Aretha takes her time with the holiday staple “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, the closing musical number from her 2008 Christmas album, This Christmas Aretha. Arranged by Aretha, she maps out a tempo that leaves much room for her melisma to run the show. She’s sparsely accompanied at first, just with keyboard, strings, and touches of electric guitar. As the first chorus approaches, Aretha’s under-appreciated ear for background vocals presents itself as background vocals appear, pushing through prominently as they echo her “king” at the end of the chorus. It’s a foreshadowing of how the backgrounds will surround Aretha throughout. Percussion soon follows.
Aretha remains front and center throughout, and proceeds to sing the ever living hell out of the song. While traditional versions of the tune (Nat “King” Cole, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra) tend to apply some pep to the tempo, Aretha focuses on the vocal show out. There’s an anticipation that builds throughout and finally, there’s a “joyful” near the end where she unleashes the full power of her instrument. Glory indeed.
Aretha brought her version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” with her as she promoted This Christmas Aretha in 2008, performing it both on The View and The Early Show. While the series of quips Aretha makes throughout The Early Show are hysterical (including “Oh my god, what time is it? I haven’t gotten up this early since I sang gospel”, to dropping a “what on earth am I doing up this early?” right as she’s about to sing the opening line of “Respect”, and using the song’s interlude to say that “All I want it to do is go back to my hotel room and get into bed!”), it’s the performance on The View that is required viewing. Aretha’s voice is more awake and warmed up. Take a look:
Listen to Aretha take her time with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”: