Last year I shared the best Christmas album of all time, and I thought that this year I would continue the tradition by sharing more songs that I think make the cut.
This year’s selections are a more somber lot, by and large, which I suspect says a lot about my mental state as we bring 2016 to a close. Equally notable is how many more songs that would fall into the “non-traditional” category can be found on this version than on last year’s. It turns out that I don’t love a wide variety of traditional holiday tunes—I more or less ran out last year.
In theory, this link should take you to a Google Play Music playlist of this album. If it works, you’re welcome to use it to listen along. If it doesn’t, what do you want from me, I’m not Google, go bitch to them!
Without any further ado, let’s get to the music…
- The Christmas Song by Hootie & The Blowfish — This remains my favorite Christmas song, and this is another fantastic version of it. I can’t imagine a Christmas album without this song in some form.
- Christmas Day in the Sun by Hot Hot Heat — Generally I don’t much care for Hot Hot Heat, but for some reason their schtick really works for this song, and it’s got the sort of upbeat, fun sound that you want during the holiday.
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Joshua Hyslop — With The Christmas Song and Silent Night, this song rounds out the trifecta of “necessary” songs for the holiday. This version epitomizes what I look for in all three, spare accompaniment with simple singing…preferably heavy on the sincerity. Having the two Canadian acts back to back on side A was not intentional, but I like the way it worked out.
- Please Don’t Bomb Nobody This Holiday by The Dan Band — You might recognize the band as the ones that did the filthy cover of Total Eclipse of the Heart, but their completely original Christmas album is actually pretty great (and very funny). The music video is full of great cameos as well.
- Last Christmas by Ariana Grande — I absolutely hate Wham!’s Last Christmas, but as a result of a long-running in-joke, I make it a habit of grabbing every new cover I can find of it each year. Imagine my surprise when I found that Ariana Grande could make the song…more than merely tolerable…actually enjoyable? A modernized version heavy on every currently popular trick in the pop producer’s arsenal somehow pulls it off. Stop judging. I can tell you’re still judging, stop it.
- Do You See What I See by Sufjan Stevens — I have pretty much always found this song to be among the creepiest songs…not just of Christmas…of all time! I don’t know what it is about it that just creeps me right out. Sufjan Stevens’ version dials up the creepy to 11, and in doing, makes it feel more approachable to me. Every time I listen to this version, I find another thing going on amidst the layers of sound that I hadn’t noticed before.
- Mistletoe by Colbie Caillat — I don’t even know what to say about this; the song feels like such formulaic pandering that I should hate it. Everything by Caillat does falls into that category though, and I keep buying (and enjoying) the albums, so I’m not sure what to do with that. I really dig this song though.
- Winter Song by Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson — Two of my favorite contemporary female singers and songwriters. Their voices go together simply, brilliantly, and beautifully. The song itself manages to be both upbeat and hopeful while tinged with a bit of sadness. Gorgeous.
- I’ll be Home by Meghan Trainor — I picked up the I’ll Be Home for Christmas album to get the previous song and a Fiona Apple track and was surprised by this one. I had to look Meghan up to find out that she was the All About That Bass singer. This is better than that.
- What Christmas Means to Me by CeeLo Green — The first of truly upbeat Christmas song on this list, I went to throw the Stevie Wonder version of this on the list when I realized that the one that I’d been jamming to for at least a couple of years had actually been CeeLo Green.
- Winter Wonderland by She & Him — Zooey Deschanel and Matt Ward put out a second Christmas album this year…I could have picked literally any song off of it to list here (except Mele Kalikimaka which really needs to stop being a thing), but I really love their treatment of this one. It’s simple and straightforward.
- Winterlong by Pixies — This was the B-side from Dig for Fire and ended up my favorite part of that single. I bought the cassette three times: I lost my first copy; I bought a second copy just before I broke up with a girlfriend who stole all of my albums; I bought my second copy just before I broke up with a different girlfriend who, again, stole all my albums. I waited to buy it again until I could digitize it. Now Geralyn will have to steal all of my computers, backups, and the Internet from me if she wants to take this album from me. Good luck, Geralyn!
- Christmas Lights by Yellowcard — If nothing else, Yellowcard does sincerity well. In true pop-punk fashion, the song is heartfelt and catchy, and it doesn’t have anything extra in there. It’s what it says on the tin, and that’s quite a bit.
- Happy Christmas (War is Over) by Sense Field — I love this song, it’s a great message that seems even more timely this year than for most of the rest of my life. I have always found the Lennon/Ono version to suffer from a very Lennon self-awareness and a very Phil Spector driven heaviness. It plays like a funeral dirge. Sense Field’s version has a very indie/pop-folk feel that makes it feel more like a hopeful plea than a suicide note from someone depressed by the reality of the situation, but without making it upbeat. It helps the song considerably.
- Father Christmas by The Kinks — This song is as old as I am, but for some reason I’ve always considered it a “new” Christmas song. It has that typical 70’s British “subversive lyrics backed by an upbeat, catchy delivery” that allowed some pretty dicey shit to float on the radio. It was hard to pick which version should make the list; versions by Bad Religion, Man Overboard, the Cary Brothers, OK Go, Lit, and Bowling for Soup all were contenders…so many great choices that I just had to pick the source material.
- There Will Be No Christmas by Crown the Empire — I heard about this band because of a cover they did of Moves Like Jagger and fell in love with their borderline Flaming Lips-esque thing. I actually removed a Flaming Lips song from this list to put this on on here.
- Silver Bells by Bright Eyes — As much as I love Conor Oberst’s solo work, I miss his work with Bright Eyes, and their Christmas album is a huge part of the reason. Nice, artful arrangements of classic works done with a very American folk sensibility. I prefer this version to the Bing Crosby version.
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Lynyrd Skynyrd — Okay, it’s not really Lynyrd Skynyrd, per se…Johnny will never quite do the job that older brother Ronnie did…but this is a fun version that also doesn’t suffer from the grotesque overplay that is the main problem with the far superior Willie Nelson version.
- Bonus Track: White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin — If you would like to see me tear up some, this song is a pretty reliable way to make that happen. It just summarizes so many of my feelings about the season in an amazing way. I really like Christmas. It’s sentimental, I know.