Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer or Bah Humbug?: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”

This feature is quite simple: I’m going to take a look at and categorize the different versions of a Christmas song into one of two categories. The good category is Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer, whether that be egg nog, hot chocolate, or whatever other holiday concoction you prefer (just be responsible of course). The bad category is Bah Humbug, named after the famous retort of Ebenezer Scrooge (the Disney version of it is the best, don’t @ me). The main point of this feature is to have some holiday fun! And maybe you’ll find a new version of a holiday classic to stick in your own playlist. Also please throw your own recommendations in the comments!

Today I’m going to take a look at “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” a beloved holiday classic that children everywhere especially enjoy in their joyous anticipation of the man in the big red suit coming to visit. The song was written in 1934 by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie. It was first performed on the radio show of Eddie Cantor in November of the same year. In Cantor’s original performance of the song he actually added additional lyrics to the song that encouraged people listening to be more charitable and help those in need since it was at the height of The Great Depression.

Despite the financial hardship of the country, listeners went crazy buying it, as over 30,000 records of it were sold in 24 hours (the equivalent of 4.5 million streams today). Over 200 artists have recorded their own version of it, although my first memory of the song is hearing it in the 1970 Rankin-Bass television show Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Great show that I recommend!

Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer

  • Frank Sinatra

One of the more popular early recordings, being no surprise at all with Frank Sinatra. It’s also my favorite version of the song, as it’s classy, festive and features Sinatra at his best vocally. He adds a real liveliness to the performance with his version, as I think both young and old listeners can find something to enjoy about it. Plus the horns sound great.

It’s funny how I find Michael Bublé’s regular pop songs to be vanilla and boring, yet come Christmastime I thoroughly enjoy his takes on Christmas songs. Perhaps it’s his throwback style that is similar to the holiday standards people are used to that makes his version of this song so enjoyable for myself and others.

One of the simplest versions of the song you’ll hear, but quite effective nonetheless. Crosby’s stoic voice combined with the harmonies of The Andrews Sisters sound great together. It’s a jovial and bouncy performance I enjoy.

I love the opening to this song, as it sets the scene for the song perfectly. Then you get to the performance, which is fun and energetic. The secret sauce to this sounding so great is the thumping drums that drive the song. It’s refreshing in a world today filled with drum machines.

Of course I enjoy the queen of country music’s version of this yuletide classic. It’s Dolly! She delivers a fantastic performance as she usually does and there’s fiddles. Why wouldn’t I enjoy this?!

Bah Humbug!

This is the most popular version and also my most hated version. Perhaps it’s because I find Springstreen to be overrated. But also I find it hard to enjoy someone who sounds like they’re drunkenly screaming their way through the performance. It’s no more enjoyable to hear The Boss to put on this type of performance than the drunk at karaoke night at your local bar. It’s just so loud and annoying and by the end of the song I have a headache. As I’ve said on this blog before, popularity does not equate to quality.

Remember how I said in the previous version of this feature that the Jackson 5 are hit and miss with me in regards to their Christmas performances? Well this one is a miss. Just like Springsteen, a young Michael Jackson screams through this and it gets annoying fast. I guess it’s more understandable from a child, but no less forgiving on the ears.

I enjoy most of Carey’s versions of Christmas songs, but I find her cover of this song to be quite forgettable in comparison to her other Christmas performances. Her vocals are buried in the obnoxious production, which is too over the top for my liking. The lullaby-like introduction is also weird and off-putting.

No, no, no! This is so slick and doesn’t even feel like Christmas. Why must modern artists ruin Christmas songs so much? This version deservers a nice, big lump of coal!

Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer or Bah Humbug?: “The Christmas Song”

Welcome to a brand new Christmas feature of Country Perspective! Now in the past long-time readers may remember me passing on reviewing Christmas songs because well I didn’t really know the best way to approach them and I also felt the need to cover what I felt like everybody else wanted me to cover instead of covering what I want. But obviously things change, as I just did my very first Christmas review.

Now my new feature is quite simple: I’m going to take a look at and categorize the different versions of a Christmas song into one of two categories. The good category is Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer, whether that be egg nog, hot chocolate, or whatever other holiday concoction you prefer (just be responsible of course). The bad category is Bah Humbug, named after the famous retort of Ebenezer Scrooge (the Disney version of it is the best, don’t @ me). The main point of this feature is to have some holiday fun! And maybe you’ll find a new version of a holiday classic to stick in your own playlist. Also please throw your own recommendations in the comments!

The first song I’m going to take a look at is “The Christmas Song,” which you probably remember as the song that involves chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Well that’s the line I remember the most. The song was written in 1945 by Robert Wells and Mel Tommé (the latter actually admitted he doesn’t even like the song). But here’s a fun fact: The song was actually written on a hot summer day! Isn’t that crazy? There’s a little bit more to the story too, so I encourage to click the link above to read it. The song was originally recorded by The Nat King Cole Trio in 1946 and King went on to record several versions of the song in his career, as it became one of his biggest hits. It’s also the most performed Christmas song according to BMI, which is something I did not know either.

Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer

  • Nat King Cole

The original and gold standard of course must be at the top of the good list!

Or as most of you probably remember it as: A Charlie Brown Christmas music. You really can’t get much classier and respectful when it comes to Christmas music than what you get from Vince Guaraldi Trio. Their entire Christmas discography is great, as even listeners who normally don’t check out jazz music can find enjoyment and Yuletide relaxation from it.

I’m hit and miss on the Jackson family when it comes to their Christmas album, but this is one of the songs I enjoy on it. It respects the classiness of the original version, while still making it feel like the era they recorded it in (1970) and making it their own too.

One day I’m going to write a piece (or pieces?) on how much I enjoy and respect Motown artists. Phil Spector and his artists really knew how to craft melodies and smart, catchy hooks. And The Temptations version of this song is no different, as it’s got a decidedly R&B feeling that makes it feel like a more “adult” version because grownups need Christmas music too.

Alan Jackson’s Let It Be Christmas album is one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums and I encourage anyone who hasn’t listened to it to do so. Jackson’s deep baritone and gentlemanly nature just makes him perfect to record really any Christmas song. It’s safe to assume you will always see him on the good side of this feature.

Bah Humbug!

  • Thomas Rhett

Thomas Rhett’s version of this classic is too smooth and overproduced. I’m so shocked! Not really of course, as it follows a pattern of the majority of his music. This is like the last version I want to hear of this song. As I said in my Bowen review, it’s amazing how modern artists can screw up holiday songs.

Okay, so you might be surprised to see Crosby show up here instead of above. After all he’s performed so many great renditions of Christmas songs and most of the time he will end up on the good list. But this one of his misses in my mind: this is too slow, boring and doesn’t feel like Christmas. Crosby is practically yawning his way through the song. It’s the music equivalent of paint drying. While most older versions of Christmas songs are better, this is an exception to the rule.

When I don’t enjoy an Aguilera song, it’s because she’s overdoing it and going too over-the-top with her lyrics. And that is the case here, as it starts off well enough. But she just can’t help herself by the end of the song.

Just like Bing Crosby, I usually enjoy a lot of Fitzgerald’s versions of Christmas songs. But this song makes a big mistake with it’s thin, jingly production. It feels like a cabaret, bar room lounge rendition of the song. And that’s a shame because Ella Fitzgerald can belt it, so I don’t understand why you would have her record this type of version of the song.

I take it back: Thomas Rhett’s version of “The Christmas Song” isn’t the worst. She & Him’s version is the worst. Also I finally get my opportunity to put this (digital) pen to paper: She & Him are absolutely awful. They’re one of the most annoying acts in music. From the general vibe they give off in their music to their album covers, they come off as snobby, pretentious and overwrought. The only thing they’re missing is fedoras. I openly gag when I hear their music. Just like Alan Jackson being a lock for the Holiday Cheer list, She & Him are a lock for Bah Humbug.