There are so many terrible Christmas songs out there. Like, really bad songs and terrible versions of decent songs, and stuff like Manheim Steamroller and the TransSiberian Orchestra--stuff I can’t even believe has the popularity it does because it’s bad, stuff my in-laws like. I almost can’t listen to the holiday music on the radio, as the ratio of bad songs to ads to good songs is 7 : 7 : 1.
Fortunately there are digital playlists, and I’ve got mine narrowed down to only the best of the best. Some of these are old standards and some are new originals, but they are all good.
One of the commonalities between these songs is that they are not high pitched and tinny. I hate that crap passed off as children’s music, but really it’s synthesized shit. I also can’t stand that every major pop star, and every studio, and every genre of music over the last four decades has done a covers of every song, so there isn’t just one bad song, there are 37 versions of it.
As a kid, my favorite holiday album was Monster Christmas Mash. I had it on record, but it’s since disappeared into the ether. (If you have a copy laying around, please pass it on to me.)
So, what are my favorites now?
Nicholas The Saint
Nicholas The Saint
In 2009 a few Des Moines area musicians got together at The Sonic Factory and produced these wonderful songs. They are not only great pop/rock tunes, but they are Christmassy without being gimmicky. At the time, a few of the guys were dealing with their first Christmas alone after a breakup, and that melancholy comes through the cheer. (If I come totally clean here, these four songs are the most played songs in my itunes, ever. I love them that much.)
Everybody singin’ ‘Joy to the World’
But I can’t ‘cause I miss my girl
I don’t want to celebrate Christmas
Sitting alone by the fire
Drinking eggnog with no desire
To plug in the tree
I love it all, but I love especially when Mike Butterworth from the Nadas cameos and sings:
I lost my mind
And I lost you
It’s Christmas time
And I miss you love
Where is Christmas?
If this one doesn’t make you smile, well, you’re scroogier than me.
Where is Christmas?
The best time of the year
I’ve heard it’s joyful and jolly
and merry and bright
And my life will just fill up with cheer
But the yuletide just magnifies my blues
Here Comes Christmas, The Nadas
Oof, the heart ache of this one. It’s a slow burn, so give it a couple of listens before you desert it.
Can you explain to me
How to get down the chimney
The Nadas do a holiday show in Des Moines each December and here is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from last year.
Merry Christmas From The Family, Robert Earl Keen
Lots of drinking and trips to the quick pack store to buy tampons. It’s a sing-a-long tune a la National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Dolly (and Kenny)
One of my favorite childhood memories is watching Dolly Parton’s Smokey Mountain Christmas every year (Lee Majors!), and the holiday special she and Kenny did. Here are my top picks from her album Once Upon a Christmas.
Maybe I'll clear my junk
Maybe I'll just get drunk
on apple wine
Curled up by a fireplace
in a Tahoe ski chalet
With a fast talking lover
and some slow burning wood*
*It was the 80s y’all, so I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by “wood.” *snort*
Also, check out Christmas Without You.
(The video of this song is pure 80s.)
River, Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell’s version is delicate; The Indigo Girls add a bit of rawness to it that I’ve always loved.
All I Want for Christmas, Mariah Carey
I’m not really into the pop belters, except I love this song. And anything by Kelly Clarkson, like her version of this song. I dislike most other versions though.
Christmas All Over Again, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Please Come Home for Christmas
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland
This is my favorite standard. Judy Garland is positively transcendent. Seriously.
What is not to love about this cheeky romp. If I quote my favorite lines, I’ll end up quoting the whole song.
Jingle Bells, Ella Fitzgerald
The greek chorus sings, “I’m just nuts about bells” and Ella ends it with “I’m just crazy about horses.” Makes me smile every time.
Winter Wonderland, Ray Charles
Happy Holidays/The Holiday Season, Andy Williams
It's the holiday season
With the whoop-de-do and hickory dock
And don't forget to hang up your sock
Other favorites include Cool Yule by Louis Armstrong, White Christmas by Bing Crosby, Holly Jolly Christmas by Burl Ives, and I’ll be Home for Christmas by Glenn Campbell.
What are yours?