The best and worst Christmas songs, part 2: electric boogaloo

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Ah, Christmas… the time when we eat delicious food, spend time avoiding uncomfortable conversations, celebrate the birth of Jesus… and, listen to a whole lotta Christmas songs.

Last year, I shared five of the best and worst Christmas songs. Some are ones that I joyfully listen to (much to my wife’s chagrin). Others, well, not so much.

But I realized there were more out there. And so, here we are: the best and worst Christmas songs, part two:


Best: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

This one was on last year’s list, too, but with a different arrangement. Dustin Kensrue, under the Modern Post moniker, released a new version on his Child of Glory EP, and it is delightful.

In fact, do yourself a favor: buy that EP and just put it on repeat. It’s one of the few Christmas compilations I really enjoy.


Worst: Christmas Shoes

This one was by popular demand—and in fact, I am fairly certain my distaste for the song caused me to block it from my memory.


Best: The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Paul McCartney made last year’s “worst” list. This time, he’s got a really nice take on a classic song to make up for it:


Worst: All I Want for Christmas is You / Last Christmas (tie)

This is a terrific pair of yuck: one in which Mariah Carey sings about Christmas, but not about Christmas. The other is Wham.


Best: O Come O Come, Emmanuel

Sufjan’s a bit passé these days, but this take on this classic song is wonderful.


Worst: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Because, as we were reminded in 1984, it’s important to feel as guilty as possible at Christmas time, just like Jesus wanted.


Best: Please Come Home For Christmas

I love Blues. Therefore this song by Charles Brown wins.


Worst: Christmas Don’t Be Late

Because the Chipmunks may, in fact, be made of pure concentrated evil (as evidenced by the movies).


Best: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Okay, I know I shouldn’t include music performed by the same artist twice on a list, but I’m doing it anyway. I really enjoy this take on O Little Town of Bethlehem by Dustin Kensrue.


Worst: Funky, Funky Christmas

I had completely forgotten until recently that the New Kids on the Block made a Christmas record. Oh, how I wish I this information was still lost to me.


Photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

If the gospel isn’t in it, should we be singing it?

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So there’s a completely accurate report rumor going around that I’m pretty persnickety about music. Like, to the point that I have trouble singing most Sundays. This isn’t because there’s anything terrible with the music at our church—far from it, our church has a pretty robust music ministry (but thankfully no lasers or smoke machines)—it’s just I find myself thinking about the words we’re singing more often than not.

The reasons for this vary: sometimes it’s considering how those words line up with my own life at that moment. Other times, it’s contemplating whether or not the words are actually undeniably Christian, or if they’re just kind of feel-good gobbledygook.

Thankfully I am not alone in this.

A while back while reading Mack Stiles’ great book, Evangelism (reviewed here), I came upon this helpful bit of commentary:

My daughter-in-law, Stephanie, told me that she sang a song at her graduation that’s often sung in church services—”God of This City.” Half of her classmates were Muslims, and they had no trouble singing the song with gusto. If people from other faith backgrounds can sing a song with gusto at a secular high school graduation, we can be pretty sure there’s no gospel in the song. (85)

This is worth considering. But first, notice what Stiles doesn’t say:

  • He doesn’t equate a song’s simplicity with a lack of depth. Simple is good, provided what it communicates is faithful and true.
  • He doesn’t say “songs with first person pronouns are bad.” We should be able to sing in the first person as appropriate, certainly.
  • He doesn’t treat the song as if it’s evil in and of itself—he actually says later it’s a better song than most of the stuff on the top 40 (which is true).

But what he does say—and I emphatically agree with—is it is devoid of the gospel.

And again, this should make us think: what do the songs we sing on Sundays communicate about Jesus? Some communicate wonderful truths about God and the gospel, but far too many focus on us in the negative sense—what I’m doing, what I’m feeling, what I want, and, at best, treat God as a cosmic problem solver.

“Greater things are still to be done,” and all that.

While it may be unpopular to say, if a non-Christian isn’t deeply uncomfortable with the songs we sing because of their emphasis on Jesus, we might be doing it wrong. And if the gospel isn’t in it—should we really be singing it?

2 kids’ albums that are actually really good!

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As y’all know, my wife and I are the parents of three little kids—Abigail (7), Hannah (4), and Hudson (2). Our house is always hopping with this crew, especially when there’s music on (or in their heads). I took the girls to The Muppets Most Wanted recently, and while we were in the car, Hannah and Abigail immediately started singing a heartfelt rendition of every girl’s current favorite song, “Let it Go.”

Just imagine that for a minute.

Alright, back to the task at hand. Because these kids really enjoy music, I get to expose them to a lot of different material. The challenge has been finding good kids’ albums! Many, as you can imagine, are vile, poorly produced, dreck. Some are okay. Few are exceptional.

But the exceptional few are ones I’d like to talk about a bit today. Here’s a look at two kids’ albums that are actually really good!

1. Coal Train Railroad, self-titled. I was pointed toward these folks by one of my followers on Twitter and I’m so glad they did. Coal Train Railroad is a jazz group for kids from Nashville, and their stuff is exceptional, both what’s been released on their self-titled debut and the follow-up, Coal Train Railroad Swings!

Our kids really like to bop to these albums, and Hudson typically asks for “Train!” when we get in the car, so there’s that.

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | iTunes

2. The Verve Pipe, Are We There Yet? Honestly, I never thought I’d put “The Verve Pipe” and “great” in the same sentence, but there you go. These guys had a couple of big songs in the mid-late 90s but they fell off my radar a long time ago. Then I learned they had made a couple of albums for kids, the latest being Are We There Yet? This album has a lot of fun songs, including one called “When Grandma Says No,” which describes the all-too-true reality of Grandma’s no’s true meaning: maybe.

And all the parents said, “amen.”

Learn more or buy it at: Amazon | iTunes

So those are a couple of really good kids’ albums we’ve picked up recently. If you’re a parent, definitely check them out, and if you have recommendations, share them in the comments!

The five best and worst Christmas songs ever

Around Christmastime, I’m usually informed by someone that I’m something of a grinch. My heart seems to be three sizes too small… at least when it comes to Christmas music.

Although I try to have a bit of yuletide cheer, I’m generally not a fan of the songs. So many are just kind of, well, terrible. Either theologically inaccurate, badly written and performed, or some combination thereof.

But that’s not to say all of them are awful. Some are really, really good. So today, I thought it’d be fun to do a bit of comparing and contrasting, with what I believe are the five best and worst Christmas songs ever.

Best: “This is War”

I love this song a lot, even if it’s not super-cheery in tone:

Worst: “It Must Be Santa”

This song is six kinds of terrible—and Bob Dylan made it even worse:

I’m pretty sure this is one of the songs that will be played in Hell. On repeat.

Best: “Go Tell it on the Mountain”

Jacob Moon does a great job on this one:

Worst: “Last Christmas”

Any version is terrible, but here’s Taylor Swift’s (since I hear it every time I go to the grocery store):

Best: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”

Worst: “Wonderful Christmas Time” 

The post-Beatles years were not always kind to Paul McCartney, as evidenced by the following:

Best: “O Come, Emmanuel”

There are so many terrific versions out there, but this one is excellent:

Worst: “Santa Baby”

Because nothing says “Christmas” like prostitution for presents:

Best: “The 12 Days of (Canadian) Christmas”

Because I’m Canadian:

Worst: “Mary, Did You Know?”

This one’s extra cringe-worthy in its Technopraise (seriously??) remix:

So those are a few of the best and worst from my perspective. Did I miss anything?

Cultivating a culture of worship: four practical suggestions

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Today’s post is by Nathan Clark George. Nathan is an award winning singer/songwriter, and serves as Chief Musician at Parish Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN.


As God called Adam to tend and care for His creation, God calls the church musician to name, distinguish, care for and cultivate musical settings and compositions that enable and promote biblical, meaningful and vibrant congregational worship. Over the years I have done my best to stay out of the worship wars, but from my experience and what others have taught I do have practical suggestions that I hope are useful when considering music in the context of worship:

1. Focus. Our focus must be on God’s Word, for our singing is, in almost all cases, prayer. In prayer we usually spend less time talking about how we feel, and more time speaking about how God feels about a subject. Therefore, most of our music and its text should be God oriented, much like our spoken prayer.

2. Congregational vs. Individualistic. I have had several people ask if they can use my older settings of the Psalms, which were written for the purpose of presentation and performance and personal meditation, in congregational worship. My response is usually “good luck.” Now, there is certainly room to train, learn parts, practice, and get better, and we should do so, but there is also a reason Come Thou Fount is going nowhere soon. It’s singable. It’s not individualistic pop music. The rhythm and melodic movement employed is predictable, simple without being simplistic, and is accessible to the folks – it is true folk music. It is congregational.

3. Style. If we get sidetracked into thinking about how someone may or may not like our style, we will have gotten off track already. Remember, as John Frame pointed out, it’s less about style than content. I would add to that it’s less about style than purpose. Is our purpose to impress? Is our purpose to sound like Bach or Vaughn Williams? Then we have miss God’s purpose.

4. Sing the Psalms. Though I do not fall in the exclusive Psalmody camp, the importance of singing Psalms can barely be over emphasized. I would challenge us to look hard at our song choices and see how often we are singing the Psalms. Is it once a month? Once a week? Never? I would humbly and forcefully suggest that we begin to sing and write with the Psalms as fixtures before our eyes.

Above all, the Word of God and the worship of God must be the fertile soil in and out of which a musician cultivates a culture of worship that reflects God’s nature and glory.


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Nathan’s new album, To Live is Christ, is now available. You can download “Calm Content” free here.

O Come, Emmanuel!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven (Video)

This original song by Keith and Kristyn Getty is lovely:

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Go Tell it On the Mountain (Video)

Jacob Moon’s upbeat take on this Christmas carol:

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Born is the King-It’s Christmas (Video)

I’m impressed—Hillsong did a really great job with this Christmas song. Excellent use of the banjo (also, my daughter got to ring bells when it was performed at our church a couple weeks back, which was fun):

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This is War (Video)

A decidedly non-traditional original Christmas tune from Dustin Kensrue. This has been pretty steady in my Christmas playlist (but generally not during family get-togethers; they don’t like songs in minor keys for some reason):

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A Canadian Christmas Classic (Video)

I remember hearing this rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas by Canadian national treasures, Bob & Doug MacKenzie, on the radio every year when I was growing up. It still cracks me up:

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The Christmas Rush (Video)

Internet music sensation Mike Tompkins released an original Christmas song this year. If you’re not familiar with Mike, all his songs are performed a capella, so every sound you here in this tune is made with his mouth. Enjoy the song—it’s good fun:

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Little Drummer Boy (Video)

Fellow Canadian Sean Quigley’s got some serious talent. Check out this very cool rendition of a classic Christmas carol:

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3 Reasons to Get Lovers on the Edges of the Twilight by Michael Krahn

Recently, my good friend Michael Krahn released a new 5-song EP, Lovers on the Edges of the Twilight. I’ve been listening to it pretty steadily for the last little while and it’s great stuff. My first thought: “This is very Blue Rodeo.” (Canadians know that this is a very good thing, depending on your taste.) Here are a few reasons why I hope you’ll buy this record:

1. It has nothing to do with Twilight. Tim Challies may have beat me to that smart-alecky comment, but it’s still true. It also has no connection to mid-90s Canadian rock band The Tea Party (their second album was called The Edges of Twilight)… aside from both being from Canada.

2. It’s heartfelt. You know how you can listen to a song and you really get a sense that the artist was processing some pretty heavy stuff while writing and performing? That’s what you’ll find on this album, and it works really, really well.

3. The title track is exceptional. Seriously, take the next four minutes and listen:

The record’s available now on iTunes and MichaelKrahn.com—I hope you’ll get a copy today.