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The Christmas Music Is Still Playing

Saturday, January 2, 2010, 15:09 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

It is, after all, only the ninth day of Christmas, which means I still have four days to enjoy my seasonal music collection, which thanks to some recent purchases now numbers 923 songs.

In late November, I highlighted the artists in heaviest rotation on my mp3 player. Before it all gets retired for another 11 months, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the songs that make the most appearances. After all, there are only so many well-known Christmas songs, and some of them are covered by just about every artist who has ever performed the genre.

My collection includes at least ten different renditions (excluding medleys) of these hymns and carols:

  • Silent Night/Stille Nacht (26) – Josef Mohr’s words and Franz Gruber’s music are the quintessential Christmas hymn. Not bad for a song that may have been a last minute fill-in when a church organ broke.
  • O Come All Ye Faithful/Adeste Fideles (26) – Sharing the top spot is this familiar hymn attributed to John Francis Wade, although the words almost certainly predate Wade’s music.
  • O Holy Night/Cantique de Noel (21) – Yes, the French have contributed more to modern life than just champagne. Apparently, the English language version bears no resemblance to original French lyrics, but the tune is beautiful regardless.
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (21) – With John Wesley’s words and music written by the great Felix Mendelssohn, this is another universally known and loved hymn.
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (18) – Perhaps the most frequently mis-punctuated Christmas song ever (the comma, if used, should go after Merry, not Ye), this English carol is the most popular song on my list that I don’t recall ever singing at church.
  • The First Noel/Nowell (18) – Moving from mis-punctuation to mis-spelling, we have another English carol whose origins would seem to mandate the lesser known English spelling of “Nowell,” but it is usually seen the other way.
  • What Child Is This/Greensleeves (18) – What is it with those English? They gave us this tune in the late 16th century, but the words that made this a Christmas favorite didn’t come until 300 years later.
  • Joy to the World (17) – It turns out this song was not composed by George Frideric Handel as I had always thought. It apparently came from (say it with me) Englishmen.
  • Away in a Manger (14) – I know of three tunes to which these lyrics have been set, the most popular having been composed by James Murray. All but one of the recordings I have use that music.
  • Angels We Have Heard on High (13) – Another French carol, the “Gloria” refrain requires good breath control on the part of the singer. I say this because I’ve been gasping for air since Midnight Mass.
  • Deck the Hall(s) (13) – This is the first entirely secular song on my list. The mention of yuletide suggests pagan roots. Someday, I would like to deck the halls of my home with holly, just to say I did.
  • Little Drummer Boy (12) – Unconfirmed notes at Songfacts.com say this was a Czech song with English lyrics by Katherine Davis. If so, I’d like to smack Katherine for the part where the drummer boy tells Jesus he is “a poor boy too.” Jesus’ family wasn’t poor; Joseph was a skilled tradesman and likely made a good living for his time. Nor was the family homeless merely because they took a trip and then couldn’t get a hotel room. End of rant.
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem (12) – At last, an American song. And lyricist Phillip Brooks was a Bostonian. Still, I can’t hear this song without thinking of an old RPI version entitled “O Little Town of Troy, New York.” (Final lines: “It’s finals week at RPI, and no one sleeps tonight.”)
  • Good King Wenceslas (11) – Wenceslas was a real Bohemian king as well as a Christian martyr, which is a pretty good reason to have a song written about you. He was the patron saint of Czechoslovakia.
  • In Dulci Jubilo (11) – Also known as “Good Christian Men Rejoice,” the music is based on a Johann Sebastian Bach piece (BWV 729). I have only instrumental versions of this song in my collection, though I also have a choral medley that includes a verse with the “Good Christian” lyrics.
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (10) – Another American song, it has never been one of my favorites, though I do like the image of “angels bending near the earth.”
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas (10) – There isn’t much to this song, and maybe its simplicity is what makes it so popular. I always associate it with carolers, as it’s a good song to end with as you’re walking away from a house.
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