Whether we’re shopping at Macy’s and hear it on the speakers, or are ordering a holiday themed coffee from Starbucks, Christmas music is inescapable. These classic yuletide anthems always seem to find a collective balance between timelessness and nostalgia, helping us gather up all those warm and fuzzy feelings to balance out the cold winter and survive the holiday season.
As music is the fruit of life, it is also the number one reliever of the holiday stress and anxiety that hits all of us. By creating a simple festive playlist, you can not only decrease anxiety and your body’s stress hormone levels, but lower your blood pressure—so says science. But enough about science! Finding that perfect tune that will either play in the background of your Christmas party, bounce off the walls in your car as you fiddle with the heating or simply kick back with a good book by the fireplace doesn’t have to be difficult list to compile. Sure it can be sort of overwhelming as there are a dozen-and-one different renditions of every holiday song and one is always more ear-worthy than the other, but it can be easy—especially if you know what you’re looking for.
To get you in the festive spirit, here are 12 of my favorite Christmas tracks from artists new and old.
Wrapped in Red – Kelly Clarkson
This holiday track is actually a festive love ballad off Kelly Clarkson’s 2013 Christmas album, Wrapped in Red. While the video is a bit ponderous, the song itself is inspired from a scene in the 2003 film, Love Actually where a character confesses his unrequited love towards another. (We’ve all been there!) While the track is sweet and lovely, it’s also perfectly reminiscent of a late 80s/early 90s Christmas tune and complementary to Clarkson’s sound and tone.
White Christmas – Bing Crosby
“White Christmas” is the heart of the holidays. With Bing Crosby’s smooth and velvety tones, he is the true voice of Christmas. This track is an evergreen classic and by far one of my favorites for curling up to the fireplace with my hot cocoa. Throughout the years, it has been covered by everyone from Bob Marley to The Drifters, and Blake Shelton to Taylor Swift but this one stands the test of time. In a close second of the Crosby catalog, while his 1936 version of Adeste Fideles is beautiful and incredibly soothing, it’s one that makes me cry every year and is worth a listen.
Blue Christmas – Elvis Presley
Ah—another tale of unrequited love during the holidays care of The King. “Blue Christmas” is a longstanding staple of Christmas music, especially in the country genre and another one of my all-time favorites. Recorded for the 1967 Elvis’ Christmas Album, the track was later released as a single due to its popularity. Presley’s voice not only adds depth to this version but a sense of sincerity to the listener as a natural born performer. One thing that not a lot of listeners realize is that The King’s version is actually missing a verse as opposed to the original sung first by Ernest Tubb in 1948.
The Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa Claus
A darker tune for the holidays comes care of The Killers with their hidden track off the 2007 B-sides album, Sawdust, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa Claus.” Their portrayal of Santa in the music video may not be the most kid-friendly as he is the definition of a ‘Bad Santa”, but this darker track is a catchy one about an innocent boy who had a misunderstood childhood and decided to take revenge on the other kids (we’ve all been there). The way lead singer Brandon Flowers sings and begs through each lyric, it’s convincing enough to believe he was that boy.
Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song
To think, this holiday classic was written during the blistering hot summer of 1946 is an unbelievable one. It really does sum up Christmas and the beauty of the holiday season ever so perfectly. First recorded by The King Cole Trio, this classic is one of the most beloved Christmas songs ever with hundreds of artists covering it over the years from Rosemary Clooney to Whitney Houston, Hootie and the Blowfish to Ariana Grande. Of course, nothing comes close to Nat King Cole’s recorded version in 1953.
Let It Snow – Dean Martin
Did you know that despite being one of the best-selling songs of all time, “Let It Snow” doesn’t make any reference to Christmas or the holidays? It’s still seasonal and a beloved one at that, being covered countless times. Like “The Christmas Song”, this track was written during a heatwave in 1945. With many versions coming from artists new and old, the best comes from the charming Rat Pack’s Dean Martin, whose buttery velvet voice makes this a true holiday gem.
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
Recorded in 1958 by newcomer Brenda Lee, this song ran on the radio with very little attention until 1960 when Lee became a star in her own right. Her version over the last thirty years has had much attention and radio play though, and been featured in more than a hundred television shows and movies including holiday staple, Home Alone.
Run, Run, Rudolph – Luke Bryan
First popularized by Chuck Berry in 1958, “Run, Run, Rudolph” peaked at No. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, and No. 36 on the UK Singles Chart. Throughout the years it was covered by many artists, but only a few male singers peaked with their takes on the quick-paced track, including country megastar Luke Bryan‘s 2008 rendition which reached No. 42 on the Hot Country Songs charts. It’s a fun song that keeps you on your toes and Bryan does a nice job of adding his country flair to this Christmas classic.
Another Christmas – Michael Johns
Michael Johns wrote this song long before his time on American Idol. The indie track though lesser known, was first written in 2006 and is simple in its meaning. Encompassing the notion that love doesn’t fade despite the distance and time spent apart, “Another Christmas” is a perfect track for the holiday season. Though Johns passed away earlier this year, this song is a true testament to his big heart as all proceeds from the purchase of this track via iTunes and Amazon go to ALS and Red Cross charities.
Vince Guaraldi – Christmas Time is Here
This track written by Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi for the 1965 TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas, was one of the very first animated Christmas specials produced for ABC and has since been a holiday classic for the network. While there is an instrumental version by Guaraldi that is pure, unadulterated soothing jazz, the vocal version is a favorite by many and sung by the children’s choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael California.
Jackson 5 – Santa Claus is Coming To Town
The earliest known version of this track was recorded in 1934 by banjoist Harry Reser and his band. The song has become a traditional standard during the Christmas seasons throughout the years. It was so popular that in 1970, Rankin-Bass produced an hour-long animated TV special based on the song telling the true story of Santa Claus with narration by Fred Astaire. While there are many well-known renditions of this particular festive hit, the Jackson 5’s 1970 version is a fan favorite.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland
The Christmas song of all Christmas songs—”Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. First introduced by the immaculate silver-screen icon Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM classic Meet Me in St. Louis, it is the third most performed Christmas song of all time and ranked in at #76 in the top tunes of American cinema. It’s an endearingly perfect tune that warms your heart and makes you feel all fuzzy inside. In the film’s scene, Judy Garland’s character Esther sings to her despondent little sister on Christmas Eve. It’s a scene that everyone can relate to during the holidays and one that will continually make me cry every year. While this track is the original tearjerker, Frank Sinatra‘s comes at a close second with Chris Martin featuring Conan O’Brien‘s version at a close and comfortable, ice-breaking third.
From holiday shopping in stores, to floating snowflakes outdoors. With dancing Santas all round, the best time of year is abundant in sound! What’s on your Christmas playlist this holiday season? Share with us in the comments below.