Tinsel Tales 4: Stories Told Through Song Hear stories of the season told through music interviews from the NPR archives, including talks with Sting, Amy Grant, Jon Batiste and more.

Tinsel Tales 4: NPR Christmas Stories Told Through Song

Tinsel Tales 4: Stories Told Through Song

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The Tinsel Tales series is a holiday tradition. NPR collects some of its favorite Christmas stories from the archives into an hour-long special hosted by Lynn Neary. This year, we revisit interviews with musicians about their Christmas albums.

Some, like Katie Melua and Sting, celebrate tradition and winter mystery in their Christmas songs. Others, like Kenny Rogers and Amy Grant, find spirituality and stability in holiday music. Jon Batiste and Anthony Hamilton bring new energy to old favorites on their Christmas albums.

Whether you're already a fan of these songs or just hearing them for the first time, check out this Spotify playlist to hear some of the songs mentioned in the show.

Anthony Hamilton Brings Home Holiday Funk

Soul singer Anthony Hamilton wanted to try making a Christmas album, but he was wary of repeating the formulas that have shaped holiday records for years. In 2014, he talked to NPR's Arun Rath about his album, Home For The Holidays, which includes the 1968 James Brown number "Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto."

Song list:

  • "It's Christmas"
  • "Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto"
  • "Little Drummer Boy"
  • "The Christmas Song"
  • "Home For The Holidays"

Kenny Rogers' Rules For Living Well

Kenny Rogers may have become an international superstar because of the 1978 hit song "The Gambler," but he also performed an annual Christmas and Hits tour for decades. In a 2015 interview with NPR's Rachel Martin, Rogers talked about his holiday album, Once Again It's Christmas, and admits he's deeply spiritual at this time of year.

Song list:

  • "Once Again It's Christmas"
  • "Some Children See Him"
  • "The Gambler"
  • "That Silent Night"

Katie Melua, A Georgian Voice Made Good In The West, Comes Home

In 2016, British superstar Katie Melua returned to her homeland in Eastern Europe to record with a Georgian women's choir. Her album, In Winter, features songs in English, Georgian and Ukrainian. In this interview with NPR's Lakshmi Singh, Melua also shares stories of growing up in the country of Georgia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Song list:

  • "If You Are So Beautiful"
  • "All-Night Vigil - Nunc Dimittis"
  • "The Little Swallow (Carol of the Bells)"
  • "Plane Song"

Sting, On Music Of His Favorite Season

We wouldn't call Sting's album a Christmas album, exactly, in the sense of Bing Crosby or Nate King Cole. The songs on If On a Winter's Night reveal a glimpse into the heart of winter, with songs that celebrate tradition and mystery. In 2007, Weekend Edition host Scott Simon spoke with Sting about recording traditional folk songs with musicians in his northern English hometown.

Song list:

  • "The Burning Babe"
  • "The Snow It Melts The Soonest"
  • "Christmas At Sea"

Amy Grant On Faith, Songwriting And Christmas Blues

Amy Grant, the queen of Christian pop, opened up to NPR's Ailsa Chang about the longing she feels at Christmas, the importance of family and faith and the steady power of music. Her 2016 holiday album, the fourth in her 40-year career, is called Tennessee Christmas.

Song list:

  • "Tennessee Christmas"
  • "Melancholy Christmas"
  • "To Be Together"
  • "December"

Have Yourself A Sullen Little Christmas

This may be the season of happy music — songs of joy, goodness and light — but something about this time of year also inspires a different sort of song. Melancholy Christmas songs are so popular because they seem to capture the way many people actually feel. In 2013, NPR's Steve Inskeep, Stephen Thompson and Travis Larchuk shared some sad (and sarcastic) holiday selections.

Song list:

  • Hem, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
  • Harvey Danger, "Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas"
  • David Mead, "The Smile of Rachael Ray"
  • Garfunkel and Oates, "Year End Letter"
  • Low, "Blue Christmas"
  • Trey Parker, "Dead, Dead, Dead"

A Very Jon Batiste Christmas

Jon Batiste talked to Morning Edition host David Greene in 2016 about creating songs that evoke holiday imagery. He also finds joy in making longtime favorites sound new by adding bluegrass banjos, soul singers and his trusty melodica. His holiday album is called Christmas With Jon Batiste.

Song list:

  • "Winter Wonderland"
  • "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman"
  • "What Child Is This?"
  • "Silent Night"
  • "O Tannenbaum"