Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right California icon-chevron-right San Francisco icon-chevron-right The 50 Christmas songs you really will love (we promise)

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).

By Time Out editors |
The 50 Christmas songs
Photograph: Shutterstock

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. Follow it up with a marathon viewing of the best Christmas movies. Then, once you’ve been properly inspired, head to these fantastic Christmas events around town. 

RECOMMENDED: Christmas in San Francisco guide


Spinal Tap

“Christmas with the Devil” by Spinal Tap

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

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The Walkmen

“The Christmas Party” by The Walkmen

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

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“Sleigh Ride” by TLC

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

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The Sonics

“Don’t Believe in Christmas” by The Sonics

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

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My Morning Jacket

“Xmas Time Is Here Again” by My Morning Jacket

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

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Photo: Flaming Lips

“Christmas at the Zoo” by The Flaming Lips

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

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Kate Bush

“December Will Be Magic Again” by Kate Bush

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

Julian Casablancas

“I Wish It Was Christmas Today” by Julian Casablancas

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 the 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

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Destiny's Child

“8 Days of Christmas” by Destiny’s Child

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

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Nat King Cole

“The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole

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

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Amy Winehouse

“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by Amy Winehouse

Tommie Connor’s adorable novelty song—a kind of yuletide variation on the Freudian primal scene—was a No. 1 hit for tween singer Jimmy Boyd in 1952, but modern listeners know it better through the Ronettes’ full-throttle 1963 rendition on A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. That’s the one that Amy Winehouse drew on for her own soulfully merry live version, in which Winehouse’s knowing vocals make it seem only natural that the song’s narrator take Mommy’s infidelity in such easy stride. Ho ho ho, indeed!—Adam Feldman

Stevie Wonder

“What Christmas Means to Me” by Stevie Wonder

This much-covered Motown chestnut was written by Allen Story, Anna Gordy Gaye and George Gordy, but one of the things that made the young Stevie Wonder a miracle of American popular music was the way he invested descriptions of things he couldn’t have experienced firsthand—“Candles burning low / Lots of mistletoe / Lots of snow and ice / Everywhere we go”—with a breathless excitement and sweetness that make you a believer. (Compare with the versions by Jessica Simpson or Hanson for proof positive.)—Steve Smith

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Casiotone for Painfully Alone

“Cold White Christmas” by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

The equivalent of a strangely beautiful lump of coal in your stocking, lo-fi luminary Owen Ashworth’s idea of a Christmas song is a muted yet wrenching portrait of postgraduation ennui, set against the backdrop of a particularly unfestive Midwestern winter. Anyone who’s ever felt conflicted about holiday-season homesickness will relate to the final line: “But you’ll be damned if you’re the one making collect calls / On a cold, white Christmas in St. Paul.”—Hank Shteamer

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Elton John

“Step Into Christmas” by Elton John

Neither his most nuanced nor profound musical moment, this 1973 dazzler is Sir Elton at his silliest, most glittery best. “Welcome to my Christmas song!” he beams like a happy elf. If you can resist singing along to the chorus, you obviously don’t believe in fun. Like the big man says, “Step into Christmas: The admission’s free!”—Sophie Harris

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Otis Redding

“Merry Christmas Baby” by Otis Redding

Otis Redding’s version of the original 1947 Johnny Moore classic “Merry Christmas Baby” is not so much a typical cheery Christmas jingle, but a sweet, soulful ode to his love. And why not? Christmas can be the most romantic time of the year; between Otis’s raspy vocals and the cheery melody, this little tune will have you serenading your significant other from start to finish.—Rachel J. Sonis

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The Dan Band

“I Wanna Rock U Hard This Xmas” by The Dan Band

Nothing is sacred to Dan Finnerty and his shamelessly filthy, eponymous lounge act: not celluloid wedding scenes in Old School and The Hangover, and especially not Jesus’ birthday. The Dan Band’s Christmas ode arrives in the form of—what else?—an innuendo-stuffed power ballad, highlighted by lovable clunkers such as “I hope you like my present / It was way too big to wrap.”—Hank Shteamer

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“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders

Christmas is a time for getting together with loved ones, of course, but it can also be a stinging reminder of those friends and family members we can’t meet up with—a sentiment this early ’80s single captures beautifully. Listeners speculate that singer Chrissie Hynde penned “2000 Miles” about late Pretenders guitarist James Honeyman-Scott. Whatever the subject, the shimmering guitar-pickings and Hynde’s references to the holiday create a sweet-yet-mournful vibe we can all relate to.—Tim Lowery

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Kanye West

“Christmas in Harlem” by Kanye West

A sequel to Run-D.M.C.’s ’90s rap smash “Christmas in Hollis” (see No. 6), Yeezy’s “Christmas in Harlem” is a yuletide classic for the modern age. Featuring an army of hip-hop heavyweights like Jim Jones, Pusha T, CyHi Da Prynce and Harlem R&B soulstress Teyana Taylor, “Christmas in Harlem” is as hopeful as it is wistful. Mastermind producer Hit-Boy smartly mixes samples from “Strawberry Letter 23” by funk duo Brothers Johnson with “Mercy Mercy Me” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” by soul king Marvin Gaye to create a sense of warmth and coziness just in time for the Noel season. It also might be one of the very few Kanye tracks that seems, well, happy. It’s good to know that the holidays can lift anyone’s spirits.—Rachel J. Sonis

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“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Johnny Cash

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” in 1863, inspired by his wife’s death and his son joining the Union Army without forewarning. In 1872, John Baptiste Calkin, an English church organist, paired the words with a melody he’d written years before. Hearing the almost nihilistic emotion, reckless faith and homespun tune all at once, you’d swear Longfellow and Calkin knew the Man in Black would make their song a hit in 1963.—Steve Smith

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Chuck Berry

“Run Rudolph Run” by Chuck Berry

We know what you’re thinking: “It’s about time Rudolph got his slot in this playlist.” Fret not; he’s too lovable to be shut out in the cold, and what better way to include ol’ Red Nose than with Chuck Berry’s 1958 version of “Run Rudolph Run”? No doubt this track will have you boppin’, hand jivin’ and swingin’ throughout the house with your loved ones right before Christmas madness ensues.—Rachel J. Sonis

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“Just Like Christmas” by Low

Behold the indie Christmas song that spawned a thousand indie Christmas songs. Before Low’s Christmas album, the holidays were, like, not cool; this 1999 gem changed that by dint of being so bewitchingly beautiful. The slow, somber track suggests Karen Carpenter backed by Phil Spector’s wall of sound. Just take a listen: Very likely your heart will melt like a snowman next to a hairdryer.—Sophie Harris

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“Christmas Time Is Here” by Vince Guaraldi Trio

A silky, subtle counterpart to the more upbeat “Linus and Lucy,” Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas gem might be the season’s most tasteful mood-setter—even with the voices of the Peanuts themselves crooning angelically along as they skate across a frozen cartoon pond. There’s no specific religious imagery here, but the bittersweet melody and ballad-style treatment serve as a reminder that there’s more to the holidays than face-stuffing and present-hoarding.—Hank Shteamer

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“Let It Snow” by Dean Martin

Inclement weather serves as an excuse for fireside snuggling and prolonged goodnight kissing in this romantic charmer, written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn in 1945 but perhaps best captured in Dean Martin’s 1959 recording. Swinging lightly through the lyrics in an insouciant bedroom purr, lubricated with liquid Ls, Martin adds a hint of nice naughtiness to the equation. (Note how his “hold me tight” gets upped to “grab me tight.”) It may be cold outside, baby, but Dino’s voice will warm you right up.—Adam Feldman

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“Got Something for You” by Best Coast + Wavves

New California indie-pop It couple Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast and Wavves frontman Nathan Williams team up for a holiday tune that truly makes the hipster senses tingle with delight. Cosentino’s sultry voice and Williams’s soft backing vocals make “Got Something for You” just too darn cute to skip. Oh, and the chiming sleigh bells in the background—whether emblems of hiptastic irony or otherwise—don’t hurt the cause either.—Rachel J. Sonis


“Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt

Before Victoria’s Secret and the slutty Kris Kringles of SantaCon, there was a time when Christmas could be genuinely sexy, as evidenced by this saucy 1953 number from cabaret tigress Eartha Kitt (described by Orson Welles as “the most exciting woman in the world” ). “Just slip a sable under the tree / for me,” coos gold-digging Eartha. “Been an awful good girl,” she adds, with delicious emphasis on the awful.—Sophie Harris

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“Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms

For a song that goads you to “jingle around the clock,” its sleepy lap-steel arrangement makes it possibly the worst choice for that endeavor. Accept no imitations (like this Hall & Oates abomination); the original is the perfect soundtrack for a postprandial nap next to the tree.—Andrew Frisicano

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Bob Dylan 1966
Photograph: Rex USA

“It Must Be Santa” by Bob Dylan

Leave it to a Jew who famously embraced Jesus in the ’70s—re: Dylan’s current affiliation, it’s anyone’s guess—to produce the most klezmerish Christmas ode of all time, an accordion-fueled stomp that finds the bard of Hibbing, MN, cataloging the features of Old Saint Nick, 20 Questions–style. It might seem a little weird that the man responsible for immortalizing Santa’s “big, red cherry nose” in song is the same one who recently issued a 14-minute historical epic about the sinking of the Titanic. Then again, maybe it makes perfect sense.…—Hank Shteamer

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“The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie

The transgenerational meeting has generated numerous parodies over the years, and sure, there’s something weirdly off about crooner Crosby discussing Christmas traditions with Low-era Bowie (Bing’s spiritless take on modern music: “It’s marvelous, some of it really fine”). But there’s also a timelessness about the resulting collab, in which the pair interweave separate melodies while standing shoulder to shoulder.—Andrew Frisicano

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“Christmas Rappin’” by Kurtis Blow

Selling over 400,000 copies, Kurtis Blow’s holiday single, “Christmas Rappin’,” was the first song the old-school Harlem rapper released when he got signed by powerhouse Mercury Records in 1979. Blow made history that year by becoming the first rapper ever to be picked up by a major label. But who could blame them? Even if it is a tad corny, “Christmas Rappin’ ” is undeniably catchy at its core. With a fun rhyme and a funky beat, this tune is bound to get stuck in your head, and for most people, it surely does.—Rachel J. Sonis

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James Brown

“Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” by James Brown

Ever a man of the people, Brown begs the big dude in the red suit to shell out gifts to “mothers and soul brothers.” Not that the song sounds preachy or anything—more funky (duh) and perfectly suited to a fun holiday soiree. Fans of this soulful yuletide hit would do well to check out the rest of Brown’s excellent Christmas oeuvre.—Tim Lowery

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Simon & Garfunkel

“7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” by Simon & Garfunkel

In this 1966 cover of the Christmas classic, the duo’s gentle harmonies are overlaid with a news broadcast that mentions, among other disturbing events, the trial of serial killer Richard Speck, violent Vietnam War protests and Lenny Bruce’s fatal drug overdose. The stark contrast between beauty and brutality creates a powerful, political plea for peace. And what’s more seasonally appropriate than that?—Tim Lowery

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Paul McCartney

“Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney

Christmas is one of the few times of year where unabashed cheesiness isn’t just embraced, it’s encouraged. And if there’s one person you can count on to deliver cheese, it’s Paul McCartney, whose mostly great catalog is nevertheless filled with really goofy songs. All of the corny hallmarks are here: Oh-so-’80s synthesizers? Check. Excessive use of the phrase ding, dong? Yup. A kind-of terrible video that employs low-budget graphics? Oh, yes. But all of those things are precisely why we love this song: It’s the perfect expression of the daffy, overly cheerful sensibility that’s in the air this time of year.—Amy Plitt

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“Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” by The Ramones

Holiday perennials like frantic gift-shopping, stretched bank accounts and forced family time can easily turn the most wonderful time of the year into the most stressful. Turn to the leather-clad punks for a reminder of the true meaning of the season: peace on earth, at least for one night.—Andrew Frisicano

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Beach Boys

“Little Saint Nick” by The Beach Boys

The California group applied its usual formula of upbeat melodies and precise vocal harmonizing to this easygoing Christmas tune. In true early Beach Boys fashion—when the band mostly sang about cars and girls—songwriters Brian Wilson and Mike Love even threw in a reference to Santa’s “candy-apple red” sleigh.—Amy Plitt

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She & Him

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by She and Him

Hugh Martin’s original lyrics, written for Judy Garland to sing in Meet Me in St. Louis (1942), had an ominous sense of looming gloom (“Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past”). At MGM’s insistence, that sentiment was inverted into hopefulness—but the melancholy melody remains, all the more touching for its subtle contradiction of the song’s ostensible optimism. The stripped-down quirk of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s 2011 recording gives it a retro-modern twist.—Adam Feldman

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Sufjan Stevens

“Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!” by Sufjan Stevens

It’s hard to narrow down our favorite yuletide tunes by the Brooklyn troubadour, simply because he’s made so damn many of them—more than five hours of festive cheer across two Christmas box sets. (And we wouldn’t be surprised if the ambitious songwriter has more up his sleeve.) Among his many original holiday compositions, we most like this jaunty song, which lists all the reasons to be excited for the season: evergreen trees, roasting chestnuts and the fact that Santa Claus is on his way.—Amy Plitt

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“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee

The singer was only 13 years old when she recorded this rockabilly ode to “the new old-fashioned way.” Try quizzing your distant relatives on its oft misheard lyrics involving “balls of holly” and what kind of pie exactly?—Andrew Frisicano

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Elvis Presley

“Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley

Basically, everyone’s Elvis impression is molded on this archetypal Presley performance. Does that make it any less wonderful? Of course not! This country classic was first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948, but from Presley’s doe-eyed sincerity to the flurry of falsetto ooohs backing him up, the King’s version of “Blue Christmas” is your indispensable holiday heartbreak anthem.—Sophie Harris

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Frank Sinatra

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Frank Sinatra

Like “White Christmas,” this poignant standard—first recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943—yearns for quiet family traditions amid the tumult of wartime. (The arrangement of Frank Sinatra’s moony 1957 version begins with a hint of “Silent Night.”) “I’ll be home for Christmas / You can count on me,” the singer begins, but this promise is soon retracted with the admission that the longed-for reunion may be “only in my dreams.” The special resonance of this lyric for soldiers, who knew too well that they might never be home again, echoes through the song to this day.—Adam Feldman

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Jose Feliciano

“Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano

Nothing quite says Christmas like José Feliciano’s 1970 classic, “Feliz Navidad.” Whether it’s because you have some serious Latino pride or only really know how to say “Merry Christmas” in Spanish because of this song, “Feliz Navidad” has one common message we can all belt out together: “I want to wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart!” No argument there, folks.—Rachel J. Sonis

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“Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love

Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You is among the greatest holiday records of all time, though it flopped upon release. (Blame the timing: It came out on November 22, 1963—the day President Kennedy was assassinated.) On an album full of wonderful tracks, this song stands out: Love’s powerful vocals, combined with Spector’s classic wall-of-sound technique, ensured that the tune would become a Christmas classic; it just took a few decades.—Amy Plitt

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“Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses

Historically, Christmas songs have fallen into two camps: overly sincere or straight-up cheesefest. But this 1981 tune by the Akron, OH, new-wavers avoided both of those directions, thus becoming one of the first hip yuletide songs. Its protagonist wants to skip the holiday entirely because she’s just too darn busy to deal with it; plus, she’s been trying to meet up with this one guy, and it hasn’t worked out, and she’s kind of bummed. (Doesn’t sound so different from the lives of many young, single women these days.) And while there’s still a happy ending, it comes blessedly free of schmaltz.—Amy Plitt

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“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby’s 1942 recording of Irving Berlin’s wistful ballad still holds the Guinness record as the best-selling single of all time, with roughly 50 million copies sold. If no other song so immediately summons a sense of yuletide nostalgia, it may be because “White Christmas” itself is already nostalgic; released during World War II, it pines for a simple, peaceful holiday “like the ones we used to know.” (For the Jewish Berlin, Christmas is about the pastoral, not the pastor.) And croon prince Crosby’s mellow, intimate delivery is the stuff that dreaming’s made of.—Adam Feldman

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“Last Christmas” by Wham!

There are so many winning elements to Wham!’s 1984 smash that its status as a solid-gold Christmas staple—covered by such diverse talents as Taylor Swift, Coldplay and Crazy Frog—is forever guaranteed. A ballad of doomed romance, it features sleigh bells and synths, plus some truly memorable knit wear in the video. But what really sets “Last Christmas” apart is George Michael’s heart-on-sleeve delivery—his genuine heartbreak horror (“My God! I thought you were someone to rely on”) and wistful, sexy whispers. The words “Merry Christmas” never sounded so sultry. And that’s what makes this song so very special (special).—Sophie Harris

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“Christmas in Hollis” by Run-D.M.C.

The problem with most Christmas songs is that they just aren’t relatable. (If you’ve ever actually roasted chestnuts over an open fire, we’d love to hear from you.) But whatever ’hood you call home, you’ll savor the mouthwatering details D.M.C. relates in verse two of this classic: “It’s Christmas time in Hollis, Queens / Mom’s cooking chicken and collard greens / Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese / And Santa put gifts under Christmas trees.” Every time we hear the tune, we think to ourselves, How do we score an invite?—Hank Shteamer

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“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid

This dramatic, affecting megahit was the biggest-selling single in U.K. history for ten years after its release in 1984—and its impact on international consciousness was huge, from the Live Aid festival to America’s “We Are the World” single. British pop stars Bob Geldof and Midge Ure decided to make a charity song to aid drought-stricken Ethiopia, and a few phone calls later, the starry likes of Bono, George Michael, Simon Le Bon, Boy George and Bananarama converged at a London studio and cut the track in one day. Keep an ear out for the doomy church bells, Bono’s oh-so-serious vocals and Phil Collins’s rad drumming.—Sophie Harris

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Bruce Springsteen
Photograph: Danny Clinch

“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen

Despite memorable versions by the Crystals and the Jackson 5, our favorite rendition of the 1934 song has to be from Bruce and the E Street Band, if only for the Boss’s banter with deep-voiced sideman Clarence Clemons (did he ever get that new sax?). Though the world lost the Big Man’s jolly presence in 2011, the group seem to be keeping the cover as a live holiday-time staple, with nephew Jake filling in on the solo. Springsteen is so natural in the role, we wonder if there aren’t some reindeer living on his North Jersey ranch.—Andrew Frisicano

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“Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

The tale? A blotto Irish immigrant “in the drunk tank” is desperately dreaming of “a better time” for himself and his equally booze-and-drugs-addled lady. Cheerful stuff, right? (No wonder it’s the favorite Christmas song of many a jaded rock critic.) But despite all the broken dreaming detailed in the Celtic punks’ 1987 masterpiece, the track still manages, in the spirit of the season, to be drenched in hopeful romanticism.—Tim Lowery

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“All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey

Fifty million views on YouTube, 12 million copies sold, No. 1 on Billboard’s Holiday Songs chart… There are so many reasons to love “All I Want for Christmas,” from the song’s solid-gold melody and retro soul arrangements to its overall festive sweetness. But the real reason, of course, is Mariah. Who can forget that 1994 video—the singer in a Santa suit frolicking in the snow like no star has frolicked before? Add to that her impeccable delivery, effortless high notes, megawatt smile and remarkable bosom, and friends, we have a classic.—Sophie Harris

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“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Who’d’ve thought that a protest song would become a Christmas classic? Recorded in 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War, the ditty was inspired by John and Yoko’s 1969 “War Is Over (If You Want It)” ad campaign. The song builds on that simple message of peace with an assist from the children of the Harlem Community Choir (who provide backing vocals). So why is it our No. 1 pick? Because Christmas may be a time for cheesy fun and gift-giving and all that good stuff, but it’s also a time to spread peace and love, and this song—more than any other—serves as a reminder of that very simple fact. ’Tis the season, after all.—Amy Plitt

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Listen to Time Out’s 50 Christmas songs you really will love playlist on Spotify