According to our friends at Wikipedia, "Joy to the World" is the most published Christmas hymn in North America. The words were written by Isaac Watts from his interpretation of Psalm 98 in the bible, and were published by Watts in 1719. The musical arrangement that we use today is by Lowell Mason, and it is believed that the melody of this 1839 adaptation was inspired by or taken from parts of Handel's Messiah. Watts originally intended for this hymn to be a song of praise and triumph for the Christian Savior's return to earth at the end of the world. It's unclear how this song eventually ended up being a Christmas song, celebrating the Savior's birth. It's equally difficult to research this song as I kept coming up with the song by Three Dog Night.
Most of the well-known versions of "Joy to the World" are triumphant, celebratory songs, often with lush orchestral or organ arrangements featuring soaring sopranos or jubilant brass sections proclaiming the news of Jesus's birth. Conversely, there is this version by Eef Barzelay, better known as the lead singer and principal songwriter of the alt country band Clem Snide. This very understated version from Barzelay's 2006 solo album Bitter Honey features his distinctive voice, an acoustic guitar, and minimal production. One can interpret Barzelay's version as more of a contemplative, purposeful hymn, something that may not be as triumphant as the original author and arranger had intended, but may be more suitable for a cold night in a stable in a far away Middle Eastern land.
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