Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Tunes For Christmas

Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Tunes For Christmas

Over the years from Silent Night first performed over 205 years in Germany, many singers have sung and recorded Christmas melodies, new and old

Narendra KusnurUpdated: Saturday, December 23, 2023, 08:59 PM IST
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Bob Dylan | Pic: Wikipedia

Let us begin with some trivia. It’s exactly 205 years since the Christmas melody Silent Night was first performed, originally in German. It so happened that on Christmas Eve in 1818, the organ at the church in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria, had been found damaged. Out of helplessness, the young priest Joseph Mohr asked Franz Xavez Gruber, a schoolmaster, to set his poem Stille Nacht to music, with guitar accompaniment. The song became extremely popular, and was translated to English in 1859.

Today, it is sung and played every Christmas, along with other carols like O Holy Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy To The World, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and The Holly And The Ivy, among many others. Silent Night has been recorded by many popular artistes too, with the list including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Percy Sledge, Sinead O’Connor, Mariah Carey and Josh Groban.

Over the years, many singers have recorded Christmas melodies. From the traditional Jingle Bells to Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, first popularised by Bing Crosby, to Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You to Wham’s Last Christmas, the tunes have been admired by diverse audiences. More trivia: The only song to hit Christmas No 1 twice is Mary’s Boy Child, recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1956 and later by disco biggies Boney M in 1978.

Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey |

If one were to create a playlist this season, it would be natural to include a mix of timeless carols and hymns, tunes by popular artistes, underrated gems and songs by Christian music specialists like Casting Crowns, Matthew West and Kari Jobe. One can add a Spanish number like Jose Feliciano’s 1970 hit Feliz Navidad, and include songs set during Christmas time, like River by Joni Mitchell and Fairytale Of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. The latter recently witnessed a revival after the death of Pogues singer and songwriter Shane MacGowan on November 30.

Besides individual songs, there are a number of full-length Christmas records. Albums by Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Cash, James Brown, Boney M, the Carpenters, Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart and Whitney Houston would be perfect choices. In 2003, two British rock groups got into Xmas mode. Jethro Tull, fronted by vocalist-flautist Ian Anderson, released The Jethro Tull Christmas Album, a mix of the band’s older songs that reflected the Yuletide spirit, and re-arrangements of traditional songs like Greensleeves and Pavane. In an earlier interview to this writer. Anderson had quipped, “I don’t want to be known as the Bing Crosby of the flute, so I have done these songs the Tull way”.

The same year, the Moody Blues followed a similar formula in their album December. Vocalist-songwriter Justin Hayward wrote some fantastic songs like Don’t Need A Reindeer and December Snow. The album also had fresh arrangements of the traditional White Christmas and In The Bleak Midwinter.

In 2009, Bob Dylan put out Christmas In The Heart. A collection of hymns, carols and popular songs, it is a complete departure from his regular style, thereby receiving mixed reviews. Interestingly, the album’s production is credited to Jack Frost, which is actually Dylan himself, using a pseudonym. Of the 21st century artistes, CeeLo Green’s Magic Moments, Sufjan Stevens Songs For Christmas and The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection are recommended. American singer Jane Monheit, who performed at the NCPA International Jazz Festival in November, released the album The Merriest last year.

Let’s end with some Christmas recordings by Indian artistes. Singer Bashir Shaikh’s compilation Christmas With Bashir and violinist L. Shankar’s Christmas From India are available on the streaming channels. Singer Usha Uthup’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, available on YouTube, is simply brilliant. In Hindi, there’s the album Oho Masih Aaya by Anuradha Paudwal, Sonu Nigam and Kavita Paudwal. That’s a good variety of songs to choose from this Christmas. If you can’t locate them, ask Santa Claus.

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