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The Twelve Days of Christmas – A Song For Each Day

by on December 30, 2014 6:15 AM

The holiday season – family, friends, peace and joy – is a wonderful time of year.

For me, especially the music. We're an aural species – just walk around and look at all the folks with earbuds in and headphones on.

Even with my slight hearing loss – I conveniently blame that on a J. Geils concert back in the 80's – I enjoy getting in the spirit by playing my CD mixes.

So, you ask, what songs are on those mixes? Below I present my twelve favorite holiday tunes to get and keep me in the mood.

12. We Three Kings – The Roches

I first saw this quirky trio of sisters perform the Hallelujah Chorus on Saturday Night Live in November of 1979. Soon after I bought their self-titled album and was hooked (no pun intended). So much so that we pushed to have them headline Movin' On and finally got them in the spring of 1983. This version of the Christmas classic showcases their inventive harmonies and adds an upbeat tempo that is addictive.

11. Twelve Days Of Christmas – Bob & Doug McKenzie

This fictional duo of senseless, beer-guzzling Canadian brothers was a cult comedy hit sketch in the early 1980's on SCTV. Their northern takeoff on the gifts you get during those twelve days makes for a great counterpoint to the staid original. Especially when they get a little tired of counting and give up on days nine through twelve. But who can argue with five golden toques as a gift idea? I'm also a little embarrassed to admit that at the time our since-departed AKC-registered Cocker Spaniel's middle name was "Hoser."

10. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Frank Sinatra and Cyndi Lauper

There have been plenty of holiday mash-up songs over the years, most of them very forgettable but this one most certainly unforgettable. A Hoboken guy and a Queens gal connecting through the magic of electronics with her adding vocals almost half-a-century after his were originally recorded. After seeing Lauper in concert in Rec Hall in November of 1984 – a fantastic show – she became a favorite of mine. The gift-giving bonus of this song is the proceeds from the sales of the CD went to Special Olympics – a great cause.

9. Merry Christmas Baby – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

The Boss. The hardscrabble songwriter for a generation and his Jersey buddies remake an R&B Christmas standard. When Max Weinberg hits those drums and Bruce asks Clarence if he's been good, the holidays start rockin'. Since the CD version of this song is also part of the same series as the Sinatra/Lauper song above, the proceeds also benefit the Special Olympics – a nice bonus.

8. White Christmas – Bing Crosby

The man, the legend, the standard-bearer for all Christmas songs. Finally starring in the 1954 movie of the same name as the song. After having made this song his for more than a decade, Der Bingle's velvety-smooth voice croons in a way that no other singer did before or has since. And if you haven't seen the movie in a while, it's streaming out there this holiday season – go find it!

7. Chanukah Song – Adam Sandler

Since he's considered a comedic genius by many I'll just let his intro to this song speak for itself. "This is a song that... There's a lot of Christmas songs out there and not too many Chanukah songs. So I wrote a song for all those nice little Jewish kids who don't get to hear any Chanukah songs." Twenty years later and it's still going strong.

6. The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late) – Chipmunks

I know, it's hokey. It's corny. And I just realized I own three Chipmunks Christmas CD's – which is not something I should probably admit in polite company. But Ross Bagdasarian's opening statement "All right you Chipmunks, ready to sing your song?" puts a smile on my face every time. And for those of you lucky enough to have friends who can do a Chipmunk imitation – well, you're living large!

5. Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring – Leo Kottke

Not technically thought of as a holiday song, this instrumental arrangement of a movement from a Bach cantata is done by someone I think is the best guitar player ever. I was already a fan when I first saw Kottke in Eisenhower Auditorium in January 1981, and that concert cemented his status for me. In the decades since he has been back in town several times and if you've never heard this version you owe it to yourself to find it.

4. Sleigh Ride – Sun Bonnet Trio

Although it is one of my favorites, this is the one song on this list that I don't have on any of my "mixes." Why? Because to my knowledge 1) it's not legally available anywhere, and 2) even when it was performed it was a shortened version. But when The Sun Bonnet Trio – Bunny, Bubbles, and Beulah – were caroling this gem you knew one thing, you were in a Disney Park in the wintertime watching the Country Bear Jamboree. And that, for those of us who love Disney magic during the holidays, was a great thing.

3. There's Always Tomorrow – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

There are a number of wonderful songs on the soundtrack from this television special that celebrated a half-century of existence this year. Three were crooned by Burl Ives in that signature voice of his, but my favorite is one that doesn't pertain directly to the holidays. Voiced by the reindeer doe character of Clarice, one of the few characters in the show who likes Rudolph just the way he is from the start, this is a message of believing in yourself and following your dreams no matter what others think. A great sentiment during the holidays and just as great any time of the year.

2. You're A Mean One, Mister Grinch – Thurl Ravenscroft

Another animated special (that turns fifty next year) provides a feel-good story of redemption that has become yet another must-watch of the season. (Boy, the mid-60's were great for holiday TV stories, weren't they?!) And the eponymous song of that cartoon was sung by a man whose voice was much better known as a tiger shilling breakfast cereal. And that name – how can you not love "Thurl Ravenscroft?" What better guy to tell someone they are a "three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich – with arsenic sauce?!"

1. Linus and Lucy – Vince Guaraldi

The signature song from everyone's favorite holiday show – A Charlie Brown Christmas. An instrumental tune with a piano, upright bass and drums that was originally created for an earlier Charlie Brown special, but after its use in this cartoon its opening notes would immediately conjure up mental images of a small tree, a holiday play, the two nameless dancing girls, and the true meaning of Christmas for generations. Fifty years later it has become a Christmas masterpiece.

Best wishes for a glorious song-filled 2015!

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John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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