Fa la la love
Holiday music that doesn’t suck
There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who don’t like holiday music—and those who don’t know what they’re missing.
Sure, we’re all probably tired of hearing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You” ad nauseam between Thanksgiving and December 25, but hating on seasonal tunes because they’re overplayed is like hating on presents because your great aunt always gives you ugly socks.
While music preferences are arguably subjective, the best holiday songs evoke a mood, stir a memory, or shamelessly make you want to sing along—even in July. Ready to un-Scrooge your ears? Check out this (hardly comprehensive) list of 10 sonic greetings to entertain, comfort or otherwise get you through the season.
1. “Fairytale of New York"—The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl: This barn burner of a duet between Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan and the late, greatly missed MacColl chronicles a seasonal run of drinking, fighting and other bits of bad luck. Released in 1987, it remains hauntingly wry and whimsical. Recommended if you like: slipping a flask of Irish whiskey into your pocket before heading to the family dinner table.
2. “Hard Candy Christmas”—Dolly Parton: Originally written for the 1982 Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack (really), Parton’s self-reflective lament is sweet but never artificially so with lyrics like, “I’m barely getting through tomorrow / but still I won’t let / sorrow bring me way down.” RIYL: Getting drunk on apple wine whilst contemplating self-improvement in the new year.
3. “Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)”—Darlene Love: This sonic wonder, which first appeared on the iconic 1963 album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, still sounds as fresh as the driven snow with its ring of sleigh bells, reverb and Love’s incomparable vocals. RIYL: Driving around on Christmas Eve to look at all the pretty lights.
4. “Christmas in Hollis"—Run DMC: Included on the 1987 charity comp A Very Special Christmas, this rap about doing the right thing makes for a guaranteed bad mood buster. Listen, even your grandma loves it. RIYL: Dope tracksuits, collard greens and busting carols.
5. “Baby it’s Cold Outside"—Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan: There are many great versions of this classic, but Fitzgerald and Jordan’s take is particularly seductive. RIYL: Getting into arguments over whether a 1940s-era song’s lyrics are outdated and unnervingly sexist.
6. “Christmas Wrapping”—The Waitresses: This 1981 new wave tune starts off with a “Bah! Humbug!” and ends with a Christmas Eve love connection in a late night grocery store line. RIYL: Cranberries, tiny turkeys and avoiding parties.
7. “Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy”—Bing Crosby and David Bowie: There’s something absurdly perfect about this old-school crooner meets art-school weirdo collab. RIYL: Peace on Earth, duh.
8. “Merry Christmas, Baby”—The Beach Boys: The entirety of The Beach Boys Christmas Album, released in 1964, is wonderful, but the California band’s version of this classic pulsates with a particularly fun, surfy vibe. RIYL: Vintage harmonies and sunny, beachy cheer.
9. “Christmas Time is Here"—Vince Guaraldi Trio: Really, one must possess the iciest of iced-over hearts to not like this achingly nostalgic jazz number from A Charlie Brown Christmas. RIYL: Small Christmas trees in need of love and watching TV holiday specials over a cup of hot cocoa.
10. “Happy Xmas (War is Over): It’s John Lennon’s call for harmony—what more do you need to know? RIYL: Ending wars or petty family squabbles. ’Tis the season!