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Ann Cannon: The merry side of my love-hate relationship with Christmas music

First Published      Last Updated Apr 08 2015 04:28 pm

I have a love/hate affair with Christmas music.

Here's the hate part. If I spend too much time in public during the holidays, the relentless Christmas Muzak thing (it's everywhere!) can start to make my nerve endings buzz. And NOT in a good way. Seriously, I could die happy if I never had to hear "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" over a loudspeaker again.

Especially before Thanksgiving.

But if you were to ask me what I like best about the holidays, I would answer without hesitation: the music! To state the obvious, nothing sets the mood or triggers memory like the songs of Christmases past.

To that end, I'm listing my Five Favorite Christmas Albums of All Time in Descending Order. (Not that anybody asked, but it gives me an excellent excuse to give them all a good listen this month.)

5. "A John Waters Christmas." OK. This is a weirdo album, featuring a full lineup of oddball songs. And it's the only Christmas album I'm aware of that has a "Parental Advisory" warning on the front. But then what else would you expect from the outrageous creator of "Hairspray" who recently hitchhiked from Baltimore to San Francisco and wrote a book about it called "Carsick"?

4. "The Christmas Album" by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. So I have a good friend who is a huge and extremely knowledgeable opera buff, something I never thought I'd hear myself say in this lifetime. For Christmas one year she gave me a recording by the late legendary German diva, and I immediately fell in love with Schwarzkopf's silvery voice. Her version of "Silent Night" (sung in German, of course) is my favorite rendition of the classic carol.

3. "Light of the Stable" by Emmylou Harris. Yeah, I pretty much love everything Emmylou has ever done. (See how I call her by her first name? It's like we're best friends! Even though we've never met!) How to describe Emmylou's voice? I want to say it's as pure and clear as mountain air. But that would be a cliché. And clichés do not do this remarkable musician justice. My favorite cut is "Light of the Stable," which I listen to over and over when I'm in a certain mood. So beautiful.

3. Yes, it's true. I have two third-place favorites. The other album I love is "Come Let Us Adore Him" by The Lower Lights (www.thelowerlights.com), a local folk-rock-gospel band whose take on familiar carols makes you feel as if you're hearing them all for the very first time. (Incidentally, there are still tickets available for the fifth annual Lower Lights Christmas concert running Dec. 13-20 in the Masonic Temple.)

3. Oh, wait! I have another third favorite album. I love "A Christmas Cornucopia" by Annie Lennox, who manages to make everything she sings — even Christmas songs — sound a little bit sinister. But that's what I love about Lennox's voice. Its purring edge.

2. "A Little Christmas Music" by The King's Singers never fails to lift my spirits, even though their haunting version of "The Wexford Carol" always makes me cry.

1. And my all-time favorite Christmas album (ta-da) is "Merry Christmas" by Johnny Mathis. This is one of those albums I love not only for the music but also for the memories it evokes. When I took biology from Coach Whitney at Provo High School, he played this record over and over during the month of December while we, his students, labored over our biology worksheets.

Hmmm. Now that I actually read this, I'm not sure why listening to Johnny Mathis records in a high-school biology class is such a happy memory. Obviously, when it comes to having good times, my bar is set pretty low. Still. Christmas isn't Christmas until I hear Johnny croon. (Thanks for that, Johnny.) (Thanks for that, Coach.)

Please feel free to share your favorites. And happy listening!

Ann Cannon can be reached at acannon@sltrib.com.