20 Great Christmas Songs

bobdylanxmasI usually try to avoid Christmas music until there’s about a week to go, so I’ve got to be sure where to find my favorites. Listening to a great Christmas song can be a powerful experience, but let’s face it, a bad Christmas song is worse than a plain old bad song. So hopefully a couple of my favorites are on your list too. And in the spirit of the season, I invite you to please add your own picks in the comments. What do you think is a great Christmas song?

20. Kinks – Father Christmas

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As expected, no saccharine sentimentality from Ray Davies at Christmas, but instead, a piss-take about beating up Santa for money, and a Kinksian reminder to consider those who are less well off than you.


19. Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby

It’s as if America discovered sex in 1953. Playboy magazine was launched, and Eartha Kitt introduced sex appeal to the Christmas playbook.


18. Beach Boys — Little Saint Nick

The Beach Boys were born to sing Christmas songs. Nobody else could get away with using sleigh bells on “God Only Knows”.


17. Pretenders – 2000 Miles

There are lots of songs about missing loved ones at Christmas, but instead of wallowing like most of the others, Chrissie Hynde tries to put on the brave face, making it even more heartrending.


16. Ray Charles – Little Drummer Boy

It’s not really one of my favorite carols, but it becomes something irresistable in the hands of Brother Ray, ro-po-po-po-yeah.


15. Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?

As long as children continue to go hungry this one will always carry some heft. What tends to get overlooked is that beneath all the celebrity hoo-ha, it really is a nice little song.


14. Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight)

For many people, a good Christmas is one in which you don’t get into any fights with your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your friends, your neighbors, store clerks, waiters, cabbies, cops, co-workers, strangers on the sidewalk or anybody else, all season long.


13. Joni Mitchell – River

Regrets are hard to avoid at Christmastime, and skating away on a long river seems like such a seasonally appropriate answer to them. When I listen to this song I always imagine big fat snowflakes falling silently on the ice, on the river.


12. No Doubt – Oi To The World

“If God came down on Christmas Day, I know exactly what He’d say. He’d say ‘Oi to the punks and Oi to the skins… But Oi to the world and everybody wins!’” This one’s guaranteed to inject a little jolt into anybody’s Christmas torpor.


11. Bob Dylan – Must Be Santa

Well the world needed a polka-rock Christmas song. This man will never stop confounding us. And that sure looks like one hell of a party.


10. Vince Guaraldi Trio – O Tannenbaum

Can you imagine a children’s cartoon today using jazz for its soundtrack? Such a bold, inspired choice, and such an unusual musical touchstone for so many childhoods, including mine.


9. Natalie Merchant – Children Go Where I Send Thee

Natalie Merchant breathes new life into this old gospel spiritual. It is such an uplifting groove I could listen to it over and over again, and I often do.


8. Charles Brown – Please Come Home For Christmas

The Eagles, U2 and others have given this one a go, but it’s not going to get any better than the original from the songwriter himself in 1960.


7. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Christmas All Over Again

What I love is the acknowledgement that Christmas is a routine activity happening year after year, for better and for worse. It’s cynical and sweet at the same time. We sing this one every year at my house.


6. John & Yoko – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

It’s way overplayed, but it still lives on. “So this is Christmas, and what have you done?” is still the best opening line, wouldn’t it be fun if that was the way everyone greeted each other during the holiday season?


5. Bruce Springsteen – Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town

Yay, Santa’s coming to the Jersey Shore and he’s bringing tanning lotion for everyone! As always, Bruce leaves it all on the stage.


4. The Band – Christmas Must Be Tonight

Not too many contemporary artists are willing or able to tackle the original Christmas story, but the Band does it with dignity and restraint, making it less ecclesiastical and more spiritual. A thing of beauty.


3. Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

No list of great Christmas songs would be complete without a Phil Spector production. This one is epic. The story goes that Ronnie Spector couldn’t put enough oomph into the song, so Phil turned to Darlene Love who delivered the goods and then some.


2. Bing Crosby/David Bowie – Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy

Some amazing magic took place on September 11, 1977. Bowie was trying to shed the image of his past excesses, and Bing was a month away from meeting his maker. “Peace on Earth” was hastily written for the show, and the two rehearsed for less than an hour. Who could have imagined they would perform such a flawless classic together that day?


1. Pogues w/ Kirsty Maccoll – Fairytale Of New York

Life is messy, and rarely as neat and tidy as most Christmas songs would have it. In the real world people have all kinds of things on their plate at Christmastime, hopefully nothing as bad as being locked in a drunk tank, but it’s all relative. We muddle through to find meaning. This wonderful song reminds us that the greatest gifts at Christmas are hope and forgiveness, they go together.

So what are your Christmas favorites? C’mon, let us know in the comments.

This article was republished from December 2015.

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