by Jess Szabo, Arts Writer, Artist Cafe Utica
Utica is home to many talented and dedicated artists, and several of those artists can be found at Utica’s only local classic Hip Hop and more station, Phoenix Radio. The station features real DJs and program hosts, talk shows that discuss issues important to Utica, New York, and music that includes both classic favorites and local artists. Phoenix Radio is part of Phoenix Media, which includes The Utica Phoenix newspaper, available both in print and online.
Tune in today, and listen to some Phoenix Radio programming while unwrapping gifts, preparing your holiday meal, or just spending time with members of your household and making your holiday zoom calls.
You could even build your own Phoenix Radio themed Christmas playlist to enjoy today, through the end of the year, and next Christmas season.
This is by no means a complete list of Christmas songs in the genres heard on Phoenix Radio, and everyone will have their own favorites. But these six songs make a great starting point for putting together a unique Christmas playlist.
White Christmas: Diana Krall
This is the same Irving Berlin song we hear all the time, but Krall’s Jazz vocals make it sound like a completely different tune. The original, and most covers, have a bittersweet tone. The singer seems to be dreaming of a white Christmas, and pretty sure one is coming, but there’s usually that wistful quality that makes you think they might be singing the song while locked away alone in the desert for the holiday, writing cards to people they hope will send one back. Krall’s vocals make it sound like she can’t wait until yet another wonderful, white Christmas arrives.
Merry Christmas: Lightnin’ Hopkins
We associate the Blues with lyrics about life’s struggles, but any Blues fan knows that’s not always the case. Overcoming and powering through is also a common theme in the Blues, and Lightin’ Hopkins’ “Merry Christmas” is one of those songs. The narrator seems to have suffered a recent breakup or separation, but the song is about having a great Christmas this year, as the couple has reconciled. His woman is coming home on Christmas day.
Mary Did You Know: Mary J. Blige
Another Christmas classic, Mary Did You Know is always a beautiful song. It’s the vocals that make each version stand out. Mary J. Blige’s vocals on this 1999 recording of the Christmas classic are much softer than her usual style, but when she gets to portion of the lyrics where Jesus’ triumphs over illness and misfortune are detailed, her voice proclaims each one. The version ends with a softer than expected declaration that Jesus is the “Great I Am,” before fading out.
Classic Rap/Hip Hop
Christmas in Hollis: Run DMC
This song tells the story of a man who meets a scary guy and his dog in the dark on December 24th, only to realize it’s Santa and a reindeer. Once Santa flees, the narrator realizes he left his wallet behind, full of money. When the narrator gets home, planning to return Santa’s wallet, he finds a letter from Santa to him…an unexpected twist…and learns the wallet was meant for him. Of course, the rest of the song is about having a wonderful Christmas, but the focus switches to family traditions rather than going on about all the stuff that can be bought. The combination of Santa’s generosity, the narrator’s honesty, and the rest of the song being about Mom’s cooking and a world filled with cheer combine to create a heartwarming, clean Christmas rap.
Please Come Home for Christmas: James Brown
Christmas is not a joyous, peaceful time for many people, and the pressure to be happy and relaxed coupled with cultural pressure to spend money we may not have, can make things even worse. If Christmas is not a happy time for you, this is the Christmas song you want. Unlike Lightin’ Hopkins in Merry Christmas, the person the narrator is singing to in this song is most definitely not coming home. Not only is their love gone, the character in the song has no friends to celebrate the holidays with either.
God Speaking: Mandisa
Mandisa will forever be an example of true Christian treatment of others due to her start on American Idol. At the time of her appearance on the show, Mandisa was a beautiful, glamorous thick young woman. Judge Simon Cowell apparently does not find thick women attractive, because his mic picked up him muttering “Did we get a bigger stage?” in a snarky tone. Mandisa’s response was to treat Cowell with forgiveness and kindness.
This song beautifully reflects Mandisa’s character, with lyrics about God speaking to us through the unexpected or surprising in life, both good and bad. While the song does not directly mention Christmas, it is included on Gospel Christmas playlists, including this one, for so beautifully illustrating the true meaning of the season…the eternal and bottomless love of our creator.
The Little Drummer Boy: The Temptations
There are more versions of The Little Drummer Boy than most of us can keep track of, and while it is a timeless song about giving your talents and skills back to the Lord rather than focusing on material possessions, many versions of it can be a bit depressing. The tempo is slow, and the vocals sound more depressed that the little drummer boy has no expensive gift to bring than overjoyed at the opportunity to play for the Lord. The Temptations performed the song with upbeat vocals and a soft but catchy tempo that makes the little drummer boy and his drum sound triumphant and full of joy.
Be sure to tune in to 95.5 FM: The Heat: Phoenix Radio today for Christmas and throughout the season. You may hear one of these songs, or another favorite holiday tune. And don’t forget to keep tuning in during the upcoming year for the best in classic Hip-Hop, Rap, Gospel, Soul, R&B, Jazz, and Blues.
After the holidays, considering helping out Phoenix Media’s sister organization “For the Good, Inc,” a Utica non-profit organization.
Artist Cafe Utica would like to wish the staff, volunteers, and contractors of Phoenix Media/For the Good Inc, a very Merry Christmas. And Merry Christmas to all of our readers, and everyone in the Utica artist community.