Performers share holiday favorites

‘Tis the season when folks put aside their usual musical favorites for holiday songs.

Some like religious and some like secular. Some gravitate toward the traditional while others like their seasonal songs rockin’ and even a bit profane.

We asked some area singers and musicians to share their favorite Christmas / seasonal songs. Maybe readers will discover a new favorite or, better yet, go out and support these artists when they’re performing in the area:

• Chook Alberini, vocalist with Chookie Unplugged — “My favorite Christmas song is ‘Run Run Rudolph,’ preferably the Brian Adams live version. It’s just a departure from the normal at any holiday party. I usually start dancing the ‘twist’ whenever this tune starts playing.”

• Amanda Beagle, vocalist — “One of my favorite traditions through the years has been watching ‘The Sound of Music’ around Christmas time, and I love that the song ‘My Favorite Things’ is known as a holiday classic. My favorite rendition of this, aside from Julie Andrews herself, is that of Tony Bennett. Featured on Mr. Bennett’s ‘A Swingin’ Christmas,’ this is my go-to Christmas album. From baking cookies to trimming the tree, I play this album on repeat. There is just something about Tony Bennett’s voice that makes me feel the warmth and excitement of the holidays. Combine that with one of my favorite musicals, and we have a winner.”

• Jay Byrd, guitar player and singer — “Some of the greatest singers in the world have performed the Christmas hymn ‘O Holy Night,’ using its wide dynamic range to show off dazzling vocal pyrotechnics. But my favorite version of this song was a performance from a few years ago at a Christmas church service, when a developmentally disabled fellow stepped to the microphone, closed his eyes and brought the house down. His pitch was far from perfect, and his diction wasn’t crisp, but he meant every word he sang. I’ll never forget it.”

• Frank Castellano, guitar player — “My favorite is ‘Christmastime Is Here.’ I love the way it goes from painting all of the heartwarming images and ends with the lamentation that we only feel this way in the Christmas season. As I have jazz leanings, the melody and chord changes invite infinite interpretations. It, of course, has been covered by millions and there are many that I love, but I have to say that the Peanuts cast is my favorite version. There’s something about children expressing these thoughts slightly off key that make it poignant and beautiful.”

• Marty Cohen, drummer with Abbey Road and co-founder of Sunrise Entertainment — “‘This Christmas’ by Donny Hathaway. I’ve always loved it. It’s kind of R&B with a great drum track, a great horn section. It’s melodic, and it’s secular. It always gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.”

• Rick Deak, guitar player with Radio Lark and solo artist — “A few of my favorite Christmas songs: Elvis Presley’s ‘Merry Christmas Baby,’ simply love the vibe of this bluesy Elvis version and the Elvis Christmas albums bring back the warm childhood memories since my parents constantly played the records throughout the season; Aimee Mann’s and Michael Penn’s ‘Christmastime,’ I am a huge fan of both Aimee Mann and Michael Penn and think they sound amazing together; and The Ramones’ ‘Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight),’ a fun song and I relate.”

• JD Eicher, singer / songwriter — “I wish I had something more original, but honestly, ‘Jingle Bells’ is my go-to. It was one of the earliest holiday songs I learned as a kid, and it brings me right into the Christmas spirit every time. As a kid, I always sang, ‘In a one or sope enslay.’ I’ve gotten better with lyrics recently, and I find that the song still holds up with this talk of ‘open sleighs.'”

• Tashawn Fambro, aka, hip-hop artist Murdah 1 — “My favorite Christmas song is Kirk Franklin’s ‘Jesus Is the Reason for the Season.’ It give you that energy plus I’m all about family, so the motivation always be there when I’m around them. It’s a Fambro thang.”

• Bob Fiorino, vocalist with Mom’s Apple Pie, Full Moon Allstar Band and FM Acoustic — “I could try to be cool and say ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’ by the Eagles and Don Henley, but I’ll instead go with ‘O Holy Night’ sung by Andy Williams. First, ‘O Holy Night’ is such a captively melodic song. Second, Andy Williams voice is both pure and simple. Just be sure to listen to his earlier (1963) version, where he hits the high note at the end in a falsetto voice and holds it for a bit.”

• Greg Johnson, Youngstown’s Total Package Band — “My favorite Christmas song is Kurtis Blow’s ‘Christmas Rappin” from 1979. Every time we play that song, the dance floor is packed. That is the song to get your Christmas party jumpin’.”

• Robert Dennick Joki, founder of Rust Belt Theater Company — “My favorite Christmas song is ‘Merry Christmas Darling’ by The Carpenters. My papa was a military man and truck driver who spent many holidays on the road, so this song has always been special to my family. The lyrics are bittersweet, a little sad, but hopeful, and that’s usually how I feel this time of year. And Karen Carpenter’s voice is perfection. Other people have covered the song but nothing compares to the original.”

• Ky’Lyntae, hip-hop artist — “My favorite Christmas song came down to two songs, Boyz II Men’s ‘Silent Night’ and Outkast’s ‘Players Ball.’ Based on the research I’ve done on how the song became a “Christmas song,” Outkast’s ‘Players Ball’ takes the cake (it originally was released on ‘A LaFace Family Christmas,’ and the duo wasn’t happy about its debut being on a Christmas album). As a hip-hop artist, I really appreciated the prolific, unique approach to a Christmas song and the background of the song in general.”

• Jimmy Martin, guitar player and host of the Jimmy Fro Podcast — “Some of my first memories that involve music have to do with the sound of a record needle floating over faint scratches playing the Elvis Presley Christmas album. My favorite Christmas song would have to be ‘Santa Claus Is Back to Town.’ The song begins with the lyric ‘Christmas’ sang in a beautiful barbershop harmony. Elvis being Elvis, he leaves this song open to interpretation, but it hits the festive Christmas time notes that remind me of Christmas, like the use of melodic church bells. With the bluesy driving thumpy drum and edgy piano, Elvis wails, and it rocks hard in a way that holds up to this day.”

• Dana Kristina-Joi Morgan, pianist — “‘Christmas Time is Here’ by Vince Guaraldi is my favorite Christmas song of all time. Whether it is the charming, slightly out-of-tune vocals of the Peanut gallery or the lush harmonies of the instrumental, this song makes me want to go ice skating with Snoopy every time.”

• Mark Lee Pringle, Elvis Presley performer — “My favorite Christmas song is ‘Santa Claus Is Back in Town’ by Elvis Presley. It really shows off Elvis’ early 1950s blues roots, plus it’s a fun song that always makes our audiences smile in a world that has been so serious lately.”

• Gary Rhamy, producer and owner of Peppermint Studios — “‘Blue Christmas’ by Grammy winner Frank Yankovic on his “Christmas Memories” CD. Engineering this album was memorable for me because of all the talented performers from Cleveland to Nashville that producers Joey Miskulin and Steve Popovich brought to the project, including (at my insistence) the Sardich Singers from Cortland, who sang backup on this song.”

• Ralph Rich, drummer with Demos Papadimas band — “One of my favorite Christmas songs is a version of ‘White Christmas’ by The Drifters. I’ve always liked this version because it appears in two of my favorite Christmas movies, ‘Home Alone’ and ‘The Santa Clause.’ A great take on a classic.”

• John Sferra, drummer with Glass Harp — “‘Do You Hear What I Hear,’ the version by Bing Crosby. It takes me back to my childhood. My mom played this album every Christmas. She played Christmas music when she decorated the tree. That one is special to me.”

• Paul Sheehan, vocals and harmonica with The Barflies — “‘Father Christmas’ by the Kinks. The first time I heard this Christmas gem, I was probably only 11 or 12 years old and remember being surprised that someone would write a song about Santa getting mugged, but I loved it! I like how the kid mugging him suggests that Santa ‘give all the toys to the little rich boys’ and is thoughtful enough to ask for a job for his dad (’cause he needs one). Also I love the line ‘Don’t bring my sister a cuddly toy / We only want the real McCoy.’ Brilliant.”

• Randy Stan, drummer / vocalist with Blue Siren — “I love Straight No Chaser’s version of ’12 Days of Christmas.’ Even better is The Annie Moses Band’s rendition of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.’ But my all time fave is the traditional, a cappella ‘Silent Night.'”

• Kirk Tenney, bass and vocalist with Wet Lemon — “The Kinks’ ‘Father Christmas.’ (It has) a catchy hook that goes against most all traditional Christmas songs with words that are just as rebellious.”

• Doug Thomas, vocalist with Full Moon Allstar Band, Mainstreet Lions and Backtraxx — “If I was asked again tomorrow, my answer might differ, but today my favorite Christmas song is the 16th century carol ‘Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming.’ As much as the incredibly beautiful melody, I love the harmonic progressions beneath phrases like ‘amid the cold of winter’ which begin with solemn minor chords and blossom into hopeful major chords, just as the dead of a frigid winter night quietly blossoms into the rose symbolizing the birth of Jesus. It is a simple and lovely example of what has best been described as ‘Christian theology in harmony.'”

• Steve Vuich, solo artist and the River Saints — “My favorite Christmas song is ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ the Burl Ives version. Although it has no religious implications, it speaks to and has always spoken to the part of me that supports the downtrodden and misunderstood and brings a message of hope that no matter how bad things are for someone, they can always get better… plus, it’s fun to sing and kids from 1 to 92 always get a kick out of it.”

• Christine Witt, vocalist with Duology — “My favorite Christmas song is ‘White Christmas’ as sung by Barbara Streisand. Her opening line of the song is, ‘The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway. There’s never been such a day, in Beverly Hills, LA. But it’s December 24th, and I am longing to be up north. Cuz I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.’ This line makes the song for me simply because while living in Atlanta for a few years, this is exactly how I felt while longing to be home for the holidays. Now I’m living back home in Ohio, but this song still holds the same charm for me, especially during those years when we have a ‘green’ Christmas.”