Music Article

Christmas Carols and Dreidel Songs

Christmas and Chanukah tunes -- A list of seasonal tracks, from traditional melodies to the lyrical wit of Tom Paxton

Christmas and Chanukah tunes

Jingle bells, jingle bells; fa la la la la; dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. The holidays summon forth many of the same songs year after year, and even the words sometimes seem to repeat themselves. The oldies are goodies all right, but if you're looking for more than the usual Christmas or Chanukah tunes, here are tidings of comfort and joy-records that go beyond the traditional. Just give a listen.

Christmas Magic Joanie Bartels
With 16 yuletide pop tunes, from Johnny Marks' ''Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'' to Brian Wilson's ''Little Saint Nick,'' Joanie Bartels conjures up the days when singers were called recording artists and jukeboxes gave you six plays for a quarter. True, the world needs another rendition of ''Frosty the Snowman'' like it needs another Andy Williams Christmas special, but when did you last hear kitschy classics like ''I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,'' ''Wouldn't It Be Fun to Be Santa Claus' Son,'' or ''If It Doesn't Snow on Christmas''? Corny? Sure. About as corny as those mesmerizing evenings long ago when your dad would take you downtown to look at the lights. A

Chanukah at Home Dan Crow, Marcia Berman, Uncle Ruthie Buell, J.P. Nightingale, Fred Sokolow
Like Olympic ice-skating, Chanukah music seems to consist of compulsory figures and then stuff that's really fun. Hats off, then, to folksingers Dan Crow, Marcia Berman, Uncle Ruthie Buell, J.P. Nightingale, and Fred Sokolow. They have fun with the compulsories, first by rendering ''Chanukah, Oh Chanukah'' in the klezmer style reminiscent of rollicking wedding bands, then by wreaking gentle havoc on ''The Dreydl Song'' by making up funny extra verses (''I have a little dreydl, I made it out of mud. And when I tried to spin it, it fell down with a thud''). Their original material is even better: a sing-along synopsis of the Chanukah story, a sweet remembrance of childhood at the holiday table. With guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and Dobro, the performers create a joyful celebration of what is supposed to be a joyful celebration. Simply wonderful. A

Holly Daze Mary Miché
Mary Miché gets exuberant over bells and positively rapturous over toys. They'd probably like her, too. On the carol ''Ring, Merry Bells'' and the traditional English New Year song ''Ding Dong Diggidy Dong,'' Miché overdubs herself into almost a vocal carillon, a virtual chorus of bells. She hails the virtues of simple playthings on Tom Hunter's ''The Toy Made Out of Wood'' and Tom Paxton's ''The Marvelous Toy.'' They don't make toys like that anymore, or recordings like this one. Most of the songs aren't overly familiar, which makes Holly Daze refreshing. Of the 20 tunes, a dozen pertain to Christmas, Chanukah, or New Year's, the rest to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Martin Luther King Day. You may even want to hear them in July. A

Merry Christmas Joe Scruggs
You can't make fun of Christmas, but you sure can satirize what a lot of folks have done to it. That's what Joe Scruggs does in between tried-and-trues like ''Frosty the Snowman,'' ''Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,'' ''Away in a Manger,'' and ''Silent Night.'' ''Christmas in July'' finds Santa at the mall in Bermuda shorts ''reminding folks the holidays were six short months away.'' ''Trouble With the Elves'' depicts the old-fashioned toymakers overwhelmed by the demand for high-tech toys. Unlike the elves, Scruggs is at ease with both old and new. A-

Just in time for Chanukah Margie Rosenthal and Ilene Safyan
In addition to gentle versions of Chanukah standards, Rosenthal and Safyan offer up ''Take a Potato,'' a fine pat-along song for tots (or tater tots) about making latkes, and the round ''Matathias Bold,'' after a few rounds of which you'll never forget the names of this patriarch's five brave sons. A pretty recording but one that could stand a little boldness itself. B

A Child's Christmas Tom Paxton
Peerless songwriter Tom Paxton tends to save his best for his grown-up audiences, ''The Marvelous Toy'' (included here) notwithstanding. On A Child's Christmas he uses the same tune for two songs — ''We're Going to Get Our Christmas Tree'' and ''How Many Cookies Can Santa Claus Eat?'' — while his best melody, ''Reindeer on My Roof,'' appears to be on loan from ''Here Comes Santa Claus.'' This is carrying recycling too far. The lyrics are clever, though, and subpar Paxton is better than none at all. B-

Originally posted Dec 07, 1990 Published in issue #43 Dec 07, 1990 Order article reprints
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