What makes a good Christmas song? Well, it has to be competently written and sound good, for one. But most importantly, it has to capture the Christmas spirit, which is different for a lot of people and for me, the following songs do just that. You’ve already read my Worst Christmas Songs list (if you haven’t, here you go), so why not follow that up with the Best Christmas Songs list? But before we start, here are some honorable mentions.
IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR-ANDY WILLIAMS
You know it’s the holiday season when they start playing this song. Just like with All I Want For Christmas Is You, It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year has seen nonstop rotation every year since its inception and it has a lot going for it: the big band sound, the charm of Andy Williams, and a timeless feel of the festivities, which are mentioned in the song. This is one of those songs that’s not on the list proper due to overplay, but it’s good enough for me to mention it.
SANTA CLAUS GO STRAIGHT TO THE GHETTO-JAMES BROWN
Fun fact: Mariah Carey called this one of her favorite Christmas songs. It’s safe to say that she has good taste. Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto is a funky classic from the Godfather of Soul that urges Santa Claus to deliver presents to kids in the ghetto because poor kids also deserve to experience the holiday spirit. Why let the suburbanites have all the fun? You can’t go wrong with James Brown.
SANTA CLAUS GOES STRAIGHT TO THE GHETTO-SNOOP DOGG
On a somewhat related note, here’s Snoop Dogg with the gangsta rap version of the previous song. This time around, Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto shows how people in the hood celebrate the holidays, both the good and the bad. I like the g-funk production, the verses from all the rappers involved are solid, and there’s also Nate Dogg, who’s killing the hooks as usual. I can see why Rap Critic called this the best Christmas rap song (even if I think there are better ones) because this is great. I’d recommend you check it out..
SOMEDAY AT CHRISTMAS-STEVIE WONDER
Even Stevie Wonder got in on the Christmas spirit when he released his own Christmas album in 1967 called Someday At Christmas. The titular track is a call for peace and freedom, at least for the holidays. It’s basically a better version of that John Lennon song Happy Xmas (War Is Over), which beats you over the head with its message. This song is a bit sappy and sentimental, but it has its heart in the right and it’s a nice song to play during the holidays.
BLUE CHRISTMAS-ELVIS PRESLEY
Fun fact: Elvis Presley has a Christmas album and it’s the best selling Christmas album of all time. Goes to show how powerful the Elvis name is. One of the songs from that album is Blue Christmas, which is about spending the holidays alone without that special someone. It’s what you would want out of a good Elvis record in its rock and roll music and Elvis crooning his ass off. Good stuff overall and another Elvis classic.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS-PERRY COMO
You’re gonna see some oldies on this list, which I’m cool with because I believe that some of the oldies do a better job at capturing the holiday spirit better than most modern songs and Home For The Holidays is no exception. Perry Como is a great singer who brings a lot of smoothness to the tracks he performs on and Home For The Holidays is no exception. It fits the bouncy, old-timey melodies and there’s a lot of charm and likability that’s perfect for the holidays. This is a really good song, check it out if you haven’t.
CHRISTMAS IN HARLEM-KANYE WEST
In 2010, Kanye did the G.O.O.D. Fridays event where he released a new song weekly and the last song released was Christmas In Harlem. The production is very lush and breezy, Teyana Taylor provides an excellent chorus, and the verses paint the perfect Christmas scenario. The reason why this song isn’t on the list proper is because the finalized version of the song goes on longer than needed due to the large number of guests. Also, this line from Kanye.
You've been a bad girl, give Santa three kisses
Gave her the hot chocolate, she said, “It’s Dee-ricious”
Damn it, Kanye. Can’t you do away with the stupid shit for one fucking song? Why is that so hard to do? Aside from that, this is still a good song that’s earned a mention for this list.
Now that we got that out the way, here are the 10 best Christmas songs of all time.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU-MARIAH CAREY
I can already hear the eyerolls right now and I completely understand. Every holiday season, this song would pop back up in constant rotation on radio stations and shopping centers everywhere to some people’s annoyance. It’s why All I Want For Christmas Is You is this low on the list, because of the immense overplay it’s gotten, plus, there are much better Christmas songs out there. Setting that aside, this is still a good Christmas pop song that captures the joy and spirit of spending time with the person you love on the holidays and Mariah Carey sells it excellently. It’s no surprise that this became a holiday staple for the past 25 years and I have a feeling that it will remain that for many more years to come.
UNDERNEATH THE TREE-KELLY CLARKSON
Next up is the newest song on the list and one that’s going to be a Christmas classic in the years to come. Six years ago, Kelly Clarkson released a Christmas album called Wrapped In Red and Underneath The Tree became the album’s breakout hit. And I can hear why, because it’s great. The music is bouncy and joyful with the old-timey piano riffs, chimes and sleigh bells, and a prominent saxophone. Kelly Clarkson sounds amazing as she’s showing her gratitude for the man of her life this Christmas. This is one of those songs that manages the task to sound both timeless and modern at the same time, a task that a lot of Christmas songs can’t pull off. Hell, I dare say that it’s better than All I Want For Christmas Is You. That’s a hot take that I will stand by.
MERRY CHRISTMAS BABY-OTIS REDDING
Merry Christmas Baby is a Christmas song that was originally performed by R&B group Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers and Charles Brown. Like many Christmas songs, it’s been subject to numerous covers, including from Otis Redding, which I think is the best cover of it so far. The soulful singing from Otis and the cheerful backing music with the sleigh bells, horns, and organs make for a perfect Christmas love song. It’s another testament of Otis Redding’s talents and why his sudden death was so tragic.
From one black Christmas classic to another. The Temptations took the traditional Christmas carol Silent Night and turned it into another soul classic for the holidays. The vocals from all the men involved are impeccable as every member gets a chance to shine, plus, the harmonies are on point as you’d expect from The Temptations. The backing music is just as immaculate and is perfect for this revamped Christmas staple. Of all the versions of Silent Night that exists, this is easily the best version uncontested and a staple for black families every holiday season.
ROCKIN’ AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE-BRENDA LEE
Let’s get this out the way: musically, this song is less rock and roll and more rockabilly, which is a subgenre of country that has rock and roll elements. It’s annoying to see songs with “rock” in the title, but they don’t sound like rock. Now that we’ve addressed that nitpick of mines, let’s talk about Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, which is the song that Brenda Lee is best known for that’s stuck around 6 decades later. She recorded this song when she was 13, yet you wouldn’t know that listening. She still sounds great and she sounds like she’s having the time of her life in the holiday season. And isn’t that what Christmas should do, bring joy to people?
A HOLLY JOLLY CHRISTMAS-BURL IVES
If you’ve watched the Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer TV special, you already heard this song. A Holly Jolly Christmas is performed by actor and singer Burl Ives, which is easily better than the title track and is a goddamn classic. The music is cheerful and jolly with its varying guitar riffs and backing organ. Burl Ives brings the joy and spirit of the holidays in his performance that makes this song work. What more can I say about it? It’s a great holiday song.
Let’s head back to the 90s to a song that I believe deserves more attention, courtesy of TLC. They make this list for their cover of Sleigh Ride, which is not only another great TLC song, but it’s another great Christmas song. We get some of that slamming 90s production with a little holiday spice added to it. Left Eye gives us two verses and she’s just having a blast. This is one of those songs that found a way to remix an old classic and modernize it (for the time) without sounding hackneyed or forced. It has a fun, chill vibe that you just get addicted to. Oh, and this song was in Home Alone 2. Seriously. Just throwing that out there.
CHRISTMAS IN HOLLIS-RUN-DMC
The Christmas rap song that everyone knows, so you know I had to put it on this list. It was also one of the first rap songs that I’ve ever heard in my lifetime. Christmas In Hollis is a song where Run-DMC celebrate the festivities of the holidays with their families and we even get a story of Run finding Santa Claus’ wallet after losing it and instead of keeping it, he sends it back to Santa. It does sound silly, but it’s a nice message for the kids and this is one of those rap songs that you can safely play around older relatives without worrying about profanity. And here’s that scene from Die Hard featuring that song because why not.
THE CHRISTMAS SONG (MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU)-NAT KING COLE
We didn’t deserve Nat King Cole. That man has a voice of velvet that can sell you the most boring, mundane products in existence. In 1946, he did a cover to The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You), which was written by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé. The song has an oldies feel in its music, which leans into the orchestral strings and jazzy piano and guitars. The best part of the song is Nat King Cole himself, who’s great. He gives a warm, welcoming vibe to the song like you just got home after a long day at work and just want to relax and spend time with your family. Another great Christmas classic overall.
And finally, the best Christmas song of all time IS…….
THIS CHRISTMAS-DONNY HATHAWAY
I’m going to make a bold statement rooted in fact: there’s NO other song ever written or recorded in history that encapsulates Christmas any better than This Christmas by the late Donny Hathaway. You can fight me on that. No black Christmas is complete without this song playing in the background. Anyone who knows me would not be surprised by this because I fucking love this song. I love the music from the blaring horns and sleigh bells in the chorus that stays in your head for days to the more subtle keyboard, guitar, and percussion. Donny Hathaway celebrates the Christmas season with the soul and enthusiasm that few other artists could ever capture. Listening to this song generates a feeling of cheerfulness, jubilance, and genuine joy. This song wasn’t that big of a hit when it was released, which is a shame because it deserves more success. There’s been numerous covers over the years, but none of them match up to the original, which is a masterpiece. This Christmas, the best Christmas song of all time.
And that was my list of the best Christmas songs of all time. What are your favorites? Comment below and let me know. Next week, I contribute to List Season as I’ll unleash my Worst Songs of 2019 list, followed by the Best Songs list the week after.
SONG OF THE WEEK
This Christmas-Donny Hathaway