Playlist of the Month: Christmas Songs by Jewish Artists

Hanukkah 2015 is already in the books. That means that from this point onward, people of all religions can focus on that other December holiday: Christmas. Sure, if we’re getting technical about it Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus – but it’s also turned into a cultural celebration where we put our differences aside and eat cutout cookies, decorate trees, and jam out to the likes of Barbra Streisand and Amy Winehouse. Who better to sing Happy Birthday to one of the most famous Jewish babies in the world?

Traci’s Picks

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
Mel Torme and Judy Garland

This tune is one of the iconic Christmas songs we all know and love, but did you known it was written by two Jews? Mel Torme and Bob Wells wrote it in 1945 in the middle of summer in an effort to cool down. Truth. Bob was randomly writing down wintery things on a notepad like, “Yuletide carols” and “Jackfrost” and “folks dressed up like Eskimos” because he was so damn hot, but when Mel (who was 19 at the time) took a look at it he saw them as song lyrics. The rest is history. This version features Mel on Judy Garland’s self-titled TV show, and also includes a sly Over the Rainbow ref. This is the kind of song that just warms your heart.

Happy Xmas (War is Over)
Adam Levine & Sara Bareilles

Many people have covered John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s iconic Christmas protest song, but there’s something special about the pairing of Adam and Sara. Adam has the right range for it, while Sara can literally sing anything and I’d be on board.

This Christmas
Carole King

This Christmas is one of my favorite modern day holiday jamz. Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to Platinum Christmas and heard R&B singer Joe’s version on repeat, but I associate this with pop and R&B acts, not folky types like Carole King. But that’s what makes me love this version that much more. She gives it a lived in, Tapestry quality to it that makes you want to curl up by the fire and drink hot cocoa.

From a Distance (Christmas version)
Bette Midler

Listen up. Sometimes I enjoy turning up to the easy listening radio station. I can enjoy a good Kenny G tune or Celine Dion power ballad every once in a while. I can also appreciate Bette Midler and her classic tune From a Distance. BUT, in doing research for this post, I found out she made an alternative Christmas version that is maybe even better than the OG? Maybe. But the Queen of the Jews singing “Joy to the World” at the end is the best. The best.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Amy Winehouse

No bit zone – I really think Amy would’ve made an amazing Christmas/holiday album. Her voice is already astounding, but her spin on classic songs would’ve been such a hit.

Molly’s Picks

Baby It’s Cold Outside
Idina Menzel and Michael Buble

Yes, this song is creepy, but this version subs out some of the skeevier lyrics, making it my favorite rendition.

It was only a matter of time before Idina Menzel released a Christmas album. This particular song is really just a winter song, but there are plenty of Christmas-specific tracks on the album.

White Christmas
Barbra Streisand

How about a two-fer: when he wrote White Christmas, Irving Berlin, nee Israel Baline, made the most important Jewish contribution to the Christmas holiday since the Virgin Mary. Then Barbra Streisand covered it, and while nobody, not even Babs, is Bing Crosby, this is still pretty darn wonderful.

Must Be Santa
Bob Dylan

If you ever doubt the extent to which Bob Dylan DGAF, just watch this video.

Christmas Must Be Tonight
The Band

Two things you may not have known: The Band performs a good Christmas song, and Robbie Robertson is Jewish.

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)
The Ramones

This is my second-favorite song about sparring on Christmas (after the fantastic Fairytale of New York) – and it proves that you don’t have to grow up celebrating Christmas to know that it’s a holiday that sparks a lot of arguments.

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Playlist of the Month: Songs From Musicals We’ve Been In

Ah, the first breath of spring. In high schools across the nation, now is the time for students to work together to create something bigger than themselves, to forge new friendships and let their talents shine. Baseball season? Nah. Prom planning? Please. It’s high school musical season!

We spent the first years of our friendship hanging out in our high school’s auditorium during musical rehearsals. We had snacks from a special “junk food locker” (an abandoned locker that we stocked with bulk candy) and played Bullshit and Spoons with the young, pre-gay gay boys we were friends with. Before high school, we were both big fish in our respective theater ponds, and being in chorus and dance company roles just felt so wrong, but we were still happy to be involved in a show.

Even the songs still stick with you years later. In honor of those hardworking theater kids in Hell Week for Grease or Man Of La Mancha right now, here are some songs from musicals we’ve been in – songs we still get stuck in our head over a decade later.

Check out the entire playlist on Spotify!

Molly’s Picks

Feel So Near – Some Weird Play From My Childhood

When I was a kid, I was in this odd, somewhat avant garde youth theater company. I mean, of course I was. For a few years our plays were these adaptations of obscure folk tales with minimalist staging and costuming and kabuki-inspired makeup. A chorus of children sang this folksy tune by Dougie MacLean and what do you know, it sounds pretty good sung by a chorus of children. I’m including this as a nod to my weird childhood.

Oh What A Beautiful Morning – I Seriously Cannot Remember What Play This Was

Oh, cool, Oklahoma? Nope. Just some random play I was in that rather inexplicably included the song Oh What A Beautiful Morning. Again, it was a strange childhood, theater-wise.

The Boy Next Door – Meet Me In St. Louis

In eighth grade, a group of 10-15 local Catholic schools got together to put on a mega-musical. It was like an awkward plaid dream team, and I was thrilled to land in the principal cast. Because I’ve been the same person my whole life, you won’t be surprised to learn that it was the comic relief character, who was an Irish maid. But I had a solo and I was very pleased and honored to finally be in a play where I wasn’t wearing white pancake makeup and a black turtleneck.

I Can’t Be Bothered Now – Crazy For You

When I was a kid my sister had the cassette tape of the Crazy For You soundtrack, and I thought it was just about the best thing ever. [A note: during my sister’s high school tenure our school was putting on, like, Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Rough.] I know the concept of compiling a bunch of Gershwin’s best tunes into a loosely conceived plot is probably, technically, bad, but our school put this on our junior year and years later, I can barely decide which song to include.

On The Street Where You Live – My Fair Lady

Senior year, we performed My Fair Lady and I learned that when it doesn’t involve Audrey Hepburn or Julie Andrews, I really don’t care for My Fair Lady. But we had fun with it – I remember sitting in English class singing Ascot Gavotte with extra-plummy accents because as seniors, and I guess as people, we just didn’t care. In true Lerner and Loewe fashion each number is catchier than the last,  but I’m including On The Street Where You Live because I remember my mom singing it when I was little, and in fourth grade I thought it was THE perfect song for my grade school crush. Yes, like so many theater kids before and after me, I was maybe just a little dramatic.

Traci’s Picks

Embraceable You – Crazy For You

Like Molly said, I could barely decide which song to include because every song was a classic. I legit changed my mind about which one to put on the list three times. Crazy For You was the first time I was really exposed to music of this era – that I actually paid attention to. Lo and behold, I took a liking to it. Since the musical is a bunch of Gershwin songs put together, this one is from Girl Crazy, as seen here by Judy Garland and a bunch of strapping young men. Swoonworthy.

Something Good – The Sound of Music

Okay, I’m cheating a bit. This song wasn’t included in the OG Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which is the version I was in, but rather was added for the film that we all know and love. After the movie, however, this song was included in some revivals of the show so it counts. The version by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer is stunning and simple, like a reflection of their love *awwww cheesy stfu*

Close Every Door – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Like Molly said, we were “big fish” in our respective little ponds, and for me, that pond was my church. We used to put on full musical productions (and were kind of really good and well known for it in the immediate community?) so it’s not like me in a basement naming all the colors of Joseph’s coat. Anyways, this show marked my first “big” role – I was a Narrator. Emphasis on A, because I was one of 6 HAHAHA. When I would listen to Donny Osmond’s version of the soundtrack, I was obsessed with Close Every Door, particularly the last 45ish seconds when he does the key change and the riffs at the end – changed my life. Also, that’s when I retroactively developed a crush on Donny Osmond way past his prime. IDK you guys, I was a weird kid.

I Don’t Need Anything But You – Annie

Annie is like a rite of passage for any theatre kid, including this AZN one right here. I obviously wasn’t Annie, and by the time I did the show, I was too old to be an orphan, so I was a servant/the “Star-to-Be” aka the solo in NYC aka the part OG Annie Andrea McArdle plays in the Audra McDonald verz of Annie. This song always struck me as a super sweet tune between Annie and Daddy Warbucks, and was just filled with positivity about the future. She’ll learn soon enough.

Beautiful City – Godspell

Again, I guess this is cheating a bit, since Beautiful City wasn’t included in the original 1971 Off-Broadway cast recording, which is the soundtrack we went by when my church did the show. It was the first real musical I was ever in, and I’m kinda sad that this song wasn’t included. The song was written for the 1972 film, starring Victor Garber as the big JC, and the version above is from the 2011 Broadway revival starring Hunter Parrish as Jesus. When I first heard this, it was probably a mix of me not being too familiar with it and the fact that I was stunned by how beautiful Hunter’s voice is. It’s a haunting song that still holds up in 2015. Fun fact: My friends walked down the aisle to this song. Not creepy, really cute and made me cry.