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AN NRT CHRISTMAS EDITORIAL
5 Classic Christmas Carols Given New Melodies
NRT's J.J. Francesco reflects on five instances where Christian artists created a new melody for a classic Christmas carol
 


AN NRT CHRISTMAS EDITORIAL, 5 Classic Christmas Carols Given New Melodies
Posted: November 29, 2023 | By: JJFrancesco_NRT
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One way many artists manage to make their Christmas projects stand out from the crowd is to take classic Christmas songs that people are familiar with and write entirely new melodies for them. Often, this makes the song feel like an almost entirely new entity. Combining familiar lyrics with a new composition can be jarring, but some have become true classics. 

Casting Crowns - “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”

Perhaps one of the most famous examples in Christian music is contemporary veterans Casting Crowns altogether redid "I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day" on their 2008 Christmas album, Peace on Earth. With its worshipful and dramatic melodies, combined with its usage of a children’s choir, the song has added an even deeper element of wonder to the original. Although several classic melodies were already inspired by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's original poem, this version has become a modern favorite.
 


Amy Grant, Cliff Richard, and Chris Eaton - “Little Town” 

Chris Eaton is one of the artists who has written many popular songs for other artists. He wrote the melody to iconic Christian artist Amy Grant’s signature Christmas ballad, “Breath of Heaven,” for example. (Although Eaton’s lyrics differ from those Grant penned for her rendition.) Eaton composed a new melody for "O Little Town of Bethlehem," which Amy Grant and Cliff Richard recorded for their Christmas albums in the 1980s.

Other artists have also covered his version over the years, but it has become known as "Little Town." While the hymn-like original will always be the standard version, it’s hard to deny that Eaton’s jubilant and joyful composition brings the lyrics alive in a new way. Whichever version you encounter, search for a rendition of this composition. You might find a new favorite.



Anything from Seabird’s Christmas EP

I'm cheating with this one, but when an entire Christmas EP is known for doing precisely the theme of this article, how can I pick just one? Indie rock band Seabird achieved moderate success in the late 2000s and early 2010s for their accessible brand of pop and rock. Their Christmas project, in particular, was notable for completely redoing melodies to classic Christmas carols. Seabird’s versions of these songs leaned into their piano-pop sensibilities and offered catchy hooks sure to get stuck in your head. While songs like “Silent Night” and “What Child Is This” became somewhat more upbeat and faster-paced versions, songs like “Joy To The World” were slowed down and turned into a more reflective ballad. If you’re looking for reworked Christmas classics, this EP will be a joy to discover if you’re not already familiar with it. 

Bebo Norman - “Come and Worship”

A take on the classic “Angels From The Realms of Glory,” contemporary artist Bebo Norman reworked the anthemic melody into a more ballad-like hymn. Norman’s voice is a sorely missed presence in contemporary Christian music. Norman had a way of adding a profound and honest vulnerability to his lyrics. When listening to him, I always felt like I was listening to a friend. While he’s earned a well-deserved retirement, it’s hard not to wish he might re-record something one day.


Steven Curtis Chapman - “Angels We Have Heard On High”

Chapman's first Christmas album, The Music of Christmas from 1995, features his version of the classic hymn "Angels We Have Heard On High," with hooks influenced by the 80s. It feels much more novel after not hearing this cover until a few years ago. This song is famous for artists to rework, but Chapman’s rendition is definitely among my favorites. While many may perhaps prefer the well-known classic melody, it’s hard for me not to fall in love with the childlike sense of wonder Chapman brings to the album’s verses.
 

What are some of your favorite Christmas carols given new melodies?

J.J. Francesco is a longtime contributor to the NRT Staff. He's published the novel 'Because of Austin' and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community. His new novel, 'When Miracles Can Dream,' is out NOW!

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