[Christmas 2010] Christmas Staples Done Right

So here we are, a few days 'till Christmas, and what do I have up my sleeve? A whole host of Christmas songs for every possible taste. I mean it this year - I've chosen a much wider range than usual, some I like, some I don't. Christmas festivities on PRN this year come in 2 parts - this first part is all about the carols, the staples everyone knows. The second part will focus on modern Christmas songs, the non-carols. Yayyyy!

I say this every year because it's true - just because the lyrics have "snow" or "santa" or "Christmas" in them, doesn't mean you can call it a Christmas song.

A Christmas song should make you feel all fuzzy inside, it should bring back memories, whatever they are, of Christmas, whenever you listen to it. If it's a contemporary Christmas song, you should get the same feeling you get when you hear carols, but at the same time hear familiar melodies and structures.

That's why this year, I'm listing down a few Christmas classics, and giving you guys an idea of which versions I like and don't like. Plus more songs to take note of, and some non-carols, but good Christmas songs nonetheless. ;D

O Come All Ye Faithful
This is my favorite Christmas song. Ever. EVERRRRRRRRRRRRR. Mainly because even if the melody is simple, there are an infinite number of things you can do and it will still sound good, it will still sound like Christmas. I like it so much, I can literally hear the perfect arrangement in my head. I have it all planned out, from how it starts, how there are gradual additions to each verse then suddenly the key changes and everything explodes. Very few versions have come kinda close, and a heck of a lot have miserably failed, so I'm still searching for that one arrangement that will blow. me. away.

Stacie Orrico (2001): Of the versions of that I've heard, this is the one I've blacklisted. Call me a purist or a biggot or whatever for not liking the Stacie Orrico-ized O Come All Ye Faithful, but I'm sorry. The rearrangement sounds more like a CCM song than a Christmas package, and the epic-ness of the song was lost - I don't care if they wanted to make it sound more contemporary, there's a way to do that and still make it sound like Christmas. This clearly does not. And all the stuff they added just made the song a big mess.

Katharine McPhee (2008): This version's fine, but I wish she would've toned down all the gymnastics. It's a beautiful song on it's own with a simple enough arrangement, no need to overreact and make it all squiggly. That and the part just before the end was just anticlimactic. This is supposed to be big, and majestic and all that - she does it pretty OK during the verses when her voice has that urgency to it, but towards the end it gets lost. Even if it's a so-called "R&B"/piano arrangement (with an orchestra-like set up towards the end), there's a way to do that. They didn't do it.

Josh Groban (2007): My only problem with his version is that it doesn't explode exactly like I'd want it to, but this one of the best versions I've found so far. The organ isn't to my taste either, but it does make it sound like a Church and in turn, like Christmas. I love the strings throughout the song, and the rest of the arrangement is really beautiful. For me the build-up was a little too sudden but it's epic-ness at the last verse is really the way I'd want it to be - majestic, huge and epic in every way possible. Using an orchestra. Just the way I want it.

Aled Jones and Libera (2008): And this, my friends, is how it is done. Not only does this guy have a gorgeous voice, Libera sound fantastic - boys really do have much brighter voices than girls, perfect for the obligato part. OH MY GOD THE OBLIGATO, someone slap me. The arrangement isn't that slow either - it has a snappiness to it. Me liking this version just shows how much of a purist I am, and proud of it. I like my Christmas songs orchestral, with a soloist and a choir and with gorgeous harmonies that resound. If this is ever turned into a more pop arrangement though, I'd trade the church organ for a sharp, and simple yet gorgeous, piano line. Other than that, everything stays as it is - ESPECIALLY THE LAST VERSE. Beautiful.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
I have a love-hate relationship with this song. If you do it right, I love it, but if you so much as screw one little detail up, I'll hate it. It can't be too fast, it can't be too sad, it can't be this and that. I have my favorite version already though, so I'm not in searching mode.

Carrie Underwood (2008): This was the version that made me adore the song - the arrangement has hints of country in it, but it feels like Christmas. Carrie sang it not only the right way with the right dynamics, but in the right key for her. That's what a lot of singers fail to get right when they sing carols in general - the key. You can't sing a song too high, nor too low - it not only has to match your voice, it has to sound comfortable to the listener's ears because they've heard a gazillion versions of songs like these. I like how the song was arranged so the last verse is somewhat like a middle 8. The instruments are very crisp to the ears - the drum line, piano line and other elements scattered around are defined, but not sharp or painful. The perfect pop arrangement, in my opinion.

Jump5 (2007): As a Jump5 song I like this - especially the start with all the pretty harmonies and all. The arrangement has kick, and the vocals are standard Jump 5 so I'm not surprised. However, as a Christmas song this is atrocious. It sounds nothing like Christmas, and it lacks life - the vocals lack dynamics. Yeah sure it has kick, but having kick doesn't mean a song has life. So it's a no.

Other Modernized Christmas Staples to take note of:

Taylor Swift - Silent Night
I do not understand how you can murder such a beautiful song and turn it into a completely different one, that doesn't even sound like Christmas. I'm open to change, but only if it's actually done well. It's like for this song, and all the others on Taylor's Christmas EP, all the life out of these gorgeous songs, everything that makes them the way they are, was sucked out. That's not Christmas music.

Mandisa - Angels We Have Heard On High
Now, this is one of the better arrangements that lean more towards to the pop side. The harmonies and the background vocals, as well as the way they tweaked the melody to fit the arrangement, although modern, still retain the "majesty" of the song, even if the arrangement isn't really epic. See? They knew which parts of the melody to play around with, but they knew which parts of the original song really had to stay.

Glee - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
It's a gorgeous arrangement, and I mean like epic in all ways possible, but I have one, rather big, problem that has kept this from going on my eternal favorites. It doesn't sound like Christmas, it sounds like an epic-ly arranged pop song. If you changed the lyrics into more "mainstream" lyrics, it would have no problem masquerading as a pop song.

*NSYNC - O Holy Night
Every self-respecting, acapella-based, talented boyband has sung this arrangement of O Holy Night, and yes, that includes DBSK. It's a timeless arrangement, really - each voice can very well stand alone with all the runs and the oohs, but together the arrangement soars. It's a boyband staple for all the right reasons, and it better continue to be one for a very long time.

DBSK - The First Noel
It's in Korean, so what? Would you rather they "bastardize" the song by singing in crooked English? Of course not. The arrangement is gorgeous - the string section sends chills down my spine, and all the other instruments are just floating along. The harmonies are beautiful, to say the least, and the execution has both grace and intensity - DBSK can obviously sing anything that's thrown at them. Changmin's solo is one of my favorites of his, ever, and Yoochun's part is perfect for him, simply put. What makes it even better is that during a time when all they did was lipsync, they performed this live. My ears are in heaven. It's one of the shorter cuts on their Christmas EP, but I personally think it's the best one - I listen to it once and all the Christmas memories start flooding in. THAT is what a Christmas song should bear - memories.

You know what I want to do in the future? Put together a post full of Filipino Christmas songs. This is not just because I'm Filipino - some of the most beautiful Christmas songs I have ever heard are Filipino. I spent a little over the first decade of my life singing these gorgeous songs during Christmas, and even if I absolutely hate performing, those songs were too beautiful to not enjoy singing. In time.

But anyway, catch part 2 within the next few days - I tackle some of my favorite modern Christmas songs.


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