Time to talk about another Christmas song, one a day until December 25. “Christmas Must Be Tonight” by The Band is so much better than you’d expect from a song stuck at the end of side one on their 1977 odds-and-ends album, “Islands.” This was their last album for Capitol Records, scraped-together leftovers so the soundtrack for “The Last Waltz” could come out on Warner Brothers.
Originally meant for 1975’s “Northern Lights, Southern Cross,”, Robbie Robertson wrote “Christmas Must Be Tonight,” but it’s Rick Danko on lead vocal. The song is more a modern carol than a rock song, retelling the birth of Jesus from Luke 2: 8-14 through the eyes of a shepherd. You might recognize that passage as Linus’ Bible reading in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Since its original release, both Danko and Robertson have recorded solo versions of “Christmas Must Be Tonight.” Robertson is on the soundtrack for 1988’s “Scrooged,” but it doesn’t match the power of the original. Everyone from Darlene Love to Train has covered the song, but my favorite is Joan Osborne. Her big pop hit was 1995’s “One of Us,” co-written by Eric Bazilian, the dark-haired one from The Hooters. “Christmas Must Be Tonight” is on her album “Christmas Means Love.”