Christmas music is omnipresent during the holiday season. Some of these melodies and the songs themselves were sung as long ago as the 1850s. Some were written for the holidays more recently. I have tried to make an accounting of popular holiday songs. That does NOT mean the recorded version of any of these songs are also in the public domain. Please remember both the copyright in the song and the recording have to be expired for the public to own the piece of music to be used. But no performing rights society can collect from public performances.
Here is a quick listen and an instrumental version of a Christmas standard
Songs I found to be in the public domain
Angels We Have Heard on High
Away in a Manger
Go Tell It on the Mountain
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Joy to the World
O Come, All Ye Faithful
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
O Holy Night
O Little Town of Bethlehem
The First Noel
Songs that are not in the public domain and have been written within the last 95 years
Mississippi John Hurt sings on this thinly-veiled song about domestic violence in “Nobody’s Dirty Business.” According to John, the sadism works both ways. Eventually his woman leaves. But John writes her a letter begging her to come back. She eventually returns and I suspect the dynamic keeps cycling over and over again. An important message brought to you from way back in 1935 – sometimes relationships just plain old don’t work out.
Although the subject matter of “One Dime Blues” may be cliche in the world of blues, no other artist has such a powerful cadence as the great Blind Lemon Jefferson. Jefferson’s quick-chords and toe-tapping rhythm is sharp juxtaposition with the song’s subject matter, each verse tackling the plight of the poor in the 1920s.
From Kansas City Kitty & Georgia Tom we get this upbeat blues number, “How Can You Have the Blues,” a flirty duet about a woman who appears to have it all, but is continually bogged down by depression. The name Kansas City Kitty may not ring any bells with the most enthusiastic American blues aficionados. It could be because there is a mystery behind the true identity of this sexy-voiced blues woman, but what we do know is that this track, recorded in 1930, features Thomas A. Dorsey, with a way out-of-character performance, on piano and vocals, playing under his popular pseudonym Georgia Tom. With its fantastic melody and conversational blues style, this number lends truth to the idea that money can’t buy you happiness. I chose this “Back in Time” version because it sounds the best.
Ragtime is known as “the music that got lost” – mostly because jazz stole its thunder and captured the public’s attention after 1917. Ragtime showcases brilliant pianists like Alonzo Yancey, the lesser known of the Yancey brothers. Alonzo, raised in Chicago, recorded “Everybody’s Rag” in 1943. He serves his piano straight up, and one can only imagine what it’s like to move your fingers as fast as this melody requires. A compelling and ferocious performance.