Sometime between Andy Williams warbling It s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year and Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson defiling Baby It s Cold Outside, Christmas songs went from being predictable classics to something more insidious.
Blame it on radio stations that play holiday tunes in an endless loop that eventually drives anyone who actually listens to the music completely bonkers. Honestly, other than a Christmas-gorged 6-year-old, who really wants to hear Jingle Bells more than once a day?
Don t fret, though, this isn t about going Scrooge on holiday music or copping an attitude about the communal soundtrack to an enduring tradition that serves as an ideal time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, count blessings, and eat a lot.
It s just that so many of the tunes that comprise the background music for the holidays are either relentlessly chipper or represent another gimmicky stylistic twist on a traditional song. Left out of the musical mix emotionally too often is that feeling of being alone on a rare, quiet, pre-holiday winter afternoon, taking account of the good things in your life and feeling just a little blue about what you might be missing.
We re talking mellow, but not melancholy; pensive, but not necessarily sad.
In that spirit, here s a quick handful of songs that can serve as the foundation to any Christmas mix for just that kind of day, background music for a little blessing counting:
My Favorite Things, John Coltrane. This is what it s all about artistry and sentiment in one package from a musical genius who takes a familiar melody and jazzes it up.
The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole. A classic delivered by a man who never sang anything bad.
Snowfall, Tony Bennett. Not quite a Christmas song, but more of a seasonal favorite that fits the mood.
Christmastime is Here, Vince Guaraldi. This is from A Charlie Brown Christmas, a 1965 release by the jazz pianist whose music was featured on the animated Peanuts gang features. Timeless and perfect for the mood we re trying to set.
Wonderful Christmas, Tom McRae. Forget the cloying Paul McCartney version you ve heard a thousand times; this one s quiet and effective.
Christmas, Death Cab for Cutie. Modern rockers get into a groove that fits in with anything from jazz standards to rockers on whatever mix you re putting together.
Little Drummer Boy, Wynton Marsalis. The New Orleans trumpet player has fun with everything he plays while maintaining his dignity, and this is no exception.