Songs that lend a voice to the equestrian world in a way only music can.
Sleigh bells ring. Are you listening? It’s the jingle of a horse and holiday inspired playlist from 100% Sound coming your way! Taking a one-horse open sleigh ride through the snow is the picture perfect image of an equestrian Christmas. So the opportunity to make a playlist on this theme was too good to pass up.
But don’t expect every song to be merry and bright. Like every great winter’s tale, the story of this playlist comes with a twist. And just when you think misfortune may be your lot, the wonderful sounds of musical snow and a jingle horse or two will have you picking up your feet to party again. So grab those reins and get ready for a multitude of sleigh bells and synthesized snow that will put you in the horsey holiday mood!
Get the full playlist on Spotify here: Winter Beats
1. SLEIGH RIDE by Fun. from the album Holidays Rule
There is absolutely no better place to start than with Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” as sung by 2012 Grammy Award-winning Best New Artist Fun. “Sleigh Ride” holds the honor of being the most popular piece of Christmas music in the Unites States for the past consecutive four years (as calculated by ASCAP) and, according to author, Steven Metcalf, “has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music.” When I said sleigh rides were the quintessential image of holiday fun, I wasn’t kidding around.
I’ve chosen this recent version from Fun. for this playlist, because it uses that ethereal synthesizer sound and almost excessive sleigh bells that will be a staple of this playlist. The only sad part about going for this modern take is it doesn’t have the wonderful horse whinny from the orchestral piece. The whinny occurs five bars from the end the track, and is made by a trumpet half-valve glissando. Traditionally the trumpet player will rise when the applause begins and take a special bow for his performance. Particularly cheeky concert goers have also been know to present the player with a bunch of carrots in lieu of roses. I’d love to see that!
2. JINGLE BELLS by Sugar & The Hi Lows from the album Snow Angel
Not to be outshined, “Jingle Bells” follows hot on the heels of “Sleigh Ride” in this playlist and as a much-loved American Christmas carol about sleighing. But unlike “Sleigh Ride,” this isn’t a song for lovers, but rather for risk-takers. If you listen closely to the full lyrics, nearly everyone is ending up “upsot” in a snow bank! According to the Medford (Massachusetts) Historical Society, “Jingle Bells” tells the story of the town’s popular sleigh races of the early 1800’s, and those jingling bells were to be treated not as a merry sound of the season, but as a car horn is today. In other words, get out of the way!
Jingle Bells is brought to you, in all of its jangly and jazzy glory, by Sugar & The Hi Lows, which is Amy Stroup and Trent Dabbs. That second name should be familiar to 100% Sound fans. Dabbs solo work already appeared on the playlist May Angels Lead You In, and the seemingly horse-obsessed artist recently released an album called “The Way We Look At Horses.” Suffice it to say, Mr. Dabbs is quickly becoming a favorite around here!
3. GOD ONLY KNOWS by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. from the EP Horse Power
During the holiday season ten years ago, the world was blessed with the now Christmas classic that is “Love Actually.” Among the many achievement of this film is the impeccable use of music. For me, every song featured in the film has somehow become a Christmas classic as well. And certainly “God Only Knows” is on the top of that list.
What I love about the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. cover is that it manages to take this track far away from the summer sounds of The Beach Boys and give it a wintery feel befitting “Love Actually,” and this playlist…actually. The tambourine sounds like sleigh bells and the usually sun-streaked synthesizer sound is more like softly falling snow. Plus, the complete breakdown at the end is a perfect way to segue into the next section of this playlist: What would I be without you, my sleigh riding friend? As a bonus, it’s from their Horse Power EP!
4. HAZY SHADE OF WINTER by The Bangles from the album The Essential Bangles
From one great cover song to another, I give you next “Hazy Shade of Winter,” as preformed by The Bangles. It seems almost elementary that when a track written by Paul Simon is given a face-lift by the likes of producer Rick Rubin something magical is bound to happen. And while this was obviously always a winter song, just like “God Only Knows,” we see sleigh bells replacing tambourines and suddenly it’s a wonderland. Though this is not a happy one. “Look around, leaves are brown. There’s a patch of snow on the ground.” It’s as if to say this is what the world would be like without you.
5. WINTER by Tori Amos from the album Little Earthquakes
Tori Amos also weaves a wonderland that is less than content in her track “Winter.” This track stands in stark contrast to the lighthearted holiday fun with horses that is common in Christmas songs. The “white horses” she references seem less like sleighing companions, and more like the symbolic white horses that will one day come to carry you home. Still, the message of this song is an undying one. Just last year, after a career spanning some twenty plus years, Amos told NPR’s Ann Powers, that of all of her lyrics, the line she most enjoys singing is still from “Winter.” “When you going to make up your mind? When you going to love you as much as I do?” Now that’s something to think about on a dreamy sleigh ride.
6. WINTER BEATS by I Break Horses from the album Hearts
“Winter Beats” comes from the Swedish duo I Break Horses. The band name, I’m sorry to say, has nothing to do with an interest in horses, but the track is the epitome of falling snow. And beneath all that synth is a simple message: “Winter beats. It strikes for you and me. Don’t let that cold blood freeze ‘cause frozen love still bleeds.” So let’s lighten up this mix a little bit shall we?
7. WALKING IN THE AIR by Chloe Agnew from the album Celtic Woman
“Walking In The Air” comes to us from composer Howard Blake and the animated version of a very popular British Christmas book, called “The Snowman,” written by Raymond Briggs. Though not originally written to accompany a sleigh ride, it’s easy to imagine it was when those sleigh bells kick in. And it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a sleigh ride that takes flight!
8. WINTER WONDERLAND by Kate Havnevik from the album The Hotel Café Presents Winter Songs
Okay, so I admit our hero and heroine aren’t in a sleigh for this particular Christmas favorite. But I always imagined they were walking in the same wonderland of snow as our friends in “Sleigh Ride.” After all, that sleigh coming through is the first thing they mention, and since the song was written not far from where I grew up in Pennsylvania, I feel I have some say as to how it’s interpreted. So I offer up this dreamy version of “Winter Wonderland” from Kate Havnevik to bring us all back to earth at Christmas time!
9. THE WINTER SOLSTICE by Sufjan Stevens from the album Songs For Christmas
Sufjan Stevens never met a Christmas Song he didn’t like. Nor does he hesitate to write many of his own. You could say, for an indie artist, he’s rather prolific on the subject. The Winter Solstice is a lovely instrumental track from his box set of five (yes, five!) EPs of Christmas-related songs and carols recorded from 2001 to 2006. Stevens released a follow up, Silver and Gold: Songs for Christmas, Vols. 6-10, in November 2012, which contains a further 58 (yes, 58!) original and traditional songs. As you listen to this little ditty, image the one-horse open sleigh making it’s way out of the snowy woods. We’ve almost made it to the party!
10. JINGLE BELL ROCK by Rogue Wave from the album This Warm December, A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 2
What better way to cap off this tribute to the iconic Christmas sleigh ride, than with a takeoff on “Jingle Bells” that will surely have us all, horse and sleigh rider alike, dancing and prancing in Jingle Bell Square. And keeping with tradition, California indie rock outfit Rogue Wave, preforms this classic with a rockabilly edge, completely immersed in sleigh bells. I hope you enjoyed the ride!