First, the enduring classics list. There’s George Fredric Handel’s “Messiah,” performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, and there’s One Direction singing “All I Want for Christmas,” and then there’s that sweet, playful, classic middle ground. Behold: These are the Christmas songs that manage to make you pleasantly nostalgic about your past and hopeful about your future.
“Rockin Around The Christmas Tree,” Brenda Lee
Everyone recognizes Brenda Lee’s booming alto, and that break in her voice is trademark. But did you know the writer of that song, Johnny Marks, also wrote “Rudolf, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “I Heard The Bells of Christmas Day?” If you ask me, all are staples for opening presents with the nieces and nephews. (Plus, is it me or does anyone else think of that scene from “Home Alone” when this song plays in the car?)
“Jingle Bell Rock,” Bobby Helms
I don’t know what’s more classic, the crazy lead guitar, the budum, bum, bum, or the distinct vocals of Bobby Helms. Regardless, this song came out in 1957—almost 60 years ago— and there’s a reason you still hear it in every mall and on every radio station this time of year: It’s still as good now as it was then.
“The Christmas Song,” Nat King Cole
My mom always said Cole’s voice sounds like velvet. It’s never more true in this song. It’s reminiscent yet hopeful; nostalgic yet happy. Drink some cocoa and luxuriate in the richness of sound and drink.
“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” Jackson 5
The booming energy and buzz in this record is something for which the Jackson 5 became famous. Even today, hardly anybody can hit a note like the young Michael Jackson, although I’m sure some fanatics of The Voice or American Idol might differ. It’s the perfect song to listen to when you’re putting garland around the house and hanging lights. For a new-ish twist, the Bruce Springsteen live version is a must-listen to as well. Because: Bruce Springsteen.
“Winter Wonderland,” Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby was a star and Christmastime music aficionado unto himself. His version of this song screams classic Christmas, especially with the composition of horns and strings.
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” Bing Crosby
Whether 1942 or 2014, you can’t hear this song and not think of someone you want to have return home, or that time you were away from loved ones and longed to be back with them. There have been dozens of covers over the years, but Michael Buble’s version is just about as silky-smooth.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” Judy Garland
You can hear this song a thousand times over the holiday season and not get sick of it. It’s a perfect blend of positive lyrics combined with a dark, smooth tone. Plus, I don’t actually think of “The Wizard of Oz,” when I hear it, thank God, so bonus.
“White Christmas,” Frank Sinatra
It isn’t a complete classic Christmas playlist without this timeless song. (Again, Crosby’s version rivals it.)
“Santa Baby,” Eartha Kitt
The perfect sexy playful Christmas song for you and your baby. Of course, you’ll also be reminded you need some decor from Tiffany, a new duplex, and a ring—cha-ching.
Now, for the list of new classics.
“All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Mariah Carey
I had to. And it’s not just because I’m a girl and Mariah Carey was a staple of my high school music experience and she performs this song beyond any of your wildest expectations. This song can make you want to break up with someone just so you can hear this song and think of that person. There’s at least one Federalist man—ahem, I’m talking about you, Mr. Domenech—who might admit he loves this version if you ask nicely and give him a Starbucks gift card or a signed copy of “The Road to Serfdom” by F.A. Hayek for Christmas.
“Silent Night,” Josh Groban
If you haven’t made an entire playlist of Josh Groban’s Christmas songs, do it now. Now. Resume reading. The whole album, but especially this song, boasts his characteristic incredible vocals. Smooth like buttah. (And those curls, but that’s another column.)
“Holly Jolly Christmas,” Michael Bublé
Bublé’s album “Christmas” is easily one of the best current Christmas albums out there to enjoy. Brew yourself some coffee, get out those sugar cookie cutters, and stick the album, or this song, on repeat.
“Mary, Did You Know,” Pentatonix
Yeah, yeah, this is the one blowing up your Facebook newsfeed. But still, it’s a fresh take on a really moving, beautiful, and articulate song that really reminds us all the reason for the season. (“Mary did you know…this Child that you delivered, will soon deliver you?” Chills.) Their 2014 Christmas album “That’s Christmas To Me” is full of great a capella versions of Christmas hits.
“Mistletoe,” Justin Bieber
Say what you want about the Biebs, but this is a Christmas hit. His version of “The Christmas Song” with Usher is also a must-listen. The kid can sing!
“Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” ’N Sync
I first heard this song my (freshman?) year at college and I think the same thing about it now as I did then. It’s an upbeat, fun song full of the kind of harmony ’N Sync did so well. Plus hey, they didn’t worry about being politically correct; they just covered their bases by saying both greetings!
“It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” Michael Bublé
Okay, so Bublé is on here more than once, but this is just too good to not include. I could listen to him sing this song every day, any time during the month of December. It’s the perfect trifecta: peppy, nostalgic, yet somehow current.
Happy Listening! And here is your Spotify playlist link: “Xmas Old But Greats.”