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A Christmas playlist with truly something for everyone

| Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, 8:55 p.m.
Nat King Cole
Google Images
Nat King Cole
Annie Lennox
Getty Images for NARAS
Annie Lennox
Perry Como
Perry Como
Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley

The mission: compile a Christmas playlist that spans the traditional and new, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.

The rules: Twelve songs, one for each day of Christmas, one song per artist, with diverse styles.

The end result (hopefully): A soundtrack that fits any holiday party.

Track 1: "The Christmas Song," Nat King Cole

The lyric "chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose," perfectly encapsulates how the Christmas season feels. No one sang "The Christmas Song" better than Cole.

Track 2: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Annie Lennox

Lennox may seem like an atypical choice, but her take on this classic, with a haunting and percussive arrangement, is mesmerizing. And of course, Lennox is a superb vocalist.

Track 3: "Do You Hear What I Hear?" Perry Como

The Canonsburg native, known for his silky vocals, simply has to be included in any holiday playlist.

Track 4: "We Three Kings," George Strait

There's a mystical quality to "We Three Kings" ­— three travelers on a cryptic quest — not always conveyed in the song. Strait homespun vocal captures that element.

Track 5: "Little Drummer Boy," Bing Crosby and David Bowie

This odd pairing almost didn't happen. In the PBS documentary "American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered," it was revealed the only reason Bowie agreed to appear on "A Merrie Olde Christmas Special," was that his mother was a Bing Crosby fan. Thanks to Bowie's mom, a classic was born.

Track 6: "White Christmas," Frank Sinatra

Yes, Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is arguably the definitive version. But what's a Christmas playlist without Sinatra? This version was recorded in 1954 for Capitol Records and is just as memorable as Crosby's take.

Track 7: "The Wexford Carol," Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma

Two superb talents combine for a memorable version of this carol that dates back to 12th century Ireland.

Track 8: "Silver Bells," Elvis Presley

Another artist who must be included in any holiday-themed playlist. This version of "Silver Bells" is as sparkly as some of the jumpsuits Presley wore later in his career.

Track 9: "O Holy Night (Cantique du Noel)," Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo

Two of operas biggest voices collaborated on many Christmas songs. "O Holy Night (Cantique du Noel)" is one of their finer efforts.

Track 10: "Silent Night," Kathleen Battle, with Wynton Marsalis

What do you get when you combine the talents of an opera star with those of a jazz great? This incredibly soulful rendition of "Silent Night."

Track 11: "Fairytale of New York," The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl

Not every Christmas story is of good cheer. "Fairytale of New York" — spurred by Elvis Costello's challenge to the Pogue's Shane MacGowan to write a Christmas song that wasn't "slushy" — is dark and raw. The video for the song, shot in New York, features cameos by Matt Dillon and the NYPD Pipes and Drums.

Track 12: "Good King Wenceslas," Skydiggers.

In the 10th century Vaclav the Good, the Duke of Bohemia, was assassinated by his brother Boleslaw the Bad. Thus was born the legend of Good King Wenceslas, whose charitable acts are celebrated in England the day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day (and St. Stephen's Day). This barebones version by the Canadian roots band the Skydiggers captures the essence of the song.

Bonus track: Anything by Vince Guaraldi with a holiday theme.

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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