A Christmas play list from a Christmas song junkie

Philippine Star published December 7, 2012
By Jim Paredes

One of the best things about Christmas is Christmas carols. It is an understatement to say that as a young boy, I was completely enthralled by Christmas and its many facets, especially the music and songs that pervaded the air during the yuletide season. I still am completely taken over by Christmas carols at my age now.

I remember being mesmerized by the classic songs. I was totally taken by the beauty of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, ‘The First Noel’, ‘Silent Night’, ‘Joy to the World’, ‘We Three Kings’ and ‘O Holy Night’. There were also the ‘Carol of the Bells’, ‘O Come Emmanuel’, ‘Hark the Angels’, ‘O Come all Ye Faithful’ which I had memorized in its Latin version, ‘Adeste Fidelis’. These solemn songs evoked the holy splendor of that wondrous night when Jesus was born.

But there were also the plain fun Yuletide songs that had no religious connotations like ‘Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer’, ‘Frosty the Snowman’, ‘Jingle Bells’, ’12 Days of Christmas’, ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’. Never mind if the songs evoked images of winter frost, snow, and ice which I have not to this day experienced in the Philippines no matter how I tried to wish them to materialize. There was something magical about them too. They just brought so much good cheer and glad tidings that infected people with that special feeling of ..well…Christmas!

I have close to 300 Christmas songs in my music player. And all the songs above are there, plus many more.

As a songwriter-singer, I embarked with Danny and Boboy on a Christmas album called PaskonAPO sometime in the early 90s. It was one of the things we wanted to do as recording artists. I actually still want to do another one since the topic of Christmas is inexhaustible. The strange thing about doing a Christmas album is the time you need to write the songs and do the recordings. You start as early as May and you finish it at the latest by October to give the recording company enough time to manufacture the album, produce the cover and to market it. The net effect of this schedule is, you find yourself in a Christmassy mood and frame of mind for practically half of the year. It is surreal but wonderful.

PaskonAPO was a successful album critically and commercially. I am proud that we made certain songs that helped define the Christmas zeitgeist for a lot of Filipinos.

I continue to avidly collect and listen to Christmas songs. I enjoy versions by new artists of classic songs with a twist, and I have fallen in love with newly written materials too. It is not hard to like Christmas songs unless… well… you hear them in disco version!

I would like to share with you some of my ‘new’ finds, more or less. The recorded songs may have been around for some time but I may have just discovered them. Here is a list of songs that have defined Christmas for me in the past 10 or so years.

1) ‘Kumukutikutitap’—Lyrics by Joey Reyes and music composed and sang by Ryan Cayabyab, and found on his One Christmas Album. The song just brings out the wide-eyed kid in me as it evokes memories of being mesmerized by the lights of Christmas.

2) ‘The Holly and the Ivy’- The best version of this uncommon song I have heard is by Maureen McGovern. Simply Beautiful. You can find it in her This is Christmas Time Album. There are too many songs in this Christmas collection that I like.

3) ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’- A very contemporary, very New York take on the song about the beloved man in a red suit. Tongue-in-cheek funny and amusing. Also by Maureen McGovern

4) ’12 Days of Christmas, by First Call. If you haven’t heard of this vocal group, I would venture that you have not come close to experiencing the celestial grandeur of the season. The album is called An Evening in December and it is jaw-droppingly wonderful.

5) ‘Winter Wonderland by Jewel’. Sung in her clear plaintive voice, it has a touch of country Western complete with twang and yodel, and slide guitar which surprisingly works out very well.

6) ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ by the late Luther Van Dross. This song is already achingly beautiful to start with. Luther gives it that touch that makes you sigh and cry away any Christmas ennui you may be feeling. Yuletide melancholia at its tempered best.

7) ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’. Point of Grace is a group I discovered by accident on the internet. I have not heard this song as gloriously sung as this group has done. There is a touch of orchestral pop/rock which brings the song to a magnificently, gloriously higher place

8) ‘Pasko Na Sinta Ko’/ ‘Miss Kita Kung Krismas’—APO’s version of these two songs in a medley arranged by the late Eddie Munji III has stayed with me since the time we recorded it many moons ago. The counterpoints are quite brilliant, if I may say so. If you feel sad this season because a loved one is missing, this is the music to marinate in.

9) ‘Heto Na Naman’, composed and sang by Ryan Cayabyab. A totally infectious song that is mildly cynical about Christmas. It leaves you with an LSS (Last Song Syndrome) that you can’t shake away .

10) Jingle Bells by Barbra Streisand. It’s practically a remake of this universally loved song. I like it because Streisand takes it to a higher level of fun interpretation-wise, and carries it through some vocal hoops with flying colors.

There are so many more songs I can recommend. I particularly like ‘Lata ang Aming Tambol’ by the APO, a rambunctious song about the Pinoy tradition of street caroling. The old Sinatra Christmas album still does it for me. The Christmas classics as done by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is beautiful in an old- fashioned way and solemn. Commercial as it is, The Carpenters’ Christmas songs are still great. So is the song ‘Christmas in Our Hearts’ by Jo Mari Chan.

While I may be a Christmas song junkie, there are some songs that do not move me at all. One of them is the Live Aid song for Africa called ‘Do they Know it’s Christmas?’. The Maria Carey, Cristina Aguilera R&B versions of the classic songs leave me cold, too. And disco versions of the classics just don’t cut it for me.

May these recommended soundtracks of Christmas songs bring you more wondrous delight and cheer this holiday season.

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