Not all Christmas songs have to suck. In fact, many are actually quite tolerable, and some even sound like real music. Here’s a random sampling of Christmas songs that don’t immediately prompt me to ‘thumbs down’ it on Songza. This is not a list of the BEST Christmas songs; they’re simply the ones I happen to shamelessly enjoy each year. I’m aware that John and Yoko’s Happy Christmas (War Is Over) is a fantastic piece of music, but I’m a little over hearing it 85 times a day throughout December. And similarly, I realize that not all my selections are musically remarkable, but again, I don’t care. I may add more as they pop into my head at a time when I don’t happen to be doing anything else.
Otis Redding – White Christmas
The extent to which Otis Redding is dreaming of a white Christmas may break your heart. He seems almost moved to tears thinking about those glistening treetops. This song is best enjoyed with a cozy blanket and a cup of boozy hot chocolate.
Sufjan Stevens – Put The Lights On The Tree
This is one of many gems from a multi-talented and astoundingly prolific musician who loves Christmas more than life itself. Each of his five (!) Christmas records make for excellent present-wrapping music, and will help curb frustrations caused by irregularly-shaped packages.
Squirrel Nut Zippers – Carolina Christmas
Grandma’s got the fiddle, Grandpa’s got the bass… it’s Christmas in Carolina! It’s Christmas all over the place! This song is quirky and sunny and the complete opposite of White Christmas in a good way. I want to bust this out on Christmas Day and have my family burst into a swing dancing jamboree.
James Brown – Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year
Largely incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness rambling set to impassioned backing vocals and soaring strings and punctuated by the occasional soulful yelp. No musician’s management team would allow this bizarrely awesome hot mess to happen today. This track would provide wonderful accompaniment for cookie-baking or drug-fuelled ranting.
The Futureheads – Christmas Was Better In the 80s
“The snow was deeper in the 80s”. It’s so TRUE.
Queen – Thank God It’s Christmas
The perfect song to hear whilst driving home from a party on Christmas Eve, when the snow is sparkling, the lights are shining, and the streets are empty except for the odd group of unruly Christmas-hating teenagers. Freddy’s vocals, along with the smoothly gliding synth, are perfection.
Kurtis Blow – Christmas Rapping
“I’m the guy named Kurtis Blow, and Christmas is one thing I know…” These Christmas rhymes bring us back to the heady days when rappers wore tweed suits on TV. Perfect tune to blast on your boom box while sitting on the bus.
Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas Is You
I will not stand for any mockery of my unadulterated love for Mariah Carey, the greatest pop vocalist of our time. And she CO-WROTE this song, for God’s sake. This is a good song for a DJ to play at the end of the night for all the ladies in the house.
The Pretenders – 2000 Miles
A good marker of a Christmas song that doesn’t suck: it sounds like regular music, just with more jingle bells. Put this on as you’re getting ready for work on a snowy December morning, trying to figure out if it’s a dress or a pants day.
John Denver and Ralph – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
This is clearly the most beautiful and pensive Christmas song ever written. Here it sparkles with the vocal stylings of John Denver and Ralph the Dog of Muppets fame, who also accompanies on piano. A nice song for sitting by the fireplace with a brandy and a pipe, looking very distinguished.
The Pogues – Fairytale of New York
Offensive epithets aside, this might be my favourite Christmas song of all time, from the dreamy opening lament about Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, to the sweeping orchestral finish. Perfect for waltzing through the concrete jungle serenaded by the boys of the NYPD choir.
Straight No Chaser – The 12 Days of Christmas
Brilliant all-male a capella rendition of the classic ditty, with a delightful twist at the end (the twist is most likely to delight 80s kids.) Good clean fun and an excellent addition to any holiday-themed impromptu YouTube party.
Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone
THE jam for when things are winding down in the office on the last workday before the holidays. It’s ultra-catchy and undeniably festive. Who cares if it’s not a musical masterpiece?
Darlene Love – All Alone on Christmas
Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)
These two rollicking tracks with similar arrangements are what I imagine Christmas sounds like in NYC. I like to listen to Phil Spector’s entire holiday catalogue to drown out the sounds of the office and cheer up a December afternoon.
The Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)
A timeless holiday anthem that reminds us all to put our differences aside at the most wonderful time of the year. To be played during a fight with your partner, especially if you are in the wrong.
The Beach Boys – Little Saint Nick
Perhaps the most factually correct Christmas song, with its faithfully repeated reminder that “Christmas comes this time each year.” And in true Beach Boys fashion, Santa’s transportation is described in hilarious, meticulous detail. Perfect tree-decorating tune, or soundtrack for Christmas surfing.
Elvis Presley – Santa Claus Is Back In Town
I love ‘Blue Christmas’ as much as the next guy, but I prefer the gritty guitar and snarling vocal of this classic. Great for playing in the car while schlepping from errand to errand on the weekend before Christmas, grumbling about traffic and slush.
Elton John – Step Into Christmas
Maybe it’s sheer nostalgia, but I love this song, from the moment Elton first invites us to “step into his Christmas song”. Good tune to hear as you’re knocking back shots to get psyched up for a party you don’t want to go to.
Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
An unassuming, distinctly Canadian mash-up of two classic carols, featuring delightful harmonies and a jaunty rhythm. I recommend this song for confusing old people who don’t like their Christmas carols messed with.
Charles Brown – Please Come Home For Christmas
Without a doubt the best and most soulful rendition of this song. My heart bleeds for him when he croons that his baby is gone and he has no friends to wish him greetings. I love hearing the familiar opening chimes when I’m hanging out on the couch and staring wistfully out the window at the snow. This is my Christmas Desperado. I might shush you.