I was just getting warmed up

I came across the very first mixed CD I ever burned for myself. It is called Emily’s Mix #1. I wonder what number I would be on now if the iPod hadn’t come along.

Here is the playlist:

  1. Crazy by Britney Spears
  2. American Pie by Don McLean
  3. Take A Picture by Filter
  4. Baby, I’m Amazed by Lonestar
  5. Angels by Robbie Williams
  6. LA Song by Beth Hart
  7. Bye Bye Bye by *N SYNC
  8. Genie In A Bottle by Christina Aguilera
  9. Inside Out by Eve 6
  10. I Try by Macy Gray
  11. Rhythm Divine by Enrique Iglesias
  12. There She Goes by Sixpence None the Richer
  13. Little Black Backpack by Stroke 9
  14. Meet Virginia by Train
  15. Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison
  16. Enough of Me by Melissa Etheridge
  17. American Woman by Lenny Kravitz

I searched and searched but couldn’t find an MP3 of American Pie. I was adamant about having the song on this particular CD, so my dad brought his record player and set it up next to the computer with a nest of wires connecting them, the old turntable that smelled like oiled wood and rubber and the whirring, clicking CPU that smelled like static electricity.

I clicked ‘Record’ and my dad played the record. We listened to the song, grinning in awe, watching the words on the album label spin around and around.

Twelve Christmas songs that don’t make me want to set the tree on fire

One Christmas, I woke up with an Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas cassette tape under my pillow a few weeks before Christmas. Santa dropped in early with the surprise so I could enjoy it during the holiday anticipation. I really hoped that would become a tradition—not only because I liked having the preview present to tide me over, but also because the music put me in touch with my Christmas spirit.

I don’t think Santa made any more early rounds to our house, but in the last couple of years, I’ve made a point to start playing Christmas music throughout the month of December.

I really like classical pieces and avoid anything that references directly: jingling, jollyness, or any gathering of one or more of a single type of bird in the same tree. Here are some favorites:

God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen
The Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan
Barenaked for the Holidays

The arrangement and the harmonies are flawless. Sarah is Sarah and BNL is BNL. Together, their sound is tender, jovial and bright. It’s like listening to a folk tale.

The First Noel/Mary, Mary
Sarah McLachlan

A mesmerizing rendition of a traditional carol. The classic verses have a drum-driven, new age sound that conjures an image of angels as divine apparitions. Verses of Mary, Mary, a sensual spiritual about mother and child, ground the track. There is something absolutely earthly about these interludes. That mortal emotion is lacking from most classical Christmas music.

Maybe This Christmas
Ron Sexsmith
Maybe This Christmas

If you’ve ever had a Christmas wish for something that wouldn’t fit under the tree, you’ll appreciate this song. World peace? Maybe, just maybe.

What Child Is This/Greensleeves
Charlotte Church
Dream a Dream

I do not know how a song about a promiscuous renaissance woman with sleeves stained from rolling around in the grass evolved into a Christmas carol, but it is one of my favorites. Charlotte Church is both angelic and mournful.

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Christmas Eve and Other Stories

The TSO turned the true story of one intensely passionate Bosnian cellist, who is said to have played Christmas music amid the violent siege in Sarajevo, into an intensely passionate orchestral piece. In the “symphonic metal” genre, the classical elements are strong, but the rock elements are fierce. This explosive piece sounds like anticipation—of Christmas Day and of peace.

Joy of Man’s Desire/Angels We Have Heard On High
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra
The Christmas Attic

Joy of Man’s Desire has been put to good use. Since childhood, this has been one of my favorite Christmas hymns because it’s relatively easy to keep up with the verses and if you get lost reading the music, you can always catch up on the “glo-o-o-o-o-o-ria.”

Christmas Canon
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra
The Christmas Attic

A palpable element of childlike wonderment. There is also a “rock” version with a little more edge—maybe for the jaded who still secretly believe in Christmas miracles.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Sister Hazel
Santa’s Playlist

Hits the perfect note—a little melancholy, but still hopeful. There’s something sort of Simon and Garfunkel about the harmony. It reminds me of Homeward Bound and this rendition evokes a similar sentiment.

Sarah McLachlan

“Merry Christmas, my love,” has never been wished with such heartbreak. The delicate piano and wistful lyrics are reminiscent of silent snow falling on an empty wood—lonely, but lovely.

White Christmas
Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas

Ella’s White Christmas—much more than Sinatra’s or Bing Crosby’s—carries the promise of snow. Not even the swaying warmth of her tone could stop it. Her dream is going to come true.

The Coventry Carol
Alison Moyet
A Very Special Christmas, Vol. 1

Conveys, in a way that most versions do not, the frantic distress of mothers when King Herod orders that all the infant boys in Bethlehem be killed. Haunting.

O Holy Night
Tracy Chapman
A Very Special Christmas, Vol. 3

There are, of course, many more traditional versions of this hymn, but Tracy Chapman’s gentle, reverent interpretation is earnestly divine.

That’s twelve—one for each day of Christmas!