Monday, December 15, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"

Merry Christmas!

Yes, it's December 15th already.  We're halfway through the month of December and Christmas is fast approaching! Are you ready?

Today is also the date for the final Battle of the Bands (BOTB) of 2014.  As with my last BOTB post, this one is going to have a Christmas theme!

So let's get right to it...

One of my favorite traditional Christmas carols is "God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen."  This song has been around for a very, very long time, although no-one knows exactly how long.  It was officially published in 1833, but existedt long before that. The earliest recorded reference to the song is from 1780. Several sources say it even goes all the way back to the 15th century. 

Besides the uncertainty about its origins, there is also often confusion over some of its lyrics. The first line has been frequently misunderstood and the topic of much discussion. Other lyrics have been, too ("Why exactly does the song call Mother Mary a 'witch'???").

But even with confusion over its origins and some of the lyrics, one thing that is very easy to understand about this song is that it is clearly a Christian Christmas carol -- there are no flying reindeer, talking snowmen, or wintery vehicular homicides here.

This is a song expressing joy at the birth of Jesus and finding comfort in the salvation that He has brought.

In addition to the joyful message of the song, I also love the haunting, timeless melody and the way it plays off the chords.  I find "God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen" to be a song that offers a tremendous amount of potential for musical expression and interpretation. All you have to do to see this is explore a bit on You Tube.  There is an amazing range of versions of this song available: old standard, swing-meets-rap, big-production-orchestra-and-choir, Dio/Iommi metal, obligatory-Mannheim Steamroller, Celtic harp, pop-diva, Charlie Daniels-bluegrass, smooth-jazz-saxophone, TV-show-acapella-and teen-pop, country-shuffle-jazz, Annie Lennox-electronic-meets-Renaissance, Irish jig, throbbing-metal-guitar, Jethro Tull-jazz-meets-prog-rock, modern-reggae, epic-synth-production, and low-budget-rap.

Yes, there are a gazillion covers of this song in almost every style imaginable.  If you can't find a version of this song you like, you just haven't looked hard enough.

So which versions did I choose for this Battle of the Bands?

Well, I seriously considered several of the ones I mentioned above, but then I finally decided to go in a different direction:  After all, this is a Christmas song with a blatantly Christian message -- so why not feature two versions by Christian artists?

OK -- but even within that genre restriction, this song encompasses a wide range of styles and I still had several possibilities. But I narrowed the list until I had two contenders.

Below are the covers that I chose -- I really like both and enjoy their decidedly different approaches to the song.

Let the Battle Begin!

First up is a version by the Christian rock band Pillar, doing a modern, edgy take on the song. This is from a 2012 Christmas single that has not appeared on any of their albums, I don't believe. See what you think:

Next is a version featuring two Christian artists -- the renown guitarist Phil Keaggy and singer Kim Hill, doing a somewhat more traditional rendition from the 1990 Christmas compilation album, Our Christmas:

Your Vote

So now it's your turn to add input: Which version do you like better?  Pillar's modern, rocking version, or the one by Keaggy & Hill with its take on a more traditional approach?

I invite you to listen to both of these and give them each an honest chance. And remember that this is a contest about the music -- not the images in the videos, Please use your ears to judge, not your eyes.

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above videos strike you, even if it's less than positive.

Then -- afterwards, check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:

Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again next week to find out how the voting has gone.  I'll make a post then with my own vote, announce the winner, and then talk some more about upcoming changes to my blog in 2015.

But before that, you can also visit on the 19th for my post in the  "Deja Vu" do-over blogfest.

In the meantime, I hope you get to enjoy the Christmas season! Remember to rest ye merry!


  1. Amen! A Christmas song about Christ. What a novelty. (Despite the fact I went for complete silliness with my song choices today.)
    I really like what Pillar did with that song. Our band could play that. They get my vote!

    1. That's ok -- I liked your silliness, today!

      I can't tell you that I'm overly surprised with your choice. ;) But I like the Pillar version also -- I like BOTH versions.

      -- Pillar 1; Keaggy/Hill - 0

  2. This is a truly wonderful Christmas song that has been somewhat trivialized over the years. I'd never really thought much about the lyrics until we sang the song in church yesterday and I realized what the lyrics were actually saying. Somehow this always struck me as more of a secular carol, but it's pretty heavy stuff.

    You've presented a difficult choice here. I also like what Pillar did with the song. However, as a long time fan of Keaggy I'm going to place my vote for his version with Kim Hill. Their approach strikes me as more respectful and in keeping with the song's message. Beautifully done.

    Tossing It Out

    1. Yeah -- they're actually deeply Christian lyrics. One source I saw said it was written from the perspective of early Christians in prison on Christmas, waiting to be tortured and killed, encouraging and comforting each other over the 'glad tidings' of Christ. But who knows?

      And I fully understand why you'd vote for Keaggy and Kim Hill.

      -- Pillar 1; Keaggy/Hill - 1

  3. GgC ~
    For a very long time, this has been one of my Top 10 favorite Christmas songs. It reminds me of 'CAROL OF THE BELLS' in that I don't think I've ever heard a version that I didn't like at least to some degree.

    I will say though that this rendition by Pillar is probably as close as I've ever come to finding a recording of 'GOD REST YE MERRY, GENTLEMEN' that I didn't care for. Even so, I didn't dislike it, but it was just way too Prog-Rock for my tastes. (I knew Alex Cavanaugh's vote for it was totally in the bag at the first sound of the power chord-synthesizer combo. I'll guess that DiscConnected will also be voting for Pillar.)

    Obviously, my vote goes to Phil Keaggy, whose playing I've been aware of for many years. I used to own his 'Crimson And Blue' album and played it quite a bit. I really liked 'STONE EYES' and especially 'JOHN THE REVELATOR', which I thought was very powerful!

    Supposedly (so I've heard) Eddie Van Halen was being interviewed many years ago and was asked something like, "How does it feel to be the greatest guitarist in the world?" And he replied with something like, "I'm not; Phil Keaggy is."

    If that's a true story, I still find it mystifying. To be sure, Keaggy is a fine guitarist, but I've never heard anything that might even momentarily get me to thinking that he was ever the best in the world, or even the best in this country.

    Nevertheless, I like him, and he (and Kim) get my vote in this BOTB installment.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

    1. Great songs -- I've always liked John the Revelator!

      I've heard that story before, but it's usually with Jimi Hendrix saying it -- it's not true, in either case. Check out this article on for one of several sources that refute it. Phil's a great guitarist, and has a tremendous range. Blues, rock, jazz-rock, Celtic, finger-stye, slide -- I've heard him do it all. I saw him solo live several years ago and was blown away -- it was all him jamming against loops he'd set up. Play a riff and loop it, add to it, and so forth, and then jam over the repeating structure. Very cool.

      To be honest, I figured you for a Keaggy vote. ;)

      -- Pillar, 1; Keaggy / Hill, 2

  4. Great song, one of my favorites. I had thought about using this for my choice on the 15th, but was coerced by strange forces to go with 'I Heard the Bells'. Just imagine what STMc would have had to say, if I had 'stolen' someone elses BOTB as well. :-)

    I liked Pillar better than I expected, but by the end it just kind of became too blaring for my ears. On the other hand Keaggy and Hill had that nice 'old English' kind of sound that seems so perfect for many Christmas Carols. So give them my vote.

    Chris - I am enjoying Christmas and all the preparation that comes before. I sincerely hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

    1. I'm so glad to hear you're enjoying Christmas -- may it be a wonderful holiday for you, filled with joy and blessings!

      -- Pillar, 1; Keaggy / Hill, 3

  5. Pillar's take was interesting, but being as familiar as I am with the Keaggy version, it's hard to vote against it.

    Merry Christmas!

    1. Well, I am a little surprised -- I thought you might be another Pillar voter. ;)

      -- Pillar, 1; Keaggy / Hill, 4

    2. Sometimes it's hard to go against the version you know pretty well...I did not dislike Pillar...

    3. No problem -- I think both versions are vote-worthy. :)

  6. I might first state that this isn't one of my favorite song... unknown reason. Both are okay.
    Strangely both sound like covers of other artists. The first I cannot remember the group with the 1970's "techno" expressions. The second version reminded me of Canadian artist, Anne Murray. In the end I voted with the sound meter... the quieter of the two gets my vote:

    Hall & Keaggy.

    1. I can hear the Anne Murray influences in Kim Hall's vocals, for sure.

      And Kim and Phil pull farther ahead...

      -- Pillar, 1; Keaggy / Hill, 5

  7. I love this song but neither grabbed me with their rendition. I can say that if I had to listen to one I would pick the second one by far. I don't like the rock music to this song. the second one has that Celtic flair even if it seems to go wonky for me near the end. I am one for traditional when it comes to Christmas:)

    1. Nothing wrong with being a traditionalist at Christmas. It's the season of traditions! :)

      -- Pillar 1; Keaggy / Hill, 6

  8. Pillar is awesome! Are they using a xylophone? just awesome.

    But, I really liked the traditional sounds of Hall and keagly. So, I'm voting for them. I'd like Pillar though with something less Christmasy though. Not a huge fan of Christian Rock, but its catchy sometimes.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed both, Donna! I think what sounds like xylophone might be keyboard/synth, but I could be wrong. There's plenty of guitar, though. :)

      And the Keaggy / Hill snowball keeps growing:

      -- Pillar 1; Keaggy / Hill, 7

  9. I like both of these new-to-me contemporary Christian artists. Pillar has a good sound, but something about it just didn't set right with me and I was totally opened to embracing another typically traditional carol done up rock style. However, the Kim & Phil stole the show with their version. I just their vocals better and musical arrangement better. Count another vote in favor of Kim & Phil. I hope you and yours have the merriest Christmas ever!

    1. thank you Cathy! I hope your Christmas is wonderful, also! Another vote for the KEaggy / Hill juggernaut:

      -- Pillar 1; Keaggy / Hill, 8

  10. My vote goes to Pillar. I love the sound and the singer's voice. Plus, I'm a rocker at heart. :)

    1. Thanks for the vote!

      And in one comment, Pillar doubles their vote count! That's momentum!

      -- Pillar 2; Keaggy / Hill, 8

  11. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is one of my favorite carols, as well. That and We Three Kings. To be honest, I'm not completely in love with either rendition, here, but I definitely lean toward Keaggy and Hill and away from Pillar.

    Just so you know, Eric Johnson was once asked how it felt to be the greatest guitarist alive. His alleged answer? Ask Phil Keaggy.

    1. LOL! Suze -- you made me laugh!

      I've heard that story about Phil Keaggy before, but the way I heard it, it was a radio program in 1946, and they were asking Django Reinhardt how it felt to be the greatest guitarist in the world, and he said, "Ask Phil Keaggy, who'll be born five years.from now..." :)

      And thanks for the vote -- but if neither of these versions caught you, there are plenty of links above to wade through -- I guarantee you'll find a version you DO like!

      -- Pillar 2; Keaggy / Hill, 9

  12. Just so you know, this comment is coming to from a flu-laced household. I went down Monday night, and I thought I felt better this morning. I ate five little pieces of pineapple and it's completely rocked my world... and not in a good way.

    That said, Pillar's version was just too LOUD for my overly sensitized body. Everything hurts, and that didn't help. The thing is that I liked it well enough in the beginning, but I think it actually got "harder" as it went on. By the end, my stomach was pulsing, so it wasn't looking good for Pillar.

    The softer version by Keaggy and Hill went down easier. I confess I like the more traditional sounding carols. Every now and again, something wildly different grabs me, but... most of the time I prefer a more familiar sound.

    Chalk one for Keaggy and Hill.

    1. No need to ever apologize or feel you need to justify your opinion, Robin. Your opinions are just as valid as anyone else's, regardless of whether they're flu-fueled or not!

      But I do hope you're feeling better soon!!!!

      ... And Phil and Kim make it to double-digits:

      -- Pillar 2; Keaggy / Hill, 10

  13. Missed some visits during this battle. Wanted to say your selection was perfect for the Holidays!


Don't be shy -- feel free to comment. I really appreciate your thoughts.