The Divinity of the Nocturnal Redux

So, in yesterday’s post, I did the big reveal of the one Christmas song I like, but I took my sweet time getting there. I barely scratched the surface of my love for O Holy Night, so I am now going to bombard you with at least a dozen more*. As I noted, I find most of the standard Christmas songs (and the newer ones) to be too something or the other for me (treacly, jolly, boring, etc.), but O Holy Night has always stirred my soul. I started posting favorite versions of it many years ago, partly as a joke, but partly as my way to combat the negativity that I felt during the holiday season (which I wrote about a few posts back).

Then, I did it in consequent years because of my OCD traits, but also sometimes because people requested it. It was fun to see what versions other people came up with and to hear about their favorite songs as well. By the way, I just thought of another Christmas song that I liked when I was younger. I listened to several versions on YouTube and discovered that it hasn’t aged well at all. It’s called My Grown Up Christmas List, written by David Foster for Natalie Cole. I first heard the Amy Grant version (she added a verse to it herself when she sang it, apparently), which is still one of the better version. I also think Michael Bublé does a decent job on it, but the song itself is just too syrupy for me now. For some reason, the song reminded me of another song I really liked in my youth (not a Christmas song), which is Dance With My Father by Luther Vandross. It also hasn’t aged that well, but it’s on Luther’s last album. How can you beat that? And the video is pretty touching, too, with personal photos from his life plus video of famous people with their families. Then, Luther Vandross reminded me of Barry White, and I had to listen to this song, which isn’t holiday-related at all except in that sex is good any time of the year.

Anyway, back to the purported reason for this post–my unholy love for O Holy Night and why I do a post about it most years. As I said above, it was my way to combat the intensely negative feelings I usually have at this time of year, but I don’t really have that this year. Yes, I hate all the forced goodwill and cheer, but it’s mostly background noise. I don’t let it personally get to me as it has in past years. The last few years I haven’t done a post mostly because I couldn’t be stuffed, but I thought I’d resurrect it this year because I really love the song. I’ve already found a stunning version of it I haven’t heard before (Jennifer Hudson in the first post) as well as several old favorites.

Let’s get started. First up is an old fave. The Dublin Gospel Choir does a spirited and warm version. They’ve done another version, but the original is my favorite because it’s more homey and less formal.

Christina Grimmie is mostly a YouTube sensation. Her version is a pretty faithful adaption, and it allows her voice to really shine. I like the earthiness she brings to the song, and she has an incredible voice.

Listening to her, I was reminded of my favorite YouTube singer, Sam Tsui, who mostly does covers of hit songs. I love his voice and his enthusiasm. Plus, he’s Asian. Shout-out!  He’s been on Ellen as well. I wondered if he’d done a version of O Holy Night, and, indeed, he has. It’s pretty good, especially with the violinist (Yasmeen Al-Mazeedi) playing with him. It’s not my favorite, but it’s still pretty good.

It’s funny how taste changes over the years. When I first started this list, I loved the Celtic Woman version of the song. It seemed so pure and almost angelic. Now, though, as I’m listening to it again, it’s…pure and angelic. At the time, it’s what I needed, I guess, but now, it’s a bit too antiseptic for me. Still. I can’t deny that they can sing. Have a listen.

Speaking of pure versions that are really damn good but don’t move me, here’s another example. I found it in the sidebar on YouTube and clicked it out of curiosity. It’s Libera, a boy’s choir in England, and their voices are unearthly. However, they seem to be focusing on the technical aspects of the song, and I’m left cold. I prefer rougher, more heartfelt versions. They are very talented, though.

I am not a big Celine Dion fan, which is probably the understatement of the year. I can make fun of her with the best of them, and I will never forgive her for unleashing My Heart Will Go On onto the unsuspecting masses. Part of the reason I don’t like her is because of all the flourishes she includes in most of her music. Yes, we know you have an amazing range, Celine. You don’t have to showcase it all in every damn song. However, I like her version of O Holy Night in part because she reins it in and sings it in a fairly simple manner. It makes me wish she’d take this approach more often.

Now, let’s get a little more soulful. First up is a new version to me by the inimitable Gladys Knight with the Apostle Church of God choir backing her up. She does a riff in the middle that is…interesting, but I still like the version overall. I like that her voice is low and growly, kinda like mine.

Jennifer Hudson, again. She’s near perfection.

Nat King Cole. You cannot beat the king.

CeCe Winans sparse and beautiful version.

I never watched Studio 60, but they had a version of O Holy Night performed by New Orleans jazz musicians after Hurricane Katrina happened that is simply amazing. I teared up when I first heard it, and it still brings chills to my spine. Given the context, it’s doubly special. I’m posting the version that doesn’t have the dialogue interspersed, but you can watch that here.

Next up, versions sung in different languages. First is Jana Mashonee singing in Navajo.

Luciano Pavarotti & Placido Domingo in Italian and English.

Andrea Bocelli in Spanish. (His French**version is here.)

Back to English. Martina McBride’s version is right in my wheelhouse. I especially like that it’s acapella. It allows the emotion of the song to stand on its own.

Josh Groban at the Rockefeller Center for the Christmas tree lightning, er, lighting ceremony.

Eric Cartman with an absolutely hilarious version.

I’m not sure how I feel about Dream Theater’s version, quite frankly. It’s mostly good, but then the lead singer starts wandering off in screeching territory. I don’t know much about them, but I’m guessing this is not uncommon for him. I’m including it because it’s different, and I’m mostly positive about it. I have to give him props for tackling it when the top notes are outside his range (as I said yesterday, it’s a difficult song).

Speaking of versions that I have mixed feelings about, here’s another by Serena Onasis. I really like it (despite her posturing and her hand waving) until the last verse when she gets into ‘let’s wail the heck out of the song’ portion. There’s even a note that says she sings higher than Celine, as if that’s an admirable goal in and of itself. It’s not in this case. Ouch! My ears! The last section is really intolerable. But, it’s good until that point, and she’s Asian, so I’m posting it.

As I wind down my list, I want to add one that I just found. It’s by Kerrie Roberts, and I know nothing about her. I like her version, and you can probably guess why once you listen to it. I definitely have a style I prefer.

Thank you all for indulging me in my annual obsession with O Holy Night. This year, I am at peace with the Christmas hustle and bustle, even if I don’t understand it completely. For the first time, my choice not to do anything for Christmas feels like a positive choice and not like I’m hiding from the world.*** So, enjoy this list as it’s my Christmas gift to you. And, because I’m still a Scrooge McGrinch at heart, here is the worst version of the song (still). You’re welcome.

Happy Holidays, bitchez! May whatever you celebrate or don’t be peaceful, joyful, and full of love.

*Or not. We’ll see how I feel ten versions in.

**I think.

***Which I am, but that’s not the main reason I’ve decided not to celebrate Christmas.

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