Brien Murphy: What's your favorite song about Jesus' birth?
With the approaching “reason for the season,” as many a church sign tells us, you’ve likely heard a lot of Christmas music over the past month.
You’ve also probably heard plenty of Christmas music that doesn’t mention Jesus’ birth.
Some of our most enduring Christmas songs have us jingling all the way while chestnuts roast on an open fire and reindeer paws click, click, click up on the housetop. Christians, of course, observe more than a visit from Santa Claus later this week — they celebrate the birth of the man they believe is their spiritual savior.
With that in mind, what are the most popular songs about Jesus’ birth?
In a poll that isn’t quite random (but certainly short of the methodology you’d need to defend a master’s thesis), we looked at 30 blogs, lists, roundups and general musings about favorite sacred Christmas songs. The lists were crafted by music experts, everyday people with blogs, and in one case, the folks who produce “Veggie Tales.”
The song that showed up on the most lists — 20 — was “Silent Night.” Composed by church organist Franz Gruber and the Rev. Joseph Mohr, the song was first performed at a midnight Mass in 1818 in Austria.
It is fairly easy to sing (except for that “sleep in heavenly peace” part), it’s been around for almost 200 years, and it’s been recorded by dozens of popular entertainers.
The second-most popular song was “The Little Drummer Boy,” showing up on 15 of the 30 lists.
Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone gave us the version we know best that was first recorded in the 1950s, although the melody is based on far older songs. AllMusicGuide.com counts more than 2,500 albums that contain this song (including at least one on pan flute).
The story of a boy who grasps the importance of Jesus’ birth and wants to give him the only gift he can — the gift of music on his drum — apparently resonates with a lot of people. Musically, it doesn’t take a huge vocal range to sing it. And even if you don’t know all the words, you can get about halfway there just with “pah-ra-pah-pah-pum.”
The third-most popular was “O Holy Night,” with 12 appearances on the 30 lists. It was written by Placide Clappeau and Adolphe-Charles Adam and first performed in 1847.
Like the first two songs on the list, it’s also been around for a while, it’s also been recorded by dozens of popular entertainers … but it is certainly NOT easy to sing. At least, it’s not easy to sing well. This song has a lot of challenging notes, particularly on the big finish. So it takes someone who knows what he or she is doing.
The remaining songs in our unscientific Top 10 list of songs about Jesus’ birth:
State Journal-Register features editor Brien Murphy can be reached email@example.com.