The 50 Christmas songs you really will love (we promise)
Christmas songs don’t have to suck! From traditional favorites to obscure nuggets, we’ve got the proof right here (and it’s wearing festive antlers).
Tue Dec 18 2012
Photograph: Dieter Spears
If the idea of holiday music makes you think of the godawful song from Love Actually (“Christmas-is-all-around-us” anybody?), then let us soothe your pain with our list of yuletide hits—made up specifically of Christmas songs you really do love.
RECOMMENDED: Christmas in New York guide
The fact is, a good Christmas song can melt the heart of even the steeliest Grinch, from hardened hipster to grumpy grandpa—so, our Santa sack of hits features lesser-known cuts from the likes of Sufjan Stevens, James Brown, and Amy Winehouse alongside Christmas smashes from Elvis, Bing, and Bruce.
In addition to our Top 50 key tracks and Spotify playlist, you can also check out breakout Top 5s: Funk and soul essentials from DJ Jonathan Toubin, holiday hip-hop picks from RapRadar’s B.Dot, and alternative hits from indie oracle Brooklyn Vegan.
So here we go: 50 Christmas songs designed to hit your sweet spot.
Spinal Tap, “Christmas with the Devil”
Okay, everyone knows that nothing Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer did as England’s loudest, most punctual heavy-metal band held a candle to This Is Spinal Tap. But “Christmas with the Devil,” unveiled during a Saturday Night Live appearance in December 1984, comes close. The sound is suitably ponderous and blackened; the lyrics, at once dunderheaded and inspired: “There’s someone up the chimney hole / And Satan is his name / The rats ate all the presents / And the reindeer ran away.”—Steve Smith
Watch the video for “Christmas with the Devil” by Spinal Tap
The Walkmen, “The Christmas Party”
Singer Hamilton Leithauser doesn’t want a particularly boozy Christmas Eve bash to end in this catchy, NYC-set single from 2004. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Walkmen song if all of that partying wasn’t followed by visions of regret, loneliness and that twentysomething malaise the indie-rock outfit so excellently explored on their LP earlier that year, Bows + Arrows.—Tim Lowery
Watch the video for “The Christmas Party” by The Walkmen
TLC, “Sleigh Ride”
The Atlanta R&B trio’s take on Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” is certainly different from the original, but upbeat as hell. The classic ’90s hip-hop beat and TLC’s funky vocals make for a Christmas track guaranteed to get you up and doing the Running Man in a matter of seconds.—Rachel J. Sonis
Watch the video for “Sleigh Ride” by TLC
The Sonics, “Don’t Believe in Christmas”
This snotty takedown of the big day boasts all the ingredients we love about the garage rockers: wonderfully sloppy delivery, a booming sax and frontman Gerry Roslie’s bad-attitude lyrics. The tune also divulges the real reason for Rudolph’s red nose: too much moonshine. Sorry, kids.—Tim Lowery
Watch the video for “Don’t Believe in Christmas” by The Sonics
My Morning Jacket, “Xmas Time Is Here Again”
The jammy rock heroes were still in lo-fi, folk-tinged mode when they released this lovely six-minutes-plus cut in 2000. The track is layered with pleasing acoustic guitar strums, pretty harmonies and a delicate vocal performance by lead singer Jim James—a nice soundtrack pick for an evening around the fireplace.—Tim Lowery
Watch the video for “Xmas Time Is Here Again” by My Morning Jacket
The Flaming Lips, “Christmas at the Zoo”
This number from Oklahoma rockers the Flaming Lips is a heartfelt trip of a yuletide anthem, musing on spending the holidays at the zoo and freeing the animals locked inside. A modern staple of animal activism, perhaps? Whatever the case may be, you almost can’t help but feel the spirit of overwhelming, animal-loving kindness waft over you as enigmatic Lips frontman Wayne Coyne trills languidly in the background.—Rachel J. Sonis
Watch the video for “Christmas at the Zoo” by The Flaming Lips
Kate Bush, “December Will Be Magic Again”
Recorded in 1979 and issued a full year later, this single captures a fresh-voiced Kate Bush in all her deliriously daffy art-pop glory. The coos, trembles, piano flourishes and off-filter beats you know and love from “Wuthering Heights,” “Army Dreamers” and “Sat in Your Lap” are all here, turned loose on a nonliturgical, Santa-free song that still evokes the chilly season with oversize joy.—Steve Smith
Watch the video for “December Will Be Magic Again” by Kate Bush
Julian Casblancas, “I Wish It Was Christmas Today”
Saturday Night Live fans will be well aware of the show’s hilarious annual Christmas track, “I Wish It Was Christmas Today,” performed by Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan—but did you know that fellow New Yorker and Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas recorded a version of the song during his solo phase in 2009? With an airy melody and Casablancas’s lovely signature drone, this number is a sincere plea for the festivities to hurry up and get here already. We can’t argue with that.—Rachel J. Sonis
Watch the video for “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” by Julian Casblancas
Destiny’s Child, “8 Days of Christmas”
Every good playlist needs a pinch of girl power, and R&B titans Destiny’s Child strut to center stage with their “8 Days of Christmas.” Spinning off from the English Christmas carol “12 Days of Christmas,” this sassy track showcases Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams’s beautifully stacked vocals and features a video of them in matching sexy Santa costumes (of course) taking a trip to the toy store with their boos. It also throws a bone to those who celebrate Hanukkah by referencing the number eight in the song’s title. Props.—Rachel J. Sonis
Watch the video for “8 Days of Christmas” by Destiny’s Child
Nat King Cole, “The Christmas Song”
Mel Tormé was just 19 years old when he cowrote this hugely popular standard, which regularly takes the top slot among the most-played tunes of the season. Gentle and unabashedly general—right down to its name—the song is a Christmas list that checks off familiar holiday paraphernalia (chestnuts, mistletoe, Santa Claus) before arriving at a beautifully simple final sentiment: “Although it’s been said many times, many ways / Merry Christmas to you.” Nat King Cole was the first to record it, in 1946, and his smooth, comforting voice remains its perfect vessel.—Adam Feldman