Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve. As we head into the evening, when you've tucked the kids away (or the parents), and you've got the house lights turned low, with only the soft glow of the Christmas lights on the tree to carry you through (and maybe some Elijah Craig, neat) - and it's time for some music to take you through the evening.
I can't remember a Christmas Eve in the past 30 years when I wasn't the last one awake in the house, and so it comes that I think of the night as one of solitude and of waiting. In the morning, we'll have breakfast and coffee, then gifts and talking. In the afternoon, we'll head over to my folks for dinner.
But on Christmas Eve we watch our family and friends drift off to bed, one by one, and, as always, we know we'll never get any sleep. There's no use in watching a movie or opening a book. It's time for some music and quiet contemplation.
But what do you listen to in order to maintain the mood?
Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans: The Bells of St. Mary's
Originally written in 1917, most folks today know the song as a Bing Crosby crooned ballad from the 1945 movie of the same name. The Bells of St. Mary's gets the Phil Spector treatment, and the world is better for it.
Still, catch the movie sometime. It's a real tear-jerker and a fine Christmas film with Ingrid Bergman in angel mode.
The Pretenders: 2000 Miles
Chrissie Hynde singing about missing someone on Christmas Eve should be enough to make you want to lay down face-first on the rug.
Vince Guaraldi Trio: Christmas Time is Here
There's nothing more melancholy during Christmas than Charlie Brown's awakening to the commercialism of Christmas and his pursuit for an authentic Christmas experience when even his beagle is trying to win neighborhood lighting competitions. Except, maybe, the song's use in The Royal Tenenbaums.
Joni Mitchell: River
In the "new to me but everyone else knows it" category, I can think of nothing finer than Joni Mitchell's yuletide lament.
Otis Redding: White Christmas
I've never seen Love, Actually, and likely never will, just to annoy people. I think this may be on the soundtrack, but I'll never know for sure. What I do know is that if anyone could punch this song with more melancholy than old Bing, it was going to be Mr. Redding.
Judy Garland in "Meet Me in St. Louis": Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
This movie is likely few folks' cup of tea in 2015, but there's nothing more poignant than wishing your little sister a Merry Christmas as it seems the family is breaking up.
A Very Murray Christmas: Fairytale of New York
If you have not yet tuned your Netflix to A Very Murray Christmas, you are missing out on the year's defining holiday programming. While the original by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl is a new modern classic (way to go, Gen X! You got a song about junkies in Christmas rotation!), and this is out of context, it still works wonderfully well.
Darlene Love: Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)
This, to me, is the quintessential Christmas song. One of waiting, and of hope, not for a present or a gift. It's for the return of a loved one. We don't know how or why they've left Darlene Love (and why anyone would leave Darlene Love is a mystery I'm not equipped to solve), but we know its left her bereft, the trappings of the holiday just a sad reminder.
And it doesn't hurt that Love is a vocal powerhouse.
In 2014, I had opportunity to see Ms. Darlene Love perform here in Austin. It was, and I do not say this lightly, one of the greatest shows I've ever witnessed. I swear, I thought the roof was going to fly off the Paramount when this next song hit it's crescendo.
Here she is on Letterman in 2013:
May your Christmas Eve be one of joy. It's a night of anticipation and waiting, maybe quiet contemplation of the year gone by, and the endless river of years that came before and the ones that will come after. It's time to remember loved ones, old loves, what's been gained, what's been lost. Let the ghosts of Christmas sit with you a while and whisper of things long forgotten and of the day when all this will be but a memory, too.
and, as a bonus - your Christmas Morning song.
Lyle Lovett: Christmas Morning
Mr. Lovett is from the same part of North Houston where I went to high school, and would still attend church at the same Lutheran Church his family had helped establish about 100 years ago where my family were members from the early 90's until about five years ago when everyone moved to Austin. There's few folks more quintessentially Texan, and only Willie himself writes songs that sound more like Texas to me. And few songs capture the 7:00 AM feel of Christmas in quite the same way.