“‘Zat You, Santa Claus?”: Louis Armstrong
“‘Zat You, Santa Claus” is a bit ominous for a Christmas song; the theme of the lyrics is that Armstrong is being stalked by some kind of monster or serial killer. However, this tune is in no way lacking in big-band flair. Louis Armstrong’s signature “growl” is very prevalent, and the band behind him compliments it perfectly with its interjections. Even if you don’t like the music, you should at least listen to the lyrics, because you might get a good laugh or two.
“Sleigh Ride”: Boston Pops Orchestra
“Sleigh Ride” is one of those songs that you usually hear with lyrics. Personally, though, I prefer the instrumental version best performed by the acclaimed Boston Pops Orchestra. Their most prominent recording of the piece was conducted by none other than John Williams. The whimsical strings and woodwinds contrast perfectly with jazzy brass instruments, making for a great holiday tune that always leaves me with a smile.
“Theme from ‘Elf’”: John Debney
It’s relatively rare that a soundtrack from a movie will really stick with you. Elf, as I’m sure we can all agree, is by far the best Christmas movie ever. This is in part because of its soundtrack. Elf is one of those rare movies where both the taken and original segments of the soundtrack are fantastic, but I personally feel that the main original theme is what really shines. In particular, I enjoy how composer John Debney puts the same theme in different settings, spaced out throughout the movie.
“Greensleeves”: Alfred Reed
The melody of “Greensleeves” should be immediately recognizable to anyone who has ever been to a Christmas mass; the carol “What Child is This” is set to the same tune. “Greensleeves” is an English folk song thought to originate from the Elizabethan era, and in Alfred Reed’s arrangement, the the traditional melody is presented in a very elegant manner. However, what really makes this arrangement great is the use of dynamic contrast. This piece is really a repetition of the same simple melody, and yet it always feels like it’s going somewhere.
“Carol of the Bells”: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra definitely gets some points for originality here. Who could have known that rock musicians can create a great Christmas song too? Their version of “Carol of the Bells” is a perfect storm of pure awesomeness. It starts out slow and haunting, but quickly turns powerful and intense, making for one of the best Christmas songs out there.
“Snow Samba”: Paquito d’Rivera
“Snow Samba” doesn’t really have anything to do with the holiday season other than the connection with snow, but nevertheless, I always find myself listening to it more around this time. I don’t really have anything to say about this tune other than that it has a fantastic groove. The rhythm section is locked in throughout, with traditional Latin percussion creating a unique texture.
“Silver Bells”: London Symphony Orchestra
“Silver Bells” has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs, and it received a beautiful instrumental treatment from the London Symphony Orchestra. The arrangement uses a prominent piano and subtle backgrounds to create a warm and comforting musical atmosphere. The melody is passed around between instrumental families in a very natural way, and the diversity of timbres so expertly utilized here make for a wonderful piece that other versions (like those with vocals) just can’t match.