Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reggie's Favorite Christmas Music Around the House

Like most people, Reggie enjoys listening to and playing Christmas music this time of year.  He is known to sing along to it—sometimes quite loudly and much to the annoyance of those around him—in the car, while out shopping, and around the house.  Even though he would like to, Reggie is not allowed to start playing Christmas music before the morning of the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, and he is required to stop playing it at midnight on Boxing Day.  He didn't make this rule, but he good naturedly agreed to it and follows along with it in the interest of maintaining matrimonial harmony.

Reggie spent much of his boyhood and adolescence singing in church choirs and secular choruses, and he knows—or at least thinks he can recall—the bass/baritone part to many carols of the season.  He happily sings along at church, at least when he finds himself there, and he is overjoyed to attend parties where carols are sung, where he joins in enthusiastically.  Most of the time this is met with bemused tolerance by those around him, but sometimes not.  Only last week Reggie attended a party where a quartet of caroling singers dressed in period garb out of A Christmas Carol had been engaged to stroll throughout the rooms, entertaining the guests.  They were distinctly not pleased when Reggie tried to join in on their fun by adding his own harmonies at one point.  Ah well, he thought while reaching for another glass of egg nog, at least he wasn't the one walking around in pseudo-Victorian clothing that night.

In any event, today's post is not supposed to be about Reggie, but rather about the music that he plays (some claim endlessly) around the house during the Christmas season.  I've divided it into three categories: contemporary, popular classics, and traditional.  They are all favorites of mine, and are given a lot of airplay at Darlington House this time of year.

The first and newest recording on this list, Let it Snow!, is a short and swell offering from today's King of Swing, Michael Bublé, that is sure to please even the most jaded member of your household.  Man, this guy can sing!

I first learned of the Blenders, an extremely talented a cappella quartet that has been singing together since their college days, from my dear brother Frecky, who sent me Nog, their first Christmas album CD, five or so years ago.  I cannot get enough of the Blenders' gorgeous close harmony singing of carols and standards on this and their other Christmas albums CDs.

I reach for Diana Krall's Christmas Songs when I'm in the mood for something sultry, which she delivers in jazzy spades on this recording.  I usually play it after sundown, as it is best listened to accompanied by a scotch on the rocks.  I mean, look at her!

Moving on from contemporary and into the popular classics, the first on my list is the Carpenters' Christmas Portrait, featuring Karen Carpenter's mellifluous renditions of popular Christmas songs.  I can't help myself—I love this recording!  I play it so often this time of year that if it were an album I'd have worn out the grooves by now.  I'm not surprised the Carpenters were the only "rock band" invited to perform at the Nixon White House, given their wholesome appeal.

If I want to play classic Christmas standards during a party or while decorating the house for the holiday, I put on Croon and Swoon, a compilation of timeless classics by some of the most popular, pre-rock-'n'-roll vocalists of the mid-twentieth century.  You know the ones I mean.  There are two song-packed CDs in this series, and I have both of them.  There's just nothing quite like the velvety sound of Mel Torme singing "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" to get me into the Christmas spirit.

Go ahead and laugh at me, but I love this album.  Recorded before he became a parody of himself, Andy Williams is fabulous here.  Did you know that he got his start singing backup in a night club act for Kay Thompson of Eloise at the Plaza fame?  Yes, he did, which attests to his vocal creds, given that Miss Thompson coached some of the best singers of her day, including Judy Garland and Lena Horne.  His rendition of Miss T's "Jingle Bells" arrangement is a knockout.

Now, I know I'm pushing it here with this one, but I play this recording at least a couple of times every Christmas season.  And that's because Miss Doris Day is at her absolute whipped-creamiest on this, her Christmas Album.  But be forewarned: in order to avoid an onset of hyperglycemia do not attempt to listen to this album CD while consuming anything sweet, such as cocoa or cookies.

Moving on from the popular classics and into traditional Christmas music, the first on my list is Pops Christmas Party by the Boston Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Arthur Fiedler.  In addition to orchestrations of holiday standards, it includes beloved music from The Nutcracker and the Pops' iconic rendition of "Sleigh Ride."  What's not to love?

She may have multiple personality disorders, but Miss Kathleen Battle has the voice of an angel from Heaven, and on A Christmas Celebration she sings traditional carols with stunning lyric beauty.  The first time I heard her rendition of "I Wonder as I Wander" it stopped me in my tracks.

Moving on to England and back in time more than a century, A Victorian Christmas is a collection of traditional English carols and music from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Many of the works on this disc are from Sir John Stainer's Carols New and Old, first published in London in 1871.  This is the perfect album CD to play while opening presents on Christmas morning.

Closing out my Christmas-music favorites is a recent recording that I received for supporting the local public radio station I listen to in the country.  A Christmas Festival features the Cambridge Singers and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, accompanied by the organ of the Royal Albert Hall, under the direction of John Rutter.  It is full of traditional English carols, hymns, and music, and is perfect to play on a wintry December afternoon spent wrapping presents.  It's also a good warm-up for the annual Christmas Eve radio broadcast of "The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" service held at King's College, Cambridge, that Reggie makes sure he listens to every year.

So, here you have Reggie's favorite Christmas recordings, and the ones that you would be sure to hear should you find yourself at Darlington House between now and Boxing Day.  I encourage you to add any of these albums CDs recordings downloads to your own collection of Christmas music, as I think you, too, will enjoy listening to them.

Tell me, what are some of your Christmas music favorites?

Photograph of boy choristers courtesy of Getty Images; all album CD covers scanned by Reggie Darling


  1. The favorite around Dilettante Acres is Leontyne Price's Christmas Album, though we tolerate some fun stuff. But Michel Buble? er, um,....

  2. I've been enjoying Pandora (no commercials) so much (have you tried it? it's fabulous!) Bing, Ella, Johnny Mathis, Burl Ives...and so much more, even the Carpenter's! It just plays on and on...
    I'd have to say though that A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi is number one, been listening to that one everyday.

    Idea - Maybe next year, Reggie could form his own carolling troup...then he could sing to his heart's content (in a snazzy costume), to the joy of all those around him! Just a thought.
    xo J~

  3. Good morning, Reggie. For days now, the Celt has been singing, and occasionally dancing to, anything Christmas - yesterday as I went out into the hall I heard a whistled version of Felice Navidad bouncing merrily up the elevator shaft. I knew it was he. Nine Lessons and Carols from King's Chapel, Cambridge is for Christmas morning.

  4. I own several of these LPs myself and heartily approve Reggie's suggestions, with the possible exception of that twitchy and smarmy Michael Buble. And Andy Williams seems quite dignified when compared to some of the "artists" in my personal collection. I'll bet I'm the only one here who owns The Partridge Family's Christmas album:) Karen Carpenter's voice warms my heart, especially during the holidays, but Diana Krall is probably my all time fave when it comes to Christmas music.

    Whilst killing time over at YouTube recently, I ran across a few individual Christmas recordings that I enjoyed enough to recommend them here. Sting does a terribly catchy rendition of "I Saw Three Ships," and "We Three Kings" performed by The Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan is a wonderfully jazzy surprise. Then of course there's always "The Little Drummer Boy" duet by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. And even though it isn't technically a Christmas song, hearing The Lord's Prayer sung by Andrea Bocelli & The Mormon Tabernacle Choir did put me in the Christmas spirit. It gave me goose bumps too, literally. Lovely, lovely song.

  5. I try to get a moment or two away from Christmas-specific carols, and find a place of wordless abstraction that will draw me into my own reverent feelings about the season, the holy story, for the people around me, and so forth. I have two secret pleasures that have nothing to do with Christmas, both of which never fail to lift me higher than myself.

    Albinoni Adagio:

    A bit of Handel's Water Music:

  6. But Reggie, no links? And here are my four Christmas favorites:
    1. Otis Redding doing White Christmas.
    2. Lena Horne doing Let It Snow
    3. Mariah Carey (!) doing All I Want For Christmas
    4. Rascal Flatts (!!!)doing an a capella version of I'll Be Home For Christmas. Don't knock it 'til you hear it. I hate country music, usually.

  7. We had that Andy Williams album!

    On my Christmas playlists are The Clancy Brothers and several other Irish groups, The BSO's complete Nutcracker, Bing, and the rest of the standards and new this year: Mannheim Steamroller, which you can't sing to, but it surprisingly catchy.

  8. BBC's Homes & Antiques Magazine produces a christmas cd each year. This year, House of Beauty & Culture was kind enough to send me the December issue and the CD.

    Also, love anything by King's College Cambridge.

    New fave is Annie Lennox's Cornucopia.

  9. Check out ARTISTdirect's list of the TOP TEN holiday tracks to give your eggnog a little kick! It includes Mariah Carey, U2, The Beach Boys & more!

  10. Love it all Reggie Darling!! I am listening to Christmas music now!

  11. Well, I grew up listening to late night AM radio in Washington, DC in the early 1960s. My favorite Christmas albums are quite different from those of my brother.
    John Prine - A John Prine Christmas (If You Were the Woman & I Was the Man)
    Willie Nelson - A Christmas with Willie Nelson (O Little Town of Bethlehem)
    Squirrel Nut Zippers - Christmas Caravan (My Evergreen)
    xox Camilla

  12. Ever since I lost my copy of "King Coleman Does Christmas In The Basement," my go-to album has been Howlin' Wolf's legendary "Ain't Gonna Be Your Santa Claus."

    P.S. Michael Bublé? You're messing with us, right? You play that really, really loud when it's time to chase the guests away?

  13. Very enjoyable post. I am not familiar with the Blenders, so I plan to give that a try. I love the John Rutter cd and the Carpenters, too. We always play Julie Andrews Christmas album, and I usually play Emmylou Harris, at least once during December. The Mister loves Christmas music, so I've insisted we not start listening until the first Sunday of Advent because he insists on playing it (at least occasionally) until Epiphany.

  14. I love Andy Williams, I have that very album

  15. Goodness me, so many wonderful suggestions, all of which are most appreciated. I shall have fun exploring them, indeed. Thank you!

    Three commenters--DED, Anon:5:36, and the Ancient--took Reggie to task, sort of, for featuring Michael Bublé. Reggie admits that he sometimes doesn't have the best taste, but he stands firm on this one. Even though Mr. Bublé comes across as a bit of a jerk in the interviews I've seen of him, he is--I believe--the best male vocalist of the American songbook today. That's why I listen to him.

    T&CMom: Get thee a Blenders Christmas CD, I assure you that you will love them. In addition to being superb songsters, the message of their music will, I believe, resonate with you in particular.

  16. Reggie,
    I have the Diana Krall CD and several Andy Williams songs on my Christmas playlist. I should have thought to add Michael Buble's. So thank you! I love his voice and have a few songs on my ipod. Fortunately, I have not heard any of his interviews!

    I have no doubt I would like the Victorian selections, so I must search this out.

    As for me, I always need to hear the voices of Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole at Christmastime.

    Wishing you and Boy a very Merry Christmas!!!

  17. Let's see:

    -first and foremost -- the song "Solstice Bells" from Jethro Tull AND his brillant song "Jack Frost and Hooded Crow"

    and CDs:

    -Jim Brickman "The Gift"
    -Big Bad Voodoo Daddy "Everything You Want for Christmas" -- especially the brillant "Rockabilly Christmas and Heat Miser" ((just TRY to stay seated during these tunes!))
    -Roger Whittaker "Tiding of Comfort and Joy" -- this old CD/album is simply among the very best for the Season!
    -another vote for the CD from "Homes & Antiques" magazine -- gorgeous!
    -Nox Arcana "Winter's Eve"
    -Loreena McKennitt "A Midwinter Night's Dream"
    -Loreena McKennitt "To Drive the Winter's Cold Away"
    -Maggie Sansone "Ancient Noels"
    -David Arkenstone "Enchantment: A Magical Christmas"

    -- and yet another vote for the voices of Kings College!

    and All of the Very Best and Brightest Good Wishes!!


  18. In order to mantain matrimonial harmony in my home similar rules have also been placed on me, although I do occasionally cheat when I'm driving alone ;) Merry Christmas Reggie!

  19. It isn't officially Christmas until Bach's Christmas Oratorio has blasted through the house.
    Yeah, yeah - I know.

  20. Merry Christmas, Reggie. Thank you for writing this wonderful blog. It picks me up on days when I am feeling a little blue, and gives me the best chuckles ever. Wishing you and Boy, all the very best in 2011.

    Warm regards,
    Bonnie, Ottawa, Canada

  21. Wait, wait, wait.

    It's not Christmas to me until I play "Grandma Got Run Over by a Rheindeer" as loud as I can, over and over again until the neighbors call the cops. Then I begin again with Alvin and the Chipmunk's Christmas song.

    Merriest of Christmases to you, Boy, Pompey and your devoted readers.

    Security word of the day. I kid you not:"Bugary"

  22. This season I'm listening exclusively to Joan Sutherland's Christmas
    album out of homage to her passing and because she sings Joy To
    The World so thrillingly. But as a rule I am allergic to Christmas music
    with its reiteration of a mythic moment where all is cozy and bright.
    There are notable exceptions~Judy Garland's bittersweet rendition of
    Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas strikes just the right note of
    Now, about Michael Bublé. Can we admit that he's got a fine voice which is overshadowed by his monstrous ego? That he goes for effects that distort the meaning of a lyric? It's not easy to sustain admiration for a performer so transparently in love with himself.

  23. Dear Reggie,

    Your blog has made my days much more merry and bright!

    Merry Christmas!

  24. Brother Dear: A most excellent list of Christmas music. In addition to "Nog" one should seriously consider the Blenders' excellent 2002 disc "When It Snows." Other possible additions to the Christmas Music Canon include: Handel's "Messiah" (the Christopher Hogwood & Academy of Ancient Music 1754 version, in particular). I played "Messiah" in the office yesterday; since I know the chorus bass lines pretty well (having performed the piece 20+ times), I sang along with gusto, to the amusement of my staff. The Christmas Revels disc "In Celebration of the Winter Solstice" is another natural; I love their traditional UK-based carols (having appeared in the NYC Revels for several years in the early 1980s - as did Reggie Himself, I now recall). I respond viscerally to the Revels music, having been innoculated with it at an early age by having Jack Langstaff as a middle school music teacher (another pleasure I believe we shared). In a somewhat similar vein are the discs recorded by a Hudson Valley quartet, Nowell Sing We Clear. I particularly recommend their 2000 issue: "Just Say Nowell." Think old time (but not Olde Tyme) morris dancers and Christmas revellers. Especially wonderful is their performance of a 1995 carol "Chariots." Finally, may I suggest Judy Collins' 1995 disc "Come Rejoice." Her version of "Let It Snow" is a knockout. With warmth of the holiday season, I remain Your Loving Brother, Frecky.

  25. Oh dear, now I feel like the Grinch who Stole Buble. I do point out to you that I even let the Carpenters slide---but if Buble is the best modern interpreter of the songbook, I'm Johnny Mercer. But what do I know? I actually listened to Lady Gaga the other day. And kinda enjoyed it. But I was driving in the car...

    Actually my real reason for coming back was not to take another swipe at Bubbly Buble, ( okay, make that two swipes), but because as the Christmas spirit finally hits even me (I was always a late bloomer), I've dug out some Nat King Cole Christmas stuff that is thrillingly good and uncorny. Top of the list.

    Merry Christmas.

  26. And then there's shop music that somehow causes forbidden objects to hop into your shopping basket and makes your Visa screech [like the antique bowl I'm looking at here on my desk, it was just supposed to be an innocent walk-through this morning at a favorite antiques shop, this music came through the speakers, suddenly I was in my car with the receipt, not my fault]:

  27. We love Rutter; and we usually take Handel's Messiah out of its dust jacket every year for a spin.

    Merry Christmas Reggie (and Boy and Pompey).
    All the best for the coming year.


  28. New for me but one I will enjoy at least once a year from now on - a video with Charo singing Feliz Navidad on Pee Wee's Playhouse.
    xox Camilla

  29. Well, I immagine by now the Xmas music is going full blast at Darlington House, M. Buble et al. I get my dosis with just one song, Silent Night which makes me cry every year. After that you can play anything you want. BTW i once bought Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass Xmas album for my father and I've never heard the end of it. We do have our slips no?

  30. Lovely choices. Croon and Swoon is one of my top choices as well. I will have to look into A Christmas Festival. I've always loved traditional carols of that tradition - the opening medley to the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol has been a longtime favorite. And, I had the good fortune to have our church present the "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" at the Christmas Eve service this year.

    If you enjoy Kathleen Battle and have fond memories of boyhood choir days, then please listen to Jessye Norman and the American Boychoir singing "This Christmastide." It stirs the soul and leaves tingles up one's spine.

  31. Those albums look very familiar! I believe my mother has several of them, and many others in that vein. As a child, I was deeply attached to one of them in particular and recently searched high and low for it until I found it here, in its entirety: Merry Christmas from the Command Family of Recording Stars. Really, really nice. I'm not sure who the singer was on Virgil Fox's rendition of "Cantique de Noel," but although I consider Leontyne Price's recording to be definitive, she held her own.

    My current favorites tend to be melancholy and modern and introspective, in the English tradition--Ralph Vaughan Williams' Hodie, Peter Warlock's "Bethlehem Down" (which I love, despite its dubious history), John McCutcheon's "Christmas in the Trenches," and American carols like "I wonder as I wander" and "Poor little Jesus." Like you I never miss the broadcast of the King's College service, and like you I can't keep from singing along.

    One last emphatic recommendation is the glorious gospel update of "The Messiah," Too Hot to Handel. Yes, the title is gimmicky, but the. work. is. absolutely. stunning. and the soloists will give you chills. Please find and listen. It may put Krall and Bublé to shame.

    Hope you've managed to dig yourselves out over there on the East Coast...warm rain is coming your way, from us.

  32. It's obvious that musical tastes are quite personal and not always rational. I like that. I like your list, too.

    My Christmas playlist spans decades, genres and several other categories as well.
    Here's a sampling of individual songs and albums that are in rotation at High House from late November to early January:

    "Winter Weather," Fats Waller; also Miss Peggy Lee
    "Father Christmas," The Kinks
    "Silver Bells," Twisted Sister
    "Santa Baby," Eartha Kitt
    "A Soalin' Peter, Paul & Mary
    "Baby, It's Cold Outside," Johnny Mercer & Margaret Whiting; also by the cast of Glee
    "Run Rudolph Run," Chuck Berry
    "Frank the Christmas Turkey," Antsy McClain & the Trailer Park Troubadours

    "A Cold December Night," Erin Bode
    "Cool Yule," Bette Midler
    "A John Waters Christmas," various artists
    "Christmas With the Beach Boys"
    "Merry Christmas," Johnny Mathis
    "Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas," Ella Fitzgerald
    "On Yoolis Night"
    "Nutcracker" Orchestra of the Royal Opera House of Covent Garden
    "A Demento Christmas," various artists
    All of Elvis's Christmas albums

  33. One album missing from the many great ones offered here:

    1) Magic of Christmas - Natalie Cole with the London Symphony Orchestra (excellent arrangement, playful and touching) -

    As for individual songs that have a more sacred holiday element (all traditional English carols with the exception of the American songs Lux Aurumque and Aspenglow):

    1) Lux Aurumque - Eric Whitacre (pure angelic harmony that evokes the magic, mystery, and fantasy of the holiday season) -

    2) Holly and Ivy (

    3) Aspenglow – John Denver (a crisp reflection of the barren beauty of nature during the winter months) -

    3) Ding Dong Merrily on High (

    4) Sussex Carol (

    5) Gabriel's Message (

    6) Three Ships Sailing by Sting (

    7) There Is No Rose Of Such Virtue (

    8) Det är en ros utsprungen ("A Rose has Sprung") (arr Sandström) (

    9) Walking on the Air (from The Snowman) (

    10) Gaudete (Mediaevals Baebes version) (

  34. Reggie, I wholeheartedly agree with your list of recordings, many of which I own and play myself. Michael Buble is indeed a wonderful interpreter of the American Songbook, and the Carpenters Christmas Portrait album has been voted the Number One holiday music album for many years and still stands up to time. A compilation spanning 3 or 4 decades of music by Time/Life which is a 4 CD set is also a must play at my house. Doris Day would also be a delight, if one could find the recording. I will be on the lookout for next year. Happy New Year!

  35. I would add the Vince Guaraldi Trio's "A Charlie Brown Christmas"... of course you will remember this from your childhood!


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