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Twenty-Five Semi-Obscure Traditional Christmas Songs as Performed by Famous and Non-Famous People
December 11, 2011 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Twenty-Five Semi-Obscure Traditional Christmas Songs as Performed by Famous and Non-Famous People: 1. The Coventry Carol. Celebrate the end of Christmas with this cheerful song about infants being murdered by a paranoid monarch. Actually quite beautiful. As performed by Sting, Joan Baez, John Denver, Nox Arcana, Loreena McKennitt, Manheim Steamroller, Alison Moyet, Annie Lennox and the African Children's Choir, Sufjan Stevens, Hayley Westenra, The Mediaeval Baebes, Dinah Shore, and the Westminster Cathedral Choir.

2. The Wexford Carol. As performed by the unlikely combination of Alison Krauss and Yo Yo Ma, Julie Andrews, Imelda May, The Chieftains, Michael Londra, instrumental version by Jon Schmidt, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

3. Hymn for Christmas Day (See, Amid the Winter's Snow), as performed by Annie Lennox, the Cambridge Choir of King's College , Cosmic Hoot, Suzanne Vaartstra, Julie Andrews, and Erin Bode

4. The Sussex Carol (On Christmas night all Christians sing). As performed by Maddy Prior, George Baker on organ, and Anne Dudley

5. Once in Royal David's City, as performed by Aled Jones and Libera, Sufjan Stevens, and the Will Todd Trio,

6. In the Bleak Midwinter. The Christmas carol for those of us who really liked the Victorian Christian Allegory/Lesbian Sex Ode"Goblin Market." As performed by Sissel, Julie Andrews, James Taylor, Sarah Brightman, Loreena McKennitt, The Moody Blues, Allison Crowe , and the Gloucester Cathedral Choir

7. Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming. Performed by Sufjan Stevens, Feist, Catie Curtis, Simone Contaldi, John Michael Talbot*

8. Ding Dong Merrily on High. Celebrate Christmas with Monty Python. Also performed by Celtic Women , Julie Andrews, and Blackmore's Night

9. Gabriel's Message. Performed by Sting, Jars of Clay, The Good Shepherd Band, The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

10. In dulci jubilo (Good Christian Men Rejoice). Performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Rick Sparks

11. A Babe is Born, as performed by Trond Bengtson (his youtube channel is worth a look as well) and Ars Nova

12. The Boars Head Carols. There are seven of them. Have you heard them all? Probably not, because most of them aren't recorded. The Boar His Head In Hand I Bring

13. Let Our Gladness Have No End. Performed by the St. Angela Merici choir.

14. The Holly and the Ivy Girl (Come Buy My Nice Fresh Ivy). Performed by Maureen Hegarty, Tre Sorelle, and the Cantilon Chamber Choir

15. I Wonder as I Wander. Performed by Julie Andrews, Maureen Hagerty, Barbara Streisand, Placido Domingo, David Nevue, and Alfie Boe. Bonus: video discussing the history of the song

16. Past 3 O'Clock. Performed by the Cambridge Singers and the Chieftains

17. The Rocking Carol. Performed by Celtic Christmas, Chanticleer, Roger Whittaker, and Cosmic Hoot

18. Sans Day Carol. Performed by The Chieftains, Bonnie Dobson, Gonzaga Choir, and Alchemy

19. The Seven Joys of Mary (also. Performed by Great Big Sea, Burl Ives

20. This Endris Night. Performed by Richard Searles, Tom Roush, and the University of Utah Singers

21. A Virgin Unspotted Performed by the Riga Dom Cathedral Boys Choir

22. Whence Is That Lovely Fragrance Wafting. Performed by the Cambridge Singers, Sissal, Celtic Christmas (instrumental)

23. Patapan. Performed by Mannheim Steamroller, David Archuleta, Julie Andrews, and Bing Crosby

24. O, ce veste minunată! Performed by Roberto Alagna, and INNA,

And 25. Awful Thought Of Endless Doom!. The most cheerful Christmas carol of them all! No recording, sadly.

And to finish, a stunning rendition of Tori Amos' "A Winter's Carol" as performed by a middle school chorus

*This guy is, no lie, my father's favorite musical performer of all time.
posted by kittenmarlowe (29 comments total) 101 users marked this as a favorite

 
You left off The Friendly Beasts. Here's the Sufjan Stevens version.
posted by dw at 12:56 PM on December 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I heard the Coventry Carol last Christmas Eve at Coventry Cathedral in Coventry, England!
posted by parmanparman at 12:59 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Awesome compilation -
Thank you!
posted by foxhat10 at 1:26 PM on December 11, 2011


10. In dulci jubilo (Good Christian Men Rejoice). Performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Rick Sparks

Wot, no Mike Oldfield?
posted by rory at 1:28 PM on December 11, 2011


A couple of these were done by Annie Lennox on her album from last year, A Christmas Cornucopia.

Coventry Carol
In The Bleak Midwinter

Seriously, just get the whole album. It's one of the best holiday releases I've ever heard, and I have hundreds of them.

(I'm resisting the urge to go through and link to a bunch of renditions of these 25 songs by other people, because this is an excellent post. I'm mostly here right now shilling this Annie Lennox album, because it's worth my support.)
posted by hippybear at 1:34 PM on December 11, 2011


I preferred it when they were still Camryn Manheim Steamroller.
posted by jonp72 at 1:39 PM on December 11, 2011


My favorite Christmas record:

Pete Seeger Traditional Christmas Carols.

I was surprised to see the thing is still in print. Couldn't find any of the selections posted to the youtubes. It's just him singing solo playing his banjo.
posted by bukvich at 1:47 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Funny, I preferred it when they were still Mannheim Steamroller of American Gramaphone's Fresh Aire audiophile album series. IMO their journey into holiday music has been one giant derail and has ruined them.

(I know it's been a huge cash cow for them, so it hasn't RUINED them... but when will they do anything as interesting as Fresh Aire II or Fresh Aire V or even the Saving The Wildlife soundtrack album again? Everything for the longest time has been holiday music, rehashing of old material, or covers albums. Get with it Chip! Some of us have been with you since 1975, and we're all wondering WTF happened.)

Hrm. I do see they have a Halloween album out. I may have to get that, to support their non-Xmas offerings, and because it might actually be fun!
posted by hippybear at 1:49 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes I will favorite this post.

Amazing, thank-you!
posted by bicyclefish at 2:10 PM on December 11, 2011


Gorgeous thanks! I love all these carols and it's sad they're not as often played as the somewhat dirgier hymns.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 2:28 PM on December 11, 2011


Great post thank you! (Is this where I can link to my favourite Christmas carol of all time which is The Zither Carol?)
posted by jonnyploy at 2:33 PM on December 11, 2011


Funny, I preferred it when they were still Mannheim Steamroller of American Gramaphone's Fresh Aire audiophile album series. IMO their journey into holiday music has been one giant derail and has ruined them.

I'm totally with you on that, hippybear. Their first Christmas album is good - I like the mix of synths and acoustics, and the "Stille Nacht" is still one of the best versions ever. But after that, it's all been downhill. For me it's that blend of acoustic folk/classical with modern synth that's missing. I think the problem is "Mannheim Steamroller" is no longer a group when it comes to recording, I think now it's just all Chip Davis and an army of tech in his basement.
posted by dnash at 2:51 PM on December 11, 2011


Yeah, Chip doesn't even tour anymore. Mannheim Steamroller has devolved from being an actual group of people to being a brand which any faceless minions can represent.

It's sad, really.
posted by hippybear at 3:26 PM on December 11, 2011


On the Steamroller: I've spoken of the year that the whole family finally realized we were sick of the Christmas music my mother had been playing for years. Mom decided to get something new -- and that was the same year that Mannheim Steamroller came out with their first album, so she got that. We really dug it that year.

And the year after we were all sick of that too.

I've gotten more and more drawn to the older and more obscure carols as time goes on - the ones that are all old and medieval. Been listening to Sting's album a lot lately -- something he said in the liner notes struck me, about how the cold of winter gives us all a chance to be introspective and we actually sort of NEED that, and the forced jollity of a lot of Christmas carols is in opposition to that and maybe that's part of what gets so many people depressed during the holidays. The world is a lot more raw and dangerous than some of us give it credit for, sometimes, and sometimes you need to be listening to something that accepts that. So yeah, sometimes you need the Christmas songs that acknowledge that "okay, yeah, so Herod also slaughtered a bunch of innocents at that time, and sometimes the world just sucks that way."

The weirdest carol Sting had on that album is from a medieval poem about getting a Christmas-day vision of the baby Jesus burning alive.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:08 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jesous Ahatonhia!
posted by emeiji at 4:17 PM on December 11, 2011


Can we also start posting non-traditional Christmas song covers? Because I think "This Christmas" is a fucking amazing song and here's the Dismemberment Plan version which I prosletyze all over people at every opportunity and this scratches that itch and anyway: happy Yule, everybody.

Also! kittenmarlowe for December post contest MVP.
posted by penduluum at 4:50 PM on December 11, 2011


I love Bruce Cockburn's minor-key version of It Came Upon A Midnight Clear and everything else on his Christmas album.
posted by straight at 5:46 PM on December 11, 2011


hippybear: (I'm resisting the urge to go through and link to a bunch of renditions of these 25 songs by other people, because this is an excellent post. I'm mostly here right now shilling this Annie Lennox album, because it's worth my support.)

Feel free to add on! There were a couple of songs that I had a lot of trouble finding decent renditions of.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 5:57 PM on December 11, 2011


My mother used to sing Once In Royal David's City to me all year round as a lullaby, she had a lovely, but somewhat limited, and it worked beautiful.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:16 PM on December 11, 2011


Shut down the counting machines, we have a winner.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:09 PM on December 11, 2011


Some of my absolute favorites, thanks.

Both the Sussex and Wexford carols are part of a carol complex known as the Kilmore Carols. These are a group of twelve carols written by a couple of clergymen. They've been sung each Christmas for well over 200 years by a group of six men (different ones, obviously), one on each of the twelve nights of Christmas, at St. Mary's Church in Kilmore.

From that link:
Kilmore's unique Christmas carols have been sung without a break since they were introduced to the Parish by Very Rev. Peter Devereux, who was Parish Priest about 1751. Some of them were written by Very Rev. Wm. Devereux, P.P., Piercestown, a native of Tacumshane, where he is buried. The remainder were written by Bishop Luke Waddinge of Ferns. In all there are thirteen carols and eight of them are usually sung during the Christmas period, the first at first Mass on Christmas Day and the last one on Sunday nearest Twelfth Day. The singers consist of six local men and have always included a member of the Devereux family, a tradition that is being continued to the present day. The singers divide into two groups of three and each group sings alternate stanzas. The beautiful carols are handwritten in a leather-bound book- the work of Mr. Richard O'Neill, a famous old schoolmaster
Here are more Devereaux and Waddinge carols.

According to this book.
The cycle starts at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, with "The Darkest Midnight," and continues through Christmas Day, with "Christmas Day Has Come;" St. Stephen's Day, "A Carol for Holy Innocence," "A Carol for the Feast of ST. John" on the 27th; "A Carol for St. Sylvester's Day" is sung on one of the Sundays that falls between Christmas and Twelfth Night. The carollers sing on New Year's Day, and then finally, the Farewell Carol is sung, the "Carol for the Twelfth Day." Followed by a session in Quigleys.
Amazing stuff.
posted by Miko at 8:06 PM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, wow, love this detail about the Rocking Carol:

A traditional Czech carol sung in Britain and Ireland, but virtually unknown to Americans, who therefore miss the joke in Queen's "We Will Rock You."

This post is in my forever pantheon of links. I will refer to it many times. Really well done, thank you!
posted by Miko at 8:14 PM on December 11, 2011


Moravian Theological Seminary graduate Francis Hagen composed the tune to Morning Star (another version I like) in 1836, based on a poem by Johann Scheffer from the late 1600s. It's traditionally sung antiphonally by a child soloist and the congregation at the Christmas Eve Lovefeast, as lighted beeswax candles are distributed to the congregation.
posted by Soliloquy at 9:55 PM on December 11, 2011




This post made my evening (and my early morning keeping-the-cats-out-of-the-Christmas-tree watch)! Thank you! Planning to refer back to it often, even when the cats aren't poking at the Star Trek ornaments. Another I love: here's the Friendly Beasts on Celtic Harp.
posted by theplotchickens at 3:47 AM on December 12, 2011


And no mention yet of Jane Siberry's Child: Music for the Christmas Season? I love her version of In The Bleak Midwinter, and was fortunate enough to see a live holiday performance a few years ago.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:30 AM on December 12, 2011


Amazon is also doing a new thing this year where they're giving away 25 Christmas songs for free in their mp3 store...
posted by destinyland at 9:23 AM on December 12, 2011


Amazon is also doing a new thing this year where they're giving away 25 Christmas songs for free in their mp3 store...

Indeed they are!

That looks like a bit of fun to add to my stupidly large holiday music collection. It's a bit of a chore to get it all, much clicking around, and somehow now I have Amazon Cloud service (which I didn't plan on getting), but I'm getting it all downloaded into my actual computer (my files! mine!)...

Thanks for pointing that out!
posted by hippybear at 3:46 PM on December 12, 2011


That middle school choir director deserves some sort of medal. Every kid should have some regular time to let go like that.
posted by zangpo at 6:28 PM on December 12, 2011


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