They came at just the right time. I had been sunk deep in the couch, nursing an aching head and feeling sorry for myself, desperately hoping whatever virus I’d picked up was not going to turn into the flu. I groaned when the doorbell rang, and made my husband get up and go answer it.
Carols may be my favorite part of Christmas (after eggnog). I tend to gravitate to the old tunes, the songs in the minor key — “We Three Kings,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “What Child Is This?” — and the more obscure carols — “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Welcome, Happy Morning,” “In the Bleak Midwinter,” “The Coventry Carol.”
One of my absolute favorites is “Carol of the Bells,” which is an old tune, in the minor key, but no longer obscure, by any means. It’s based on an old Ukrainian folk tune, but has since been covered by everybody and their mother. I do love the Muppets version, with Beaker on the high part (“mee-mee-mee-meep!!!” and Animal on the low part (“DIIIIING DOOOONG DIIIIING DOOOONG!!!!”).
Every year, I dig out my old sheet music for “Carol of the Bells,” and my son and I will play it as a duet: me on the piano, him on bells.
In years past, I would dig through my collection of obscure Christmas music and make mix tapes to give as gifts. (Because some years, you just don’t feel like baking 35 miniature loaves of cranberry-orange bread.) A few of my treasures:
“Santa Gey Gezunderheit” by the Klezmonauts (a Yiddish band’s take on Christmas).
“The Christmas Song” by Brave Combo (a Jamaican ska version of the “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” song).
“Merry Christmas from the Family” by Robert Earl Keen (the most dysfunctional family Christmas tune ever).
“I Wonder As I Wander” by Mahalia Jackson (old, old Appalachian carol sung by the Queen of Gospel).
“Two Front Teeth” by Spike Jones (it’s a Christmas song, remember?).
“Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” by James Brown (self-explanatory).
While researching Christmas tunes, I learned things I never knew before, like Lynyrd Skynyrd has a Christmas album, and Tiny Tim once covered “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
You would be amazed at the musicians who have covered “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Here, try and guess which one of these artists has NOT recorded a version:
Gene Autry, Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yoakam, The Jackson 5, Merle Haggard, the Pointer Sisters, Alan Jackson, the Chipmunks, Cyndi Lauper, Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, George Strait, James Taylor, Jerry Jeff Walker, José Feliciano, Willie Nelson, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Lou Rawls, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Randy Travis, Smokey Robinson, Bing Crosby, Barry Manilow, Justin Bieber.
Trick question. They’ve all recorded it.