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(Un)Covered: A Holly Jolly Christmas

“A Holly Jolly Christmas”
Writer: Johnny Marks
Original Release Date: November 1964

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s hard to ignore the holiday joy that retail stores have been pumping out since at least mid-November with their incessant need to play Christmas music.

Personally, I can’t stay mad at being force-fed Christmas cheer when I hear this classic version of “A Holly Jolly Christmas”. It conjures up memories of watching that weird animated Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer special and decorating my house. Actually, the version we’re used to hearing on the radio is a slower rendition, with an acoustic guitar introduction, that Burl Ives recorded for his holiday album the year after he appeared as Sam the Snowman in Rudolf. The instrumentation is fairly simple, with the guitar carrying the whole thing, and the harmonizing choir in the background holding up Ives’ happy-go-lucky vocals. There’s something so old-fashioned about this song, it makes you yearn for a vintage Christmas experience—horse-drawn carriage rides through the snow, crackling fireplaces, and a real tree covered in candy canes and candles.

Before Nate Ruess was singing about Some Nights as fun.’s frontman, he was part of the indie pop band The Format (if you haven’t listened to them yet, drop what you’re doing and check out their 2006 album, Dog Problems. I’ll wait here). Their version is just as cheerful as Ives’ original: again with just a guitar and a tiny piano part, but tambourines take the place of the human choir and you can practically imagine Ruess and Sam Means—the other half of The Format—sitting around a fire jamming out to this song. If the Ives original is vintage Christmas, this one is more folksy—the same imagery, but maybe with cowboy hats instead of Santa’s iconic red hat?

Because Ives and Ruess have such distinctive voices, obviously you’ll hear a difference in the way the lyrics are presented, but both songs have a mellow vibe that manages to wish you happy holidays without throwing tinsel in your face.

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