Some people seem to dislike this particular carol with the passion of a thousand Christmas light bulbs, but I’ve always loved it. (No comment on how much of that attachment is due to sentimental childhood memories of that Rankin Bass special!) No matter how many times I hear it, somehow it always strikes me fresh. Of course, it helps if it’s performed well. Read on to find out who we are featuring today…
1. 4Him: For the 90s CCM version. This allows Andy Chrisman to shine with his signature uncannily pure tone. Perhaps I will always have a soft spot for his voice since it was one of the first voices I grew up hearing on Christian radio. The other three members are also excellent on backup.
2. Jars of Clay: For the “90s too-cool-for-CCM” version. Although I wasn’t exposed to this group at a young age and hence lack the nostalgic attachment some 90s kids have for early JoC, I loved this rendition the moment I heard it. Their own re-booted version just isn’t the same. This is the original right here, and it’s solid folk-rock gold.
3. John Denver: Because it’s John Denver!
4. Vienna Boys’ Choir: Because it’s the Vienna Boys’ Choir!
5. Von Trapp Family Singers: This was the song’s first cut, and to this day it remains, in my opinion, the gold standard of this carol. Completely acappella, relentlessly crisp and disciplined, with the men sounding for all the world like a real drum behind the ladies:
Before somebody asks “WHERE’S BING?” well, I thought about including him. But unfortunately, there was this random, obnoxious British dude loudly singing some random, obnoxious bit of fluff over top of him, so I found it hard to enjoy properly.
Honorable Mention: Harry Simeone Choir — This is one of the earliest recordings of the carol, and it charted in the U.S. from 1958 to 1962 (my, hasn’t radio changed!) The choir director, Harry Simeone, took co-writing credit for the song, even though he only arranged and popularized it under the name “Little Drummer Boy.” (The carol was originally composed using an old Czech text as source material by Katherine Kennicott Davis as “Carol of the Drum.”)