The 12 Days of Christmas: Best Christmas Songs of the Last 60 YearsCarolyn Castiglia
Listening to the Muppets sing The 12 Days of Christmas led by John Denver has to be one of the highlights of the holiday season. After all, no one can belt “five gold rings” the way Miss Piggy can. The Muppets aside though, there’s so much great holiday music out there – not to mention so much crap – that I decided to compile (with the help of my comedian/writer/musician friends) a very thorough list of the best holiday songs recorded in the last 60 years, from the obscure to the novel to the standards you know and love – complete with video. I’ve listed Babble staff favorites as well… don’t forget to add yours in the comments! Stay tuned tomorrow for my list of the WORST Christmas songs of all time!
10. Zat You Santa Claus by Louis Armstrong, chosen by comedic musical duo Stuckey and Murray.
If you like jazz, no Christmas is complete without a listen to Baby It’s Cold Outside. Here’s a really interesting version by – wait for it – Willie Nelson and Norah Jones. What?! I know. But it’s seriously great! Imagining them as a couple, on the other hand, is making my head explode.
9. Last Christmas by Wham, chosen by comedian Kara Buller, who says, “It’s a break up AND Christmas song–what could be better?” Agreed! Plus, George Michaels’ hair in this video is to die for.
8. Mamacita ¿Dónde está Santa Claus? by Augie Rios, chosen by Fark-er Gwinevere von Ludwig. This choice is sure to be divisive, because most people either love or hate this song. I chuckle every time I hear it, thanks to my old college pal Marisa Paonessa, who would sing it non-stop every holiday (and sometimes in the summer) with all the wide-eyed passion of an 8-year-old boy awaiting his first BB gun.
7. Little Saint Nick by The Beach Boys, chosen by film composer Eytan Mirsky, whose song The Only Present I Want This Year has been immortalized with a fan video on YouTube.
6. Silver Bells by Bing Crosby. Bing Crosby is arguably the King of Christmas Carols, and I could do a Top 10 list of just his recordings, and another Top 10 of just this era (Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song, anyone singing I’ll Be Home for Christmas, White Christmas, Let It Snow, etc.) but in the interest of giving space to other artists, I won’t. Silver Bells originally appeared in the film The Lemon Drop Kid as sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell, but was first recorded by Crosby and Carol Richards. Crosby subsequently recorded it with his White Christmas co-star Rosemary Clooney, and then jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. Their rendition is my favorite, but shockingly, it hasn’t been uploaded to YouTube! Here’s Bing crooning with Clooney:
If you’re a big Bing fan, be sure to give a listen to The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth by Crosby and Bowie, as suggested by my friend Kim, who says, “It blends old and young with classic and contemporary in perfect harmony.”
5. Happy Christmas/War is Over by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Sure, this one gets played a lot, but you have to admit, it’s one of the best. I actually haven’t heard it yet this year, so I’m happy to be pasting it here now. There are more moving videos of this song on YouTube, filled with images of war, but they’re not embeddable and they’re not exactly full of holiday cheer, either. If you look at the pictures in this video, you can pretend for a minute that the world really is free of conflict, and that we’re all just happy-go-lucky young British kids with great hair.
You should also dance around your living room with your children to Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime. The mood is right! The spirit’s up!
4. Christmas Don’t Be Late by Alvin and the Chipmunks. I don’t really need to justify this one, do I? I had this shizz on 8 Track, son!
3. Silver and Gold from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, sung by Burl Ives. Yes, Holly, Jolly Christmas and The Most Wonderful Day of the Year are both brilliant, but I have to say, there’s something about the simplicity of Silver and Gold that really gets to the heart of the season.
p.s. – There’s Always Tomorrow, also from Rudolph, isn’t exactly a Christmas song, but it’s so lovely, it has stayed with me since my childhood. And because I’m nearing the end of this list – and I’m still a hippie at heart – if you like ethereal sounds, you should really listen to every Christmas/winter recording Sarah McLachlan has ever made, especially Song for a Winter’s Night. (Okay, just barf and get it over with.)
2. Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg. I’m sorry. I can’t type right now. I’m too busy holding myself while sobbing. Grab a can of Bud, turn your speakers up and slow dance with yourself hard until the beer flies all over your keys. (Or, you know, I guess you could sway with your spouse if that’s what you’re into. I’ll just be over here hugging my unicorn Pillow Pet.)
All right, guys. This is it. The best Christmas song of all time. What is it?
1. O Holy Night (as sung by South Park’s Eric Cartman), chosen by jazz vocalist Melissa Kate.
Okay, okay. Cartman’s version might not be the best of all time, and this song was originally written in 1847, but O Holy Night is hands down the best Christmas song of all time, and given the amount of artists who have recorded it in the last 60 years, it deserves a spot on this list, if nothing else, “for its kick-ass high note.” (Thanks, Marie.) If you prefer a more sacred, traditional rendition of the song, it doesn’t get better than Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. Sung classically or pop by Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Kelly Clarkson, Nat King Cole, Destiny’s Child… bring it on. I can never get enough.
SOME BABBLE FAVES:
Sierra: My favorite is Let it Snow, which my Grandmother sang all the time when I was a kid.
Meredith: Do They Know It’s Christmas. Was Sting given the “the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears” line on purpose?
John: Merle Haggard Christmas. Niel Diamond? Forget about it. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a Jewish legend belting out yuletide classics (as well as his own tunes like “You Make It Feel Like Christmas”).
Madeline: I love The Ronettes singing Sleigh Bells and Diana Ross singing My Favorite Things (and John Coltrane performing My Favorite Things and, oh, what the hell: Julie Andrews/My Favorite Things). Also Coltrane playing Greensleeves, Handel’s Messiah, even performed badly, children’s choirs singing anything Christmas-y gets me teary (good teary).