Artists put stamp on classics
the song was ffrst made famous by Bing Crosby, and his version remains among the most popular. This year, Blake Shelton, Rod Stewart, CeeLo and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John all include the song on their Christmas albums. See also “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “Silent Night,” which you’ll hear at least three times, probably more, if you start digging through the new pile.
Shelton and CeeLo maintain high proffles as hosts of NBC’s “The Voice”; it’s fftting then that they both put out Christmas records — holiday music is like one giant version of a reality television singing contest, where rock stars, crooners, country singers, actors, opera singers and just about anyone else who wants to pull from the same pool of material, put their stamps on songs we’ve heard thousands of times.
Sometimes, artists attempt to break out of that pool with their own material. Not that many make it into the yearly radio/retail playlist.
Mariah Carey created an undeniable Christmas hit with her 1994 song “All I Want For Christmas is You.” Though she broke records and became one of the best-selling artists of all time with goldand platinum-selling albums of non-holiday material, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” one of the highest-selling Christmas songs ever, is guaranteed to be heard, frequently and widely, for one month (or now maybe from Oct. 31 to Jan. 1) of every year. The same can’t be said of her other hits.
That song, which begins with epic bells and strings before launching into a full-on R&B Christmas party, with bigvoiced backup singers and quick-ffre piano, is a close cousin to Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which appears on the 1963 Phil Spector compilation “A Christmas Gift For You from Philles Records” (it would later be re-released under different names).
That album represented a big offshoot from the Irving Berlin/ Bing Crosby family tree, producing a new style of Christmas songs that remain in heavy rotation in stores, fflms and commercials.
Many were sung by Love (“Marshmallow World,” “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland”) and the Ronettes (“Frosty the Snowman,” “Sleigh Ride,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”) and influenced later versions by Bruce Springsteen and U2, among others.
This year, Green includes a version of “White Christmas” on his album, “CeeLo’s Magic Moment,” that nods to Spector with a big bass note intro and a hefty chorus of ooh-ooh-oohoohs (the record was coproduced by Bruno Mars team the Smeezingtons, who also handled CeeLo’s hit “Forget You”). Country act Lady Antebellum make a similar move with “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” with Spector-y strings and horns dancing with a honky-tonk swing. Not so much, however, on “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” which gets ballad treatment.
Guests — the more unexpected the better — represent another of holiday music’s unruly attitude. One of the better-known examples of just how weird (and wonderful) this practice can get is Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s 1977 duet “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” which was recorded shortly before Crosby died and includes an awkward script where the 30-yearold Bowie asks Crosby, “you’re the one that sings, right?”
Rod Stewart, who sticks mostly to a non-rock, standards style on his album “Merry Christmas, Baby,” makes a strong case for having the most over-the-top roster of guests this year.
This includes a “virtual” (and kind of eerie duet) with Ella Fitzgerald (who died in 1996) on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Other, more alive guests appear, including Michael Bublé, who released his own Christmas album last year that sat at the top of the Billboard Top 200 list. Stewart and CeeLo also band together, along with Trombone Shorty, for “Merry Christmas Baby.” The song appears on both Stewart and Green’s albums.
In addition to Stewart, CeeLo’s album includes guest spots from a cappella group Straight No Chaser, who lend their voices on a dramatic version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
And then there’s his Muppet duet, “All I Need Is Love.” Despite some sleigh bells here and there, the song mostly stays away from holiday sounds, opting instead for a mash of the Muppets’ longtime viral hit “Mahna Mahna” and a beat that falls somewhere between CeeLo’s “Forget You” and Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5.”
The Muppets, perhaps the ultimate Christmas collaborators, have been down this road for more than 30 years, including their 1979 John Denver collaboration, “A Christmas Together,” the 1992 fflm “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” and a few different television specials.
For CeeLo, working with the Muppets could make his Christmas wish come true, introducing his music to an even broader group of children and adults who loved and still love Kermit and the gang.
Singer-songwriter Rod Stewart performs during the 80th annual tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center in New York.
Mariah Carey also performed at this tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center.