I love Christmas music so much that I started out this list and thought I would only list ten songs, but I ended up with fifteen. I’m the type that makes different playlists for the classic carols, modern carols, songs to play while chilling on Christmas Eve, songs to play when I want to wallow in the holiday blues, and songs to sing when I want to feel upbeat about the holidays. I wrote about my favorite Christmas albums, but these are the songs that stand out for me, the ones I play often, even when it’s not the holiday season.
“Do They Know It’s Christmas” – Band Aid
Yes, this song has a lot of flaws and misguided ideas (“there won’t be snow in Africa”?), but you can’t deny the power of our favorite 80’s icons singing together. And when you get to that chorus (“FEED THE WORLD!”), even the coldest hearts will surely melt and feel the Christmas spirit.
“Merry Christmas Darling” – Carpenters
This track is perfectly placed in the Carpenters’ album Christmas Portrait, coming right after the frenetic combination of “Jingle Bells”, “First Snowfall/Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow”, and “Carol of the Bells”. After all that gaiety, Karen Carpenter’s voice comes in with that quiet “Greeting cards have all been sent…”, and suddenly you just want to cry. It’s wistful, bittersweet, and simply beautiful.
“A Perfect Christmas” – Jose Mari Chan
The titular track from Christmas In Our Hearts is considered the ultimate Filipino Christmas song, but this is my personal favorite. It has a similar vibe to “Merry Christmas Darling”, with its sad longing that you can feel all over the lyrics and melody.
“(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home” – U2
It’s U2! What else needs to be said?
“Please Come Home For Christmas” – Eagles
I am in love with Don Henley’s voice, and also with this version that’s more rock than the original bluesy version by Charles Brown (which is great too, by the way), with the Eagles’ trademark harmonies and a searing guitar solo.
“It Must’ve Been Ol’ Santa Claus” – Harry Connick, Jr.
That jazzy, big band swing sound; those exuberant horns and drums; a heartwarming story; and Harry Connick’s mellow voice – what’s not to love?
“Celebrate Me Home” – Kenny Loggins
This is a stealth Christmas song. Loggins didn’t even release this in a holiday album. But it’s a perfect holiday song, with its spare beginning with just the soft piano, until it slowly builds to an uplifting gospel crescendo celebrating, well, home.
“We Wish You The Merriest” – Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, with Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians
Any duet by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra will turn out great, and to have them sing together on this holiday song is a gift. It really is the merriest, happiest tune, full of joy and cheer.
“River” – Robert Downey, Jr.
I gave up on Ally McBeal pretty quickly, but when I found out that Robert Downey, Jr. would join the show, I went back in and put up with Calista Flockhart just so I could see RDJ. But alas, some good things never last, because he left the show after just one season. He sings this song in his last episode, before he had to go back into rehab. Which is great, because I think this was when he turned things around for good.
But Joni Mitchell’s song is already heartbreaking in itself (haven’t we all wished we had a river we could skate away on?), and coupled with the circumstances surrounding RDJ’s performance, this is one emotional gut punch.
“Christmas in LA” – The Killers Feat. Dawes
Why do Christmas songs have to be depressing? Maybe it’s because the end of the year forces us to take stock of our lives; or maybe it’s the shorter days that feel so cheerless. Whatever the reason, The Killers managed to put all that melancholy in this collaboration with Dawes, which is no less beautiful for all the feelings it evokes.
“All I Want For Christmas Is You” – Mariah Carey
My sister laughs at me for loving this song, but guess what – I don’t care! It started out as ironic enjoyment, until I realized that I had genuinely fallen in love with it. Only grinches can hate it, and that iconic “And I…” line happens to be one of the best phrases in music!
Merry Christmas Happy Holidays – *NSync
This is another song that I should probably be embarrassed to admit I love, but honestly with the year we’ve had, who has time to be a purist when it comes to Christmas songs? It’s fun, it’s bright, and we love what we love.
Last Christmas – Wham!
There have been so many remakes of this, but no one can ever come close to George Michael. We miss him.
“The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” – Bing Crosby and David Bowie
When I first heard this song, I had no idea why in the world Bing Crosby and David Bowie would ever do a duet. It seemed so random and strange. But I’ve since watched the Bing Crosby holiday special that featured this number, and even though it still felt random and strange to have Bowie drop in on the Crosbys, it made a little more sense. The special was released after Bing Crosby passed away, and now that Bowie has left us too, it’s even more emotional.
It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve – Barry Manilow
It’s not a Christmas song, but it’s here because no other song captures that feeling we all get at New Year (but that we don’t want to admit) – the pressure to make it mean everything and be the perfect night because it’s the end of one year and the start of another. But it really is not so bad, it’s just another night, and we’ll be just fine.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!