Christmas is the only holiday with such a large range of music that's integral to its festivities. Every culture, ethnicity, nationality and household that celebrates Christmas has a set of songs that are sometimes more important to them than a Christmas tree or gift. Christmas songs are what illuminate the tree, add flavor to the bitterest fruitcake, and make it easier to shake that rival cousin's hand.
With that said, any man or woman must be mad to ever attempt to compile a list of the best Christmas songs without a special helmet to shield oneself from a shoe tossing avalanche. Everyone has their own idea of what songs should be played and when.
But I was bold enough to try! Quite honestly, my personal playlist would be exclusively Mowtown. But in an attempt to reach every corner, I've created and explained what I believe to be the best cross-representative Christmas song list to date:
10. "Must be Santa," Mitch Miller
Is there any former kindergartner who hasn't sung this song at least 25 times? "Must be Santa" is one of those call and response songs that make an old man feel like a kid again (not that I should fully understand exactly how that feels). Written by Hal Moore and Bill Fredericks in 1960, this Christmas' hit is actually based off of a German drinking song. Discounting its origins, "Must be Santa" is simply too fun to sing for even the greatest scrooge to sit in silence.
9. "Jingle Bell Rock," Bobby Healms
You hear it in Macy's, you hear it at Starbucks, and you see it performed in the talent show scene of Mean Girls (please do not ask me how I know that ...). Indiana native Bobby Healm recorded Jingle Bell Rock in 1957, right when the American music scene was transitioning from its old country styled rock and roll sound to the rhythm & blues twang of the '60s rock and roll era ... a new sound that came to be known as Rockabilly. Healms' recording of Joseph Carleton Beal and James Ross Boothe's composition was so popular that it repeatedly hit the billboard chart every year that it was re-released during the weeks before Christmas.
8. "Baby it's Cold Outside," Dean Martin
Some say it's risque; some say it's a nostalgic look at old time romances; some even spend time and go the length of convincing themselves that it is misogynistic and emblematic of the man's inability to understand the word "no." Whatever you want to call it, it is too great to call it nothing. Frank Loesser and his wife Lynn Garland originally recorded the song in 1944 and would preform it toward the end of Christmas parties to signal that it was about time for people to head home. However, the Christmas classic transcended the holiday and began to be played year round. The most notable version that most Americans love and adore is by Dean Martin and a chorus of women as the voice of the indecisive and eventually persuaded protagonist of the Christmas hit.
7. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," Andy Williams
For most millennials, Andy Williams' Christmas' hit is commonly associated with a Staples'commercial that included a father dancing up and down their isles during the start of the school year. But before that, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" was merely an after thought for The Andy Williams Christmas Album, which instead made a push to promote his version of "White Christmas." However, destiny clearly indicates that Williams and writers Edward Pola and George Wyle's (who also wrote the theme to Gilligan's Island) Christmas classic made the greatest impression.
6. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," The Jackson 5
In July 1952, a 13-year-old Jimmy Boyd recorded the number 1 Billboard hit "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." The classic proved to be yet another tune that was declared too risque for the season of gingerbread cookies and yule logs. It wasn't long before the Roman Catholic Church of Boston condemned the song for its association with kissing and the Godly holiday. Although Boyd originated it, the Jackson 5 put an exclamation point on it with their 1970 best selling Christmas album, which claimed the Billboard's number one spot for four consecutive weeks. Now the Jackson 5 version continues to get played in spinning rotation on radio shows across the globe during the holiday times.
5. "Feliz Navidad," Jose Feliciano
It's every one's all time guilty pleasure. "Feliz Navidad" is just one of those most addictive songs that you keep telling yourself to skip to the next track or radio station, but cannot restrain from bopping your head or boastfully convincing yourself that your Espanol is improving. In 1970, Puerto Rican song writer and artist Jose Feliciano wrote and recorded one of the most downloaded and aired Christmas songs to date. Now the song can be heard during any New York City Christmas grocery shopping trip.
4. "Let it Snow!" Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra will always find himself on any type of music list. Sinatra's Christmas album could easily be on this list as one long hit song in-and-of-itself. But if we had to pick one serving from the legend's Christmas menu, his version of "Let it Snow" deserves the most accolade. In a common theme to most Christmas classics, "Let it Snow" was recorded during the hottest day of July by vocalist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne in 1945. With quite possibly the coolest swags in musical history, Sinatra owned the song in his 1950 version with The Swanson Quartet.
3. "White Christmas," The Drifters
Believe it or not, a Christmas song is the best selling record of all times. With over 50 million copies sold, dramatically overshadowing the second-placed Elton John's "Candle to the Wind 1997" by over 17 million copies, Bing Crosby and the great Irving Berlin's White Christmas is the best selling song in the world. However, the reason I placed the Drifter's version at number three is because of its greater familiarity with modern pop culture (or, in other words, because I was born in 1989). The Drifters' 1954 version of "White Christmas" has its signature on a handful of Christmas movie classics, including Home Alone, Mixed Nuts and the Santa Clause. Indeed, the Drifters' version is arguably more likely to be hummed and doo wopped by a Capella groups than any other Christmas' classic.
2. "Silent Night," The Temptations
Perhaps this selection proves my soulful bias for Christmas songs that get me rocking like an elderly black woman in a southern baptist church. Nothing touches the soul as much as a Temptation song, and their version of this Christmas caroling classic takes the cake. In 1968, the Temptations made a version of the all time Christmas hallmark that permeates plenty of American households (admittedly, every African American Household at the least) towards the end of Christmas night. For those who don't know, the original version was created in Austria on the Christmas Eve of 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber. Legend has it that the night he recorded the song was when the church organ was broken, so he decided to whip out the guitar and record a new Christmas tune.
1. "The Christmas Song," Nate King Cole
As soon as you hear the words "chestnuts roasting on an open fire," you can suddenly feel yourself teleported to a comfy chair in front of a fire place. Nate King Cole's "The Christmas Song" will forever be synonymous with the Christmas season for every American household. As most people may know, the song was written by a man born of Russian-Jewish descent. In 1944, Mel Torme wrote the Christmas Song with his friend in merely 45 minutes during a heat wave as a way to get their minds off of the heat and "keep cool." In 1946, Nate King Cole recorded the song on Broadway and 52nd St. at the WMCA studio in New York City. His version was eventually inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1974. From covers by James Brown, The Jackson 5, Christina Aguilara, Rod Stewart and New Kids on the Block, the Christmas song has become the single most remade Christmas tune of all times.
Notable Mentions: "This Christmas" Donny Hathaway; "Christmas Song" Alvin and The Chipmunks; "A Merry Little Christmas" Frank Sinatra; "One Little Christmas Tree" Stevie Wonder; "Christmas Ain't Christmas" the O' Jays; "Silver Bells" Bing Crosby