A lot of recording artists have covered the Christmas classic “O Holy Night.”
Like a lot. It seems pretty much every artist who’s recorded a Christmas album has their version of the standard, including many of the biggest names from every genre of music.
It’s those big names you’ve probably heard (and will continue to hear) singing them on the radio.
While these artists have earned their places as “Oh Holy Night” royalty, with their versions taking up all the prime Christmas radio spots that leaves many a great version of “O Holy Night” you’re likely to never hear.
If you’re looking to add some variety to this year’s Christmas playlist, here are a few versions of “O Holy Night” to swap out your current staples.
If you like Celine Dion, try Linda Eder
If musical drama gives you chills, you’ve got to love this version of “Oh Holy Night” by Celine Dion. It’s nothing but drama from beginning to end.
The whispering passion. The choir of angels that comes in halfway. The extended high note at the end, complete with a musical stop to make sure you notice.
It’s a big singer doing a big song in a big way.
Equally big singer Linda Eder’s version of “Oh Holy Night” is way less musically-dramatic. Not just compared to the Celine version. It’s actually simpled down quite a lot compared to most versions of this song.
It’s punchier, it’s poppier, and it’s got more percussion than you’re probably expecting.
It’s also short, incorporating only a single verse, and then allowing the Broadway Gospel Choir to shine through the chorus.
It’s a big singer doing a big song in a simple way.
If you like Mariah Carey, try Aretha Franklin
It’s hard to imagine a more ornate version of “Oh Holy Night” than Mariah Carey’s. Or one that spans as many octaves. And this is an octave-spanning song.
You’ve got that classic Mariah Carey high note, and those rich, rich lows. (If you like Carey’s breathier vocalizing, you’ll prefer the Official Music Video version over the radio version/CD track.)
This version also has some of the best choir-backing of any rendition, and since a good choir is pretty much a necessity on this song, that’s saying something.
It’s a different sort of vocal gymnastics when Aretha Franklin gets her vocal cords around this song. And boasts just as much signature style.
While Carey’s version is fancy, it’s still fairly standard. It goes up when you expect, down when you expect, and that high note comes exactly when you think it will.
Aretha’s version of “O Holy Night” subverts your every expectation. Okay, maybe not all of them. It does follow the general vocal outline for the most part. But those surprises…
And the small group of minimally-used background vocalists in this version? All she needs.
If you like Josh Groban, try Gary Morris
Every once in a while a classically-trained vocalist with a voice made for Broadway makes a surprisingly big splash on popular culture.
When that happens, you can pretty much expect that singer’s version of a singer’s song like “O Holy Night” to become one of the most popular versions on the radio.
And so goes the story of Josh Groban’s “O Holy Night.”
Every once in a while a singer with a voice made for Broadway gets his first recording contract in country music and makes a career out of it, before being tapped to play Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.
Then, that singer fully embraces his Broadway voice on his first Christmas album.
And so goes the story of Gary Morris’s “Oh Holy Night.”
If you like Martina McBride or Carrie Underwood, try Kerrie Roberts
It’s not surprising that two of country music’s most successful big-voiced female artists have recorded two of country music’s most popular versions of “O Holy Night.”
Martina McBride released her version in 1998 on her Christmas album White Christmas.
A decade later, Carrie Underwood recorded “O Holy Night” for the Wal-Mart Holiday Edition of her hugely successful Carnival Ride album.
While there are some differences between the two versions, they do have a lot of similarities, with or without music.
Here’s Martina singing it a cappella –
And the Underwood album cut –
Kerrie Roberts’ “O Holy Night” is nice in a similar way to those popular country versions. It’s a faithful rendition of the song, without a lot of vocal dramatics. Which really lets the rich and subtle nuances of Roberts’ voice come through.
That last “divine” is a stunner.
And the strings and choir in this version are just straight-up excellence.
Bonus “O Holy Night” Versions
One of my personal favorite versions of “O Holy Night” comes from a non-Christmas rendition.
Harry Chapin’s “Mr. Tanner” samples “O Holy Night” in a polyphonic collaboration that adds emotional intensity to this already emotionally intense song about a dry cleaner who loves to sing.
It REALLY adds something, and is a veritable lesson in compelling sampling.
And “O Holy Night” being the solemn song that it is, it’s fun when it’s made less so. Props to the South Park Cartman version that reminds us anything can be made ridiculous with the addition of a cattle prod.
Do you know a lesser-known version of “O Holy Night” everyone should know about? Drop it in the comments below.