So it’s December and we are already 4 weeks into Christmas music being played on the radio. We enjoyed sharing our ideas for a Halloween Party playlist, so naturally, we were inclined to do the same during this season of holiday parties, family outings, and get-togethers. Our musicologist blogger friend Treacherous Friends joins us with his always unique take. Let us know your favorites in the comments. Happy Holidays!
I grew up steeped in the Christmas classics sung by legends like Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and my favorite: Johnny Mathis. As a kid, my favorite Christmas song was “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, which suited my ultra-Catholic sensibilities back then. For fun songs, I loved “Rudolph”, “Up On The Housetop”, and an obscure song called “Wait For The Wagon”, which, to my knowledge, can only be found on a vintage vinyl record that my sister still has (I make sure to play it when I’m over her house around Christmas time). Here are 10 songs I enjoy this time of year:
- “Christmas Wrapping“, The Waitresses. In 3 minutes this song tells a better story than many blockbuster movies.
- “Last Christmas“, Wham. Hard to believe it WAS last Christmas when George Michael passed away far too soon.
- “Christmas in Hollis”, Run-D.M.C.
- “Mr. Heatmiser“, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. This is a fun take on the song from the classic Rankin/Bass show (see our previous blog post).
- “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)“, U2. I’m sure there are purists who prefer Darlene Love’s 1963 original, but I like Bono’s voice on this and it’s a less bombastic take.
- “Little Drummer Boy“, David Bowie and Bing Crosby. If you download this song it sometimes includes 10 minutes of lead-up banter, where Crosby asks Bowie what Xmas traditions they have in England – like it’s another planet or something.
- “Christmas All Over Again“, Tom Petty. Petty makes my playlist again!
- “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings“, Barenaked Ladies feat. Sarah McLachlan. Cut me up if you must for including a Barenaked Ladies tune, but McLachlan’s voice goes so well with theirs. It’s a Canadian Christmas fest!
- “Zat You Santa, Claus?”, Louis Armstrong.
- “Sleigh Ride“, Johnny Mathis. Had to get one from Mathis on my list. Of the 10 or so Xmas albums by Mathis on Amazon Music they did not have the one my family had on vinyl, but I did find an exact picture of it online, including yellowed tape:
DJ: I struggle with “Christmas Wrapping” it’s one I have to skip. “Christmas in Hollis” though is great and so much fun. Generally “The Little Drummer Boy” is tough for me as well but this version is pretty good and gives us one of the weirder duets of all-time. I love Bing would have loved to seen “White Christmas” here but I know we only get 10. I won’t cut you up for Barenaked Ladies but I will ignore it…
TF: Also my favorite version of “Baby, Please Come Home.” Bono’s vocals on this throwaway cut are some of the best he ever delivered.
For me, I wanted to pick the songs that feel more like Christmas to me which are also great songs that I could listen to any time of the year and not get annoyed. I stayed away from the religious ones, I can’t get into “Silent Night”, “We Three Kings” or “The First Noel”. There are also many songs in the cartoon specials that are great and memorable but I wanted to avoid them for this list, sorry “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Silver and Gold”. One of my favorites is in a Christmas movie, “I Hate People” from the 1970 film Scrooge, but it’s not really a Christmas song, it’s a song about Scrooge hating people and it’s awesome. I also passed over some Dean Martin, I love “Baby it’s Cold Outside” but in today’s climate, it’s too much to include. So I present a mix of classic heartwarming songs, some rocking tunes and some fun ones too.
- “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, Judy Garland. From Meet Me in St. Louis, Garland’s emotionally charged version is the best by far.
- “Hurry Home for Christmas”, Robert Goulet. I actually first heard this song on Saturday Night Live, Will Ferrell was doing an impression of Goulet, it was great and the song is great.
- “The Christmas Song”, Nat King Cole.
- “Frosty the Snowman”, Leon Redbone featuring Dr. John. A real jazzy version of the Snowman classic.
- “All I Want for Christmas is You”, Mariah Carey. My guilty pleasure Christmas song.
- “Do They Know it’s Christmas?”, Band Aid. An amazing array of mostly British New Wave stars not only pull off a charitable song but a Christmas classic.
- “Father Christmas”, The Kinks. The best song made about beating up Santa Claus.
- “Step Into Christmas”, Elton John.
- “Jingle Bell Rock”, Hall & Oates. Bobby Helms is the definitive version but Hall & Oates do it justice and have a fun video to match.
- “I Wish it Was Christmas Today”, Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan, Tracy Morgan. Performed on SNL, goofy with just the right amount of Christmas cheer and the best original Christmas song put out in over 20 years.
MG: I like almost all versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, but I agree that Garland’s original take is the best. I once enjoyed Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, but it’s painfully overplayed – can’t go anywhere this time of year and not hear it. The Kinks tune is funny – a childhood friend from England introduced me to the song in the 80’s, when it wasn’t included in any radio Christmas playlist. You should have included “I Hate People” – great film, by the way.
TF: Good list. I was considering The Kinks for my list. You should check out OK Go’s cover of “Father Christmas.” I don’t know if it measures up to the original, but it’s still pretty good.
It’s no secret that I hate Christmas and all the rigamarole associated with it and the music does not escape my vitriol. However, as with any genre, there are still enjoyable exceptions to the rule. While I was tempted to go mainstream with Madonna’s excellent take on “Santa Baby” and The Beatles’ abhorrent “Christmas Time Is Here Again,” DJ mentioned that he was looking forward to obscure Xmas tunes he’s never heard so it would not be in the spirit of the season were I to refuse him. Here goes nothing!
- “Chucklehead Christmas” – Chucklehead Boston funk outfit’s Xmas lovesong to their hometown. Worth looking up on YouTube if you’re from New England.
- “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” – Joan Osborne Powerful acapella take on this spiritual classic
- “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” – Deanna Kirk A bit of a sexpot delivery on this one takes it to another level
- “Santa’s Beard” – They Might Be Giants A sordid tale of two more people on the naughty list
- “It’s Christmas Time” – Mojo Nixon & The Toadliquors If you don’t got Mojo Nixon, then your playlist needs some fixin’!
- “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” – Tom Waits Play this one for the family this year and start a new holiday tradition!
- “Joy To The World” – June Lodge One of the only traditional tracks on my list, albeit a reggae version. Her voice is appropriately angelic.
- “Santa Claus Is Lighting Up Tonight” – Squirrel Nut Zippers
- “Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto” – James Brown
- “Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects” – Sharon Jones The logical sequel to James’s soul classic from another legend we lost too soon
DJ: I have to admit I have never heard any of these. I was expecting, Prince, Bowie, The Pogues, the Pretenders and maybe something from the Metal genre.
MG: Wow, neither of you went with any songs by a Beatles member. The only songs I have heard on this list are the Grinch song by Deanna Kirk, and Brown’s …Ghetto track, which is actually a fun Christmas song, but I never hear played anywhere, presumably because the term “Ghetto” is no longer deemed PC.