song is one of the all around greatest Christmas songs and one of the most iconic of all time, it is Tomlin’s heart that shines through most on the track. Having produced it as a live worship song/album was somewhat risky, but ultimately makes the ambiance of the song burn brighter than it would have as a studio experience.
The Song: “O, Come Emmanuel”
The Artist: Chasing Furies
From the Album: Happy Christmas
Why it Makes the Cut: As with many of the songs above, there is no shortage of artists waiting to re-re-re-record Christmas songs that have been done over and over again in the past. Such is certainly the case with “O Come Emmanuel,” which has had everyone including the amazing Haste the Day provide their own rendition. It is, however, this lost gem of a version from the original Happy Christmas album that steals my heart the most. Though I have not since (or before) heard much from Chasing Furies, the (female) lead singer hits just the right balance in tone, timbre, and style on this song to make it her own and make it memorable.
The Song: “The Christmas Song”
The Artist: Tait (Michael Tait)
From the Album: Lose This Life
Why it Makes the Cut: I’ve stated before that I am sometimes skeptical of worship albums. There’s just something about producing (on a regularly set schedule) songs that are meant to be expressions of a new and renewed love for Christ… and the same happens with Christmas music. If you haven’t caught my Santaganza Conspiracy Theory thread, above, there is a marketing machine behind Dec. 25th that looks only to make money, rather than honor Christ. However, just as some of the greatest worship songs can be found on albums that are not “worship” albums by nature, Michael Tait surprised many by leaving his version of “The Christmas Song” tucked away at the end of one of his solo albums.
Like The Rat Pack before him, Tait has always been known for his ability to Croon (even in the midst of dc Talk’s “rap” phase) better than most anyone. He proves this fact with gusto on this Christmas classic. Some may say “he’s no Sinatra,” but its hard to argue that Michael Tait is at least one of the very best crooners of our generation.
The Song: “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”
The Artist: Joy Electric
From the Album: Happy Christmas
Why it Makes the Cut: Joy Electric is another one of those bands I would never expect to place on a “Christmas Songs” list if it weren’t for the striking fact that they so deservedly belong here. Though their style is eclectic, to say the least, their pre-techno electronica style fits “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” so perfectly.
I really don’t know what else to say. This is an unexpected gem that has lasted through the test of (at least a little) time.
The Song: “Wise Men”
The Artist: The Cross Movement
From the Album: GiftRap
Why it Makes the Cut: Though Flame’s theological Christmas treatise “Invasion Day” only merely missed being put on this list, it is hip-hop legends The Cross Movement’s rap song about the Magi that truly belongs on the list. While Run DMC and others have produced Hip-Hop Christmas songs in the past, Cross Movement excel above them all. “Wise Men,” just as it is named, takes the perspective of the three kings/magi/wise men of the Christmas story and looks at the historical event through their eyes.
Even though you probably don’t expect rap to fit the yule-tide spirit required in a Christmas jam, Cross Movement pull it off with style. “Wise Men” may not make your grandmother happy while you’re playing it in the background during the holiday season, but it belongs alongside Frosty and Rudolf no less.
The Artist: Plankeye
The Song: “Away in a Manger”
From the Album: Happy Christmas
Why it Makes the Cut: Plankeye is another one of those sorely missed bands who simply applied their own punk-rock stylings to a classic Christmas song and let talent do the rest. There is nothing especially different about “Away in a Manger” from other versions of the song, but it still deserves mention above the rest.
The Song: “White Christmas”
The Artist: Bing Crosby
From the Album: White Christmas
Why it Makes the Cut: Seriously? If there is a version of this song that deserves mention, it is Bing’s. There is no one who has ever been able to match that iconic voice… That voice!
Surely, there have been many worthy Christmas songs by the crooners of old (Sinatra and Company), but no list can call itself “ultimate” without Bing Crosby. “Silver Bells” could also make this list in a heart beat.
So, that’s it for this list. Though I continue to uphold that this is the “ultimate” Christmas playlist… there are still songs missing. Where is “Silent night”? What about “Jingle Bells”? There were just too many great songs out there to cover them all. So, be sure to put your favorite songs by your favorite artist in the comments section below.
And, with that, I close out this year of In the Silence of the Mind. Very thankful to Brandon and IVM for letting me post each week. We’ll be back after the new year with “What’s in a (Band) Name?” and a few other timely musical/theological explorations.
Merry CHRISTmas to all, and a Happy New Year.