Instrumental Christmas Songs
Christmas songs by their very nature invite all within earshot to sing along. Perhaps it’s the air of familiarity or the general levity of the season but you will more often than not find those that are normally reticent to raise their voices doing so over the 12 days. So it may come as a surprise that there is such a wealth of instrumental Christmas music to be enjoyed in between boisterous renditions of ‘White Christmas’.
And for those that think that Christmas instrumental music starts and ends with Mike Oldfield’s ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ you might be surprised to know that there is life beyond that worn out Christmas compilation of yours. And a good starting point could well be Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops Orchestra’s ‘Pops Christmas Party’ from 1959 which was released in glorious stereo (a revelation of futuristic proportions on its original release). The album has some many great instrumental Christmas songs you could well power a festive season with the gems on show. ‘Sleigh Ride’, ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Santa Claus is Coming To Town’ are just a trio of the elegantly orchestrated delights. Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’ is the biggest treat with galloping strings and joyous brass parts. Equally elaborate and freewheeling is the 3 CD compilation of Glenn Miller Christmas tunes wherein he and his orchestra work their way through a mountain of Christmas wares in their own inimitable way. The compilation came out in 1992 but you can tell that these are recordings from another place and time. Christmas like it used to be.
At the other of the instrumental spectrum, informed by the laconic central character of the cartoon it was featured on, are many of the cuts on Vince Guaraldi Trio’s compositions from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. ‘Christmas Time is Here’ and its slow piano lines are the soundtrack to many people's Christmas music experience but the album has so much more to offer like ‘Skating’ and Guaraldi’s own take on ‘What Child Is This? (Greensleeves)’. Released in the same year as Charlie Brown’s festive delight, 1965, was ‘The Ventures’ Christmas Album’. This was a surf-rock instrumental album that you could take to the beach, once you packed your duffel coat and hip flask that is. It took many of the Christmas chestnuts that you’d expect and added plenty of hair cream and attitude. A qualified success then, even more so when you hear what they do to the normally sedate ‘White Christmas’. A year later in 1966 and Booker T. and the M.G.'s were getting ‘In The Christmas Spirit’ with their loungey/soulful/organ led and vocal free versions of ‘Blue Christmas’, ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’.
A good deal quieter but perfect for those introspective holiday moments is George Winston’s 'December' which came out in 1982. This was primarily Winston and his piano keeping winter’s cold grip from the door. Kenny G achieved something similar with his chosen instrument the saxophone but he has done so on several occasions with his million selling Christmas albums. It all started out in 1994 on ‘Miracles: The Holiday Album’ which has to date sold over 8 million copies, which is quiet achievement given that the album is shorn of the human voice.
Manheim Steamroller are one of the most famous instrumental artists to become synonymous with the Christmas season. Their first two synth heavy Christmas albums, ‘Mannheim Steamroller Christmas’ and ‘A Fresh Aire Christmas’ were huge sellers with both leaning heavily in the electrification of old Christmas carols like ‘Silent Night’, ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ and ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing’. Very much leaning towards the prog-rock spectrum of things are Trans-Siberian Orchestra whose discography is dominated by Christmas releases. In fact their early recordings were punctuated by a Christmas album trilogy that consisted of ‘Christmas Eve and Other Stories’, ‘The Christmas Attic’ and ‘The Lost Christmas Eve’. These grandiose recordings were interspersed with original compositions and wide cinematic reworkings of old festive favourites.