Christmas songs are playing everywhere right now. Here’s my top-10 list of personal favorites:
1. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” sung by Bing Crosby, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the best-selling single of all time. The first public performance of the song was by Crosby on his NBC radio show “The Kraft Music Hall” on Christmas Day 1941. He recorded the song in 1942. And, of course, he sang it in the film musical “White Christmas” in 1954.
2. Another by that famous bass-baritone voice that puts me in a trance is “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Crosby made the song into a hit when he recorded it in 1963. The song was written in 1962 as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
3. Nat King Cole’s 1961 version of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” (Chestnuts roasting by an open fire) is regarded as the gold standard for that piece.
4. “The Little Drummer Boy” (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum), originally recorded in 1955 by the Trapp Family Singers (yes, the family on which “The Sound of Music” is based), was made famous by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1958.
5. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was written by Johnny Marks, who, although he was Jewish, specialized in Christmas songs. I grew up loving Gene Autry’s rendition. And Autry, the singing cowboy I watched on black-and-white TV as a child, was the first to record “Frosty the Snowman” in 1950, which was also among my Christmas collection as a little boy.
6. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was written by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest from Philadelphia who was inspired to write the lyrics after visiting Bethlehem in 1865. Three years later, he wrote the poem for his church, and Lewis Redner, his organist, put it to music.
7. “Silent Night” was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at a church in Salzburg, Austria. My earliest and fondest memory of the carol is from a single record I had as a child on which it was sung in a haunting, high soprano voice by someone I simply don’t remember.
8. “O Holy Night,” composed in 1847, is made for a classic voice. Tenor Enrico Caruso recorded a version in 1916. Its powerful melody can melt a heart of ice.
9. “Carol of the Bells” was composed in 1904 and first performed in 1916 by a student chorale at Kiev University in Ukraine. While there are many good choral versions, there have been many other well-done renditions, including by Mannheim Steamroller.
10. Speaking of Mannheim Steamroller, another of my favorite Christmas pieces is one of their specialties, “Pat-a-Pan,” which was a French Christmas carol written by Bernard de La Monnoye and first published in 1720.
And while it’s not in my top 10, I’ve got to mention “Sleigh Ride.” The Boston Pops Orchestra gave the first performance in a concert in 1948 and recorded it a year later. A biography of composer Leroy Anderson says “it has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music.”