Mariah Carey performs at the Cathedral the St. Man the divine in brand-new York in December 1994. Carey released “All I want for Christmas Is You” that year. (Kevin.Mazur/INACTIVE/WireImage)
David Bowie sings “The little Drummer Boy” through Bing crosby on CBS’ “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” in 1977. (CBS photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images)
Aretha Franklin performs at the annual brand-new York stock Exchange Christmas tree bright festivities on wall Street ~ above Dec. 4, 2008. (George Napolitano/FilmMagic)
A 45 rpm record of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” (Chicago Tribune/Tribune News service via Getty Images)
Christmas music is a nostalgia trip.
Generally speaking, pop music prizes novelty — new songs, how amazing sounds, this week’s hit, the Next large Thing. But once a year, a soundtrack the reaches ago decades and also centuries chimes right into earshot when more. Of course, nostalgia is built into the holiday season, once our secular religion of capitalist usage gets stirred along with Christian traditions, ancient pagan rites and a vague longing for the old-fashioned comforts the home, hearth and also the pastoral yesteryear. In December, we long to listen songs, together Irving Berlin once put it, “just favor the people I offered to know.”
The Christmas canon consists of many traditional carols. Yet radio station and also streaming platform playlists are dominated by Christmas pop songs, the vast majority of which were composed in the years during and also immediately following civilization War II. Those midcentury Christmas hits selection from chirpy novelties (“Holly Jolly Christmas”), come sentimental ballads (“I’ll Be house for Christmas”) to story-songs aimed at youngsters (“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”). The songs room goofy, schmaltzy and virtually always crassly commercial, bald-faced in their eagerness to cash in on Christmas. Yet their association through the holiday season has given these song an aura comparable to that of “O Come, every Ye Faithful,” “Good King Wenceslas” and other immemorial hymns. Even a item of pure believe Pan Alley pap favor “Frosty the Snowman” has actually the power to stir spiritual pangs and induce spasms of nostalgia.
You are watching: 3 hours of christmas music classics and holiday scenery
Thanks to her seasonal blockbuster “All I want for Christmas,” Mariah Carey has come to be this century’s ice Crosby, the entertainer who soundtracks the holiday.
The midcentury Christmas songbook for this reason dominates hearts and earbuds, that the Christmas music of more recent time is often overlooked, or pertained to as wanting. But the rock, soul and hip-hop ages have produced hundreds of wonderful holiday songs. Plenty of pick up on the themes pioneered by songwriters the the 1940s, ‘50s and also ‘60s. Part songs cheekily subvert those themes. There are lots of songs that check out the underbelly of Christmas: ‘Tis the Seasonal Affective Disorder, you might call it, the feel of alienation and anticlimax that millions experience during the vacation season. Over there are lots of sacrilegious Christmas songs, about things favor Santa Claus gaining wasted and getting laid. Yes Christmas funk and Christmas punk and also Christmas metal and also Christmas rap.
Here’s our ranked list of the 50 best Christmas songs of the last 50 years.
Evergreens festooned through silver tinsel and also gold baubles, bright red sweaters emblazoned through reindeers and snowflakes — Christmas and kitsch walk together, and also the vacation songbook is no exception to the rule. V “Wonderful Christmastime,” the most kitsch-prone that songwriting geniuses yielded a doozy: maniacally chipper seasonal sentiments, served up end burbling synthesizers. It’s inane, that tacky — but try to dislodge the from her mind’s ear.
49. John Lennon and Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem ar Choir, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (1971)John Lennon to be of course concerned as McCartney’s salty, doubtful counterpart, yet he was not averse to his own brand of kitsch. Lennon’s 1971 Christmas single came ~ above the heels the “Imagine,” and also it had actually a similar blend of protest and also pomp: one antiwar blog post whisked together with Christmas utopianism, buoyed by a cresting melody and booming production by Phil Spector.
48. Kacey Musgraves, “Christmas provides Me Cry” (2016)Kacey Musgraves teams with two regular co-writers, Brandy Clark and also Shane McAnally, to handmade a ballad of quiet desolation, a Christmas bummer classic. “Seems like everybody else is having actually fun / i wonder if i’m the just one,” Musgraves sings — yet of course there space millions favor her.
47. Akim & Teddy Vann, “Santa Claus Is a black Man” (1973)A charming Afrocentric answer come “I witnessed Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” masterminded by songwriter-producer Teddy Vann. The song is winningly sung by Vann’s 5-year-old daughter, Akim, who slips in a “Happy Kwanzaa” for great measure.
46. Slade, “Merry Xmas Everybody” (1973)
This revved-up Christmas perennial, a smash fight in the U.K., come on choose a party anthem, with a singalong glam-rock chorus. But scrutinize the lyric sheet and also you find surprises: jokes and also puns, images of Santa Claus getting drunk and also bareback-riding reindeer, and a homely vision that a middle-class English Christmas (“Are you wait for the family members to arrive?/Are you sure you got the room to spare inside?”).
45. Dolly Parton, “Go Tell that on the Mountain” (1990)A hearty and wise rendition the the standard testimonial, which starts the end contemplative prior to erupting, about halfway through, right into a double-time gospel rave-up.
44. Albert King, “Santa Claus wants Some Lovin’” (1974)“Christmas,” sings blues guitar an excellent Albert King, “is for the children.” as for Christmas Eve: “Mama’s in the kitchen cookin’/And her kids are fast asleep/It’s time for ol’ Santa Claus/To do his midnight creep.”
43. Ariana Grande, “Wit the This Christmas” (2015)How lot innuendo deserve to one superstar stuff into a 2-minute, 40-second-long song? Plenty, insists Ariana Grande, who slinky ode come Christmas, um, relaxation puts to euphemistic use such vacation staples as milk and also cookies, gingerbread and also candy canes, and the tiny Drummer boy (“I’m the just drum that you gonna play”). The violin solo is a delicious and also unexpected flourish.
42. The Magnetic Fields, “Everything Is One big Christmas Tree” (2010)Lyrics around “laughing gas perfume,” a weird nickname for Santa, a city sung in German — yep, that sounds favor a Stephin Merritt song. The droll singer-songwriter behind Magnetic fields spices up the Christmas ballad in his usual way, mix morbid wit v flashes of sentimentality. All together now: Alles ist ein großer Tannenbaum.
41. Clip Singers, “Who take it the Merry out of Christmas” (1970)Half a century ago, the people was in crisis, and also the redoubtable gospel-R&B team had a message, folded into a pun: us need more merry, and much more Mary — more joy, and much more old-time piety. Also nonbelievers will uncover the to win irrefutable.
40. The Carpenters, “Merry Christmas, Darling” (1970)
A sumptuous ballad that might have been composed by a believe Pan Alley ace circa 1950. Karen Carpenter wraps her plush contralto approximately a tune that hits the Christmas sweet spot, send tidings that comfort and also joy — and bummed-out longing.
39. Pet Shop Boys, “It Doesn’t often Snow at Christmas” (1997)The good English synth-pop duo perform a yuletide miracle, ruthlessly subverting pieties (“Christmas is no all the cracked as much as be / families fighting roughly a plastic tree”) while transporting a steering dance-floor anthem and also a song that twists the heartstrings.
38. Poly Styrene, “Black Christmas” (2010)“I’m dreaming of a black color black Christmas/Black acting glows against a midnight sky…A kid is born top top Christmas Day/But castle crucified the anyway.” The bleakest Christmas song ever written? rather possibly.
37. Trinidad James, “Black Santa” (2017)“Black Santa, red bands / ns on these hoe-hoe-hoes / I obtained gifts in my trunk / I’m smoking cigarettes mistletoe.” Et cetera. Profane and also delightful.
36. Los Lobos, “Llegó Navidad” (“Christmas Is Here”) (2019) In 2019, east L.A.’s — or, maybe, America’s — ideal rock ‘n’ role band released “Llegó Navidad” (Christmas Is Here), a arsenal of mostly Spanish-language Christmas song from across North, south and main America. The location track, composed by Cuban great Javier Vasquez and also originally recorded by the Puerto Rican salsero Ismael Rivera, welcomes in the season through smoldering son montuno groove and also a pan-Latin shoutout come Chicanos, Boricuanos and Colombianos.
35. Phoebe Bridgers, “Christmas Song” (2018)A superb new entry in the Christmas canon, composed by Dan McCarthy that the rootsy Omaha rockers McCarthy Trenching, and also lifted to the stratosphere by the 21st century’s indie queen, Phoebe Bridgers. She twinkling cover version squeezes best pathos native the song’s shapely tune and melancholy punchlines. (“The sadness come crashing like a brick v the window/And it’s Christmas so no one deserve to fix it.”) That male singing harmony vocals? it’s Jackson Browne.
34. John Denver, “Please, dad (Don’t acquire Drunk This Christmas)” (1975)The honky-tonk tune is jaunty, but the story, report in the voice of an 8-year-old boy, is devastating: “Please, Daddy, don’t gain drunk this Christmas / ns don’t want to see my mama cry.”
33. Snoop Doggy Dogg, “Santa Claus Goes straight to the Ghetto” (feat. Large Tray Deee, negative Azz, Daz Dillinger and Nate Dogg) (1996)Simmering G-funk upgrade of James Brown’s eponymous vacation song, in i m sorry Snoop and various fatality Row records confederates describe, in lingering detail, Christmas work goings-on in the hood, licit and also illicit. Quoth Snoop: “On the very first day that Christmas, my homeboy gave to me/A bag of the Krazy Glue and told me come smoke the up, slowly.”
32. Neko Case, “Christmas map From a Hooker in Minneapolis” (2000)“Hey Charley, i’m pregnant,” begins Tom Waits’ hardscrabble Christmas carol, and it only gets seedier and more darkly comic. Waits’ saloon ballad original is great, but Neko Case’s cover, v churchy body organ accompaniment, brings brand-new dimensions come the story and also its twist in the final verse.
31. Fountains the Wayne, “I desire an extraterrestrial for Christmas” (1997)Who doesn’t?
30. Nick Lowe, “A Dollar quick of Happy” (2013)
Nick Lowe’s revolution from brand-new wave prime mover come silver-haired, silvery-voiced elder statesman v retro-pop leanings has been a joy to behold. “A Dollar brief of Happy” showcases Lowe’s easeful vocal style, however don’t allow the croon fool you: This Christmas tale about a yuppie’s lower to skid row is pitch black.
29. Fairfield Four, “Children Go wherein I Send Thee” (1992)The legend gospel close-harmony group Fairfield Four, developed in Nashville nearly a century ago, to know its means around the black color church’s trove of an excellent Christmas music. “Children Go whereby I Send Thee” is one of the finest gospel Christmas songs, as this sparkling a capella power demonstrates.
28. Tracey Thorn, “Maybe This Christmas” (2012)Superlative reading of songwriter Ron Sexsmith’s searching ballad. “Maybe this Christmas will typical something an ext / maybe this year / Love will show up / deeper than ever before.”
27. Martha Wainwright and Lily Lanken, “The Rebel Jesus” (2005)Fancy part righteous indignation with that eggnog? If so, take a swig of this monitor from the fantastic “McGarrigle Christmas Hour” LP, a repertoire of folk- and country-injected yuletide songs from assorted McGarrigle-Wainwright family members and also associates. “The Rebel Jesus,” written by Jackson Browne, pours wrath on spiritual hypocrites who have distorted Jesus’ message and profited in his name. Martha Wainwright and Lily Lanken’s sweet harmony singing renders the tune go under smooth, however the spiky sentiments space not to it is in mistaken: “They’ve rotate the nature the I prayer in / indigenous a temple to a robber’s den.”
26. Fishbone, “Slick Nick, You adversary You” (1985)L.A.’s most inventive party tape is famed for its raucous anthems. Yet this obscure gem, from a 1985 Christmas EP, tilts in the contrary direction. Singer Angelo Moore narrates a Christmas night close encounter v a drunk, dissolute Santa Claus, belting soulfully over a spartan arrangement of organ and handclaps. Spooky and hilarious.
25. The Kinks, “Father Christmas” (1977)
The most English of songwriters, beam Davies, sings a an extremely English Christmas song, snarling the end working-class umbrage over strength chords. A mob of Dickensian street urchins descends top top a department keep Santa, demanding cold cash and also offering advice: “Give every the playthings / come the small rich boys.”
24. Ghostface, “Ghostface X-mas” (2008)Certified nationwide treasure Ghostface riffs gloriously on things yuletidish, a whirlwind tourism that sweeps indigenous the north Pole to wintry Staten Island: “I see snowmen, snowflakes / Cinnamon cakes / Sisters and also brothers / Sliding under garbage can covers.”
23. The Jackson 5, “Santa Claus Is coming to Town” (1970) Children have frequently been hauled into recording studios to sing Christmas new songs. But in 1970, Michael Jackson available a different kind of novelty: This 12-year-old was, audibly, a vocal genius. The Jackson 5’s take it on the old Christmas chestnut is a pure adrenaline rush. Years later, Bruce Springsteen obtained the group’s plan for his very own cover version, one E Street tape concert staple ever since.
22. Chavela Vargas, “Amarga Navidad” (“Bitter Christmas”) (1996) An onslaught of recriminations and also regrets, stormily sung by the late great Mexican balladeer. “Amarga Navidad” (Bitter Christmas) is among the bitterest Christmas song in any type of language.
21. Ohio Players, “Happy Holidays, Pt. 1 & 2” (1975)The lyrics space a mishmash the yuletide clichés. (“Deck the halls for Santa Claus… / Chestnuts roasting, world toasting.”) however the music is electrifying psychedelic-soul: lush strings, percolating bass and what might be the wildest elevator vocal setup ever to show up on a Christmas record. A stoop-front serenade native the world funkiest carolers.
20. The Everly Brothers, “Christmas Eve have the right to Kill You” (1972)A hitchhiker braves subzero temperatures, and stares down death, as automobile after auto passes the by on an arctic Christmas Eve. “God forgive the man who drives ideal by the other male / have actually pity top top the stranger in the cold.” Brutal, beautiful.
19. Run-D.M.C., “Christmas in Hollis” (1987)
Run find Santa’s wallet in the park. D.M.C. Rhymes “yule log” v “eggnog.” Jam understand Jay litter sleigh bells in the mix and also interpolates snatches the “Joy come the World,” “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman” and also Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa.” Christmas cheer guaranteed.
18. John Prine, “Christmas in Prison” (1973)Over a tenderness country-folk waltz, man Prine walk the usual: wrings out your heart choose a dishcloth through vivid details and also plainspoken eloquence. “It’s Christmas in jail / There’ll be music tonight / okay probably gain homesick / i love girlfriend / Goodnight.”
17. Marvin Gaye, “I want to Come house for Christmas” (1972)A swooping, scalding ballad in i m sorry the heart visionary pleads because that a yuletide reunion. “I’m a prisoner of war / Lying below in my cabinet / hoping my family is well.” Recorded during Gaye’s many fertile an innovative period, and also you deserve to tell.
16. Willie Colón, “Aires de Navidad” (“Christmas Spirit”) (1970) Can you praise the infant Jesus while cutting a rug at a wild dance party? You can if it’s Christmas, and also the great Héctor Lavoe is fronting Willie Colón’s legend orchestra. Revolve “Aires de Navidad” (The odor of Christmas) increase loud.
15. The Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t desire to hit Tonight)” (1989)
The Ramones’ guitars rumbled and blared, however Joey Ramone’s punk rock yawp was a plaintive, rueful sound. A perfect pairing, in various other words, for a punk-rock carol that combines warped seasonal imagery (“Snowball fighting, it’s so exciting, baby”) v a lover’s plea for residential tranquility (“Christmas ain’t the time for breaking each other’s heart”).
14. Willie Nelson, “Pretty Paper” (1979)An old-fashioned tearjerker about a pauper begging for adjust while vacation shoppers bustle all around him, heading residence with brightly sheathe Christmas presents. Bring a hankie.
13. The Waitresses, “Christmas Wrapping” (1981)It’s difficult to stand up to the Christmas rom-com the unfolds in this 1981 cult classic. A meet-cute in ~ a ski shop is followed by month of missed relationships and, finally, a happy Christmas night reunion in a 24-hour grocery store store. The tale is told through deadpan charm by singer Patty Donahue; her bandmates’ fizzy new-wave funk is no at every Christmassy, and also the better for it.
12. The Pretenders, “2000 Miles” (1983)
Over guitars the chime like a bell choir, Chrissie Hynde croons a mystical requiem because that the Pretenders’ late guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, that had passed away the ahead year: “The kids were to sing / hell be earlier at Christmas time.”
11. Aretha Franklin, “Silent Night (Solo Piano Version)” (2008)It would certainly not precisely be precise to characterize this torrid, operatic performance together “stripped down.” instead let’s say the to hear Aretha Franklin to sing “Silent Night,” alone at the piano v no various other accompaniment obtaining in the way, is to have actually an unmediated encounter v something not quite of this civilization — call it the Christmas spirit, if friend like.
10. Wham!, “Last Christmas” (1986)
Has Christmas ever sounded for this reason swank? Wham!’s 1986 breakup ballad features a bravura George Michael vocal performance and also a period-perfect to wash of synthesizers. The video, filmed at what appears to it is in an Alpine ski resort, attributes a important memorable array of high-"80s bouffants and also shoulder pads.
9. Outkast, “Player’s Ball” (1993)The debut solitary from the mighty Atlanta lab duo takes the Christmas track to novel territory: come the annual gathering the pimps well-known as the Player’s Ball. The Christmas-themed puns and allusions come fast and also furious, tucked right into vivid scenes of macking and also partying. Outkast’s slippery, speedy cadences and the song’s syrupy funk groove were a revelation in 1993. Today, the music still sound great, as does the rappers’ cheerfully sacrilegious brand that Christmas merriment: “You thought I’d rest my neck, to aid y’all deck the halls / five naw / I got other means of celebrating.”
8. Ice cream Crosby and also David Bowie, “Peace top top Earth/Little Drummer Boy” (1977)
An intergenerational music summit as enthralling together it to be unlikely.
7. Prince, “Another Lonely Christmas” (1984)Only a silly would mean a conventional Christmas tune from Prince. But even by his woolly standards, this 1984 strength ballad is the end there. That keeps taking strange twists: There room memories the Pokeno card games and also late-night skinny-dips; there are pictures of ice cream skaters top top frozen lakes and also drunken banana daiquiri binges. Midway v comes the huge revelation. This no a chronicle the a breakup, the an elegy: the shed lover because that whom Prince is pining “died on the 25th job of December.”
6. Merle Haggard, “If We survive December” (1973)It doesn’t sound grim. This 1973 nation chart-topper moves at a jaunty clip, and Haggard’s easygoing baritone soothing the ear. However beneath that placid surface ar lurks a soul-crusher: the story of an unemployed factory worker, dreaming of much better times in warmer climes while dealing with a dark vacation season. “My little girl don’t understand,” he sings, “why Daddy can not afford no Christmas here.”
5. Joni Mitchell, “River” (1971)“They’re placing up reindeer / and also singing song of joy and also peace,” states Joni Mitchell. But “River,” from Mitchell’s groundbreaking “Blue” album, is a different kind that Christmas song: a ruminative postmortem because that a damaged relationship, report by the party who damaged it. So many Christmas song are about homecoming. Mitchell’s is around leave-taking — about a woman that can’t wait come skate away, top top a frozen river, into a new life.
4. José Feliciano, “Feliz Navidad” (1970)
This monster global hit put on no airs. The is, simply, a musical Christmas card, wishing you and also me and everyone a Feliz Navidad and Merry Christmas — over and also over and over and over again. At sight catchy, too.
3. Donny Hathaway, “This Christmas” (1970)Donny Hathaway, who died in an evident suicide in 1979 in ~ the period of 33, did no live long enough to check out the sultry, sinuous “This Christmas” enshrined together the unofficial black color American Christmas anthem. The tune accomplishes an inexplicable feat. The makes almost no concessions to Christmas music conventions — not a sleigh bell to it is in heard — yet manages through sheer pressure of an excellent cheer to feeling Christmassy, and to revamp our expectations of what a Christmas track could, also should, sound like. Hathaway’s Christmas idyll is noticeably a grown-and-sexy one. No kids or Santa clauses intrude ~ above the scene; just blazing hearth fires, late-night caroling and also the promise of other adult pleasures. Hathaway’s verdict: “A an extremely special Christmas because that me.”
2. The Pogues, “Fairytale of new York” (feat. Kirsty MacColl) (1987)Christmas nostalgia, Christmas debauchery, sex, drugs, breakups, makeups, brand-new York, Ireland, frank Sinatra —the Pogues’ yuletide ballad package it all into 4 exquisite, uproarious minutes. Written and also scabrously sung through Shane MacGowan, poet laureate that punks and drunks (with aid from duet partner Kirsty MacColl), “Fairytale of new York” taps right into a deep vein of cultural history: It’s set in a quasi-mythic midcentury Manhattan filled v striving (and proper surviving) ireland immigrants, and also the song is supposed to evoke such sentimental old Eire airs as “The rare Old hill Dew,” which it s okay a shoutout native MacGowan. The lovers’ feisty repartee includes misogynistic and homophobic slurs that have actually caused some movie critics to speak to for bans. But couple of can stand up to the song’s romance, rowdiness and also epic sweep.
1. Mariah Carey, “All I desire for Christmas Is You” (1994)
Of course. Mariah Carey’s ebullient holiday jingle is very first and foremost a an excellent pop song, with plentiful hooks and a propulsive beat. But what makes “All I desire for Christmas Is You” undeniable is its appeal to all comers, the means it incorporates virtually every tried-and-true Christmas track move, mood and also trope.
For the kids, there’s Old Saint Nick and also his reindeer. Because that the grownups, there’s a wink in ~ sex. The lyric strikes an anti-commercial note (“I nothing care around the presents”), yet the stage-setting — a cheery domicile hung through stockings and also mistletoe and also all the Christmas trappings — clues at plentiful creature comforts. Yes a glimpse the old-fashioned victor Christmas see (“All the lights space shining / therefore brightly almost everywhere / and also the sound of children’s / Laughter filling the air”); Carey’s sky-scraping gospel melisma adds a hint of spiritual yearning. The music carries echoes of number of previous pop eras, however it doesn’t sound dated.
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In any case, that inescapable. If you want to test the theory, rotate on the radio, or take a trip to the pharmacy, or stick her head the end the window, any kind of time in between now and Dec. 26.