The Twelve Jews of Christmas: Folk Covers of Holiday Classics by Jewish Songwriters

I was planning on posting this entry for the Sabbath, but the snow’s getting deep outside, and in my rural area, that often means long-term network outages. Hope no one minds getting this “Friday” post a bit early…

Today we celebrate the holiday coversongs of Jewish-American songwriters, most notably the prolific Johnny Marks, who is best known for penning a holy host of non-canonical Christmas songs, and lesser known for being the head of ASCAP from 1957 to 1961.

Familiar carols written by Marks include Holly Jolly Christmas, which most of us imagine in the voice of Burl Ives, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which is based on the story by Marks’ brother-in-law, and I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day, which Marks adapted from a Longfellow poem. He also wrote Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree; I was hoping to share some folkcovers of that song, too, but for some reason, I can’t find any. Wonder why?

  • Pedro the Lion, I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day (Johnny Marks)
  • John Gorka, Christmas Bells (ibid.)
  • Martin Sexton, Holly Jolly Christmas (ibid.)
  • Jack Johnson, Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer (ibid.)

    In fact, a significant percentage of “traditional” Christmas tunes turn out to have been written or co-written by “verifiably Jewish artists”. Here’s a few more, mostly from the country and alt-pop ends of the folk spectrum, though the list runs the gamut from urban folk to indiefolk:

  • Raul Malo, White Christmas (Irving Berlin)
  • The Roches, Sleigh Ride (Anderson/Parish)
  • Mindy Smith, I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Kent/Gannon/Ram)
  • A Fine Frenzy, Let It Snow (Cahn/Styne)
  • Steve Goodman, Winter Wonderland (Bernard/Smith)
  • Liz Phair, Winter Wonderland (ibid.)
  • Aimee Mann, The Christmas Song (Torme/Wells)
  • Suzy Bogguss w/ Delbert McClinton, Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Frank Loesser)

    No purchase links today, kids: many of these songs are in the public domain, and even those that aren’t are hard to avoid this time of year. (Plus, how the heck do you link to a songwriter?) Just keep on buying your Christmas music from artists and labels directly, and we’ll call it square, okay?

  • Category: A Fine Frenzy, Aimee Mann, Holiday Coverfolk, Jack Johnson, John Gorka, Liz Phair, Martin Sexton, Mindy Smith, Pedro The Lion, Steve Goodman, Suzy Bogguss, The Roches 5 comments »

    5 Responses to “The Twelve Jews of Christmas: Folk Covers of Holiday Classics by Jewish Songwriters”

    1. Janet

      these are the best versions i’ve ever heard when it comes to christmas songs. seriously, thank you so much.

    2. boyhowdy

      Thanks, Janet!

      The wonderful thing about blogging coversongs is there’s often multiple choices of which version of something to post when talking about a specific topic. In the case of Christmas songs, the veritable flood of holiday recordings meant I really did get to choose what I thought was the pick of a good-sized litter.

      I’m glad you agree with my assessment – though I should point out it was sometimes hard to decide which was the best version of a given song! (Where I went for two versions of the same song, it was only because they were both amazing, but vastly different.)

      And remember, kids (and Janet): if you like these versions, go puruse and purchase the artists’ original work!

    3. bizzle

      LOL @ your post theme

      Came for the Liz Phair song, but I’ll be back. Thanks for sharing!

    4. chasmyn

      These are fantastic! Thank you So much for posting these!

    5. Clay Eals

      Good to see your post mentioning Steve Goodman. He often doesn’t get his due. You might be interested in an eight-year project of mine that has come to fruition — an 800-page biography of Goodman published in May, “Steve Goodman: Facing the Music.” Please check my Internet site below for more info on the book. Just trying to spread the word. Feel free to do the same!

      Clay Eals
      1728 California Ave. S.W. #301
      Seattle, WA 98116-1958

      (206) 935-7515
      (206) 484-8008