A Holiday Tradition Gets Updated: 5 of the Best Updated Christmas Songs
On the heels of The Sound of Music Live! starring country superstar Carrie Underwood’s airing on NBC being a roaring success (and news of the upcoming rebroadcast), I took a moment to stop and think about the reasons why the peacock station decided to create another version of this historic, classic film. It made me reflect on the rehashing of beloved tunes that we hear on the radio today.
Because of the deep-rooted connection many people have with the story and songs, the idea of a new version of a beloved classic can immediately turn somebody off. Furthermore, due to our time-honored relationship with the original, it can be hard to understand why they messed with an original, let alone expect us to enjoy it. Now, NBC let viewers know upfront that this is a live broadcast of the musical version and not a recreation of the beloved Julie Andrews film. They knew that would give them some leeway in viewer’s minds, and encourage guests to watch a Broadway-caliber performance live in their homes – much like movie theaters already do with certain plays, musicals, and operas.
It probably goes without saying, but because a song was done in a certain way, doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be done, does it? I’d say no. And the same can be said for films and movies, too. With many updates to classics, or rehashes of beloved TV shows filling up our media time, it’s a fair answer. Now, often, these recreations leave a bit to be desired when compared to the original, but that’s coming from somebody who saw both. Think of the new audience that it touches on – to them, it’s exciting and fresh. Think of the ever-present Batman or Superman franchises, or even Hawaii Five-O returning to TV and showing it’s staying power by being on for 4 seasons (though this one will be its last).
Music, in its natural state, has a long history of evolving from the same basis and creating tons of exciting, inspiring variations. Now, because the sample size is small (recorded popular music is less than 100 years old) we see artists “covering” past tunes whether they know it or not. From flat out covers like what Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones did on their new Everly Brothers tribute album, Foreverly to Vanilla Ice sort of doing it with a Queen tune (according to him), Robin Thicke subconsciously doing it with a Marvin Gaye riff on “Blurred Lines”, and countless others have incorporated previous songs in direct and indirect ways.
So that’s all music – now just think about Christmas songs. The sample size is kinda small, isn’t it? Really, we can expect acts for years to come to take a stab at updating a 50+-year-old time-honored tune. Their ultimate goal is to expose a new and young audience to these classic Christmas songs that have inspired generations before them. And who can blame them? Unless your name is Scrooge, you probably love singing Christmas tunes.
5 of the Best Updated Christmas Songs
So, without further ado, I thought I’d like to share the 5 best updated Christmas songs. These are not meant in any way to discredit the originals, but these 5 tracks really breathe new life into the traditional Christmas classics.
Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band – “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”
“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” is a classic Christmas song which was first sung in 1934 on Eddie Cantor’s radio show. Within 24 hours of the broadcast, there were 500,000 orders for sheet music and more than 30,000 records sold. It was an instant hit! It’s been covered by over 200 artists throughout the year, including Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen has the uncanny ability to make any song epic and awesome, and when he and the E-Street Band dive into this Christmas song, you can hear the sleigh bells jingling.
Sarah McLachlan – “The First Noel”
Another Christmas classic is “The First Noel”. This traditional English Christmas carol is hundreds of years old, likely from the early modern period. But, it could date back even earlier! As such, the lyrics vary across different books. Several artists have recorded their own renditions of this classic over the years, from Bing Crosby in 1949 to Jennifer Nettles in 2016 and more! Sarah McLachlan recorded and released hers in 2006. This rendition is a pretty drastic jump from the typical presentation of this tune, but it still stands quite strongly on its own.
David Ian featuring Acacia – “Angels We Have Heard on High”
A French song, Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes, inspired the lyrics for the classic Christmas tune “Angels We Have Heard on High”. James Chadwick, the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, kept the music from the original song and wrote lyrics to go along with it. Instead of directly translating the lyrics of the French song, Chadwick took inspiration from the story them and wrote a new set of lyrics. Several artists have covered and remixed this classic throughout the years. This is a jazzy take on a traditional Christmas song from David Ian featuring the lush voice of Acacia. It’s definitely worth a listen, especially if you’re in the mood for some smooth, slow jazz.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – “Carol of the Bells”
This popular Christmas classic is based on “Shchedryk”, a Ukranian folk chant, and was composed by Mykola Leontovych in 1914. Peter J. Wilhousky provided the lyrics. The lyrics to “Carol of the Bells” are copyrighted, but the music composition is not. This provides vast opportunities for various artists to play with the music and produce their own versions. Back when they were known as Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra recorded a heavy-metal, instrumental medley of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells” in 1995. Due to the song’s success, the band gained enough label support to form Trans-Siberian Orchestra and then create an entirely new album based on the wildly successful single. Who knew Christmas tunes could rock so hard? The premise is a pretty big gamble (metal guitars + Christmas melodies), but the end result is always impressive.
Brian Setzer Orchestra – “Blue Christmas”
This Christmas song was written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson. In 1948. Doye O’Dell first recorded the song. Since then, several recordings have been released, making “Blue Christmas” a Christmas classic about unrequited love during the holidays, especially in country music. It’s most well-known Elvis Presley’s performance. Mr. Setzer is no Elvis, but he does this holiday classic justice in his rendition of “Blue Christmas.”
What do you think? What’s your favorite updated rendition of a Christmas song?