Whether you’re a carol purist, a fan of quirky holiday cheer, or someone who opts for Mariah Carey on repeat from the moment December 1st hits, there’s a Christmas song for everyone.
From Bing Crosby to Justin Bieber, here are the stories behind the classics, the modern bangers, and the just plain ridiculous.
The songs you’ll hear humming from the overhead speakers of the David Jones gift wrapping section that you can guarantee Michael Buble has covered, no December playlist is complete without these warm and fuzzy jams.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, 1944
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and introduced by Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis.
Some of the original lyrics that were penned by Martin were rejected before filming began as Garland, her co-star Tom Drake and director Vincente Minnelli thought it was too “depressing”. Parts of the song were eventually rewritten, and Garland’s version became popular among United States troops serving in World War II.
“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, 1948
The song was actually written in July 1945, on one of the hottest days on record in LA. It was performed Frank Sinatra and released in time for Christmas, reaching number one on the Billboard Best Sellers chart by late January
Of course, it’s since been covered many times by many different artists – including Michael Buble.
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, 1963
It was first recorded and released by pop singer Andy Williams in 1963 for his first Christmas album, The Andy Williams Christmas Album.
Harry Connick Jr.’s version went on to land No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart in 2008.
“White Christmas”, 1942
A masterclass in festive elegance, they simply don’t make them like this anymore.
Bing Crosby released the ode to a snow-covered holiday in 1941, first broadcast on Christmas Eve 1941, weeks after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, “White Christmas” is not only the best-selling Christmas/holiday single in the United States, but also the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide.
“Winter Wonderland”, 1934
Few do it as well as the First Lady of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. Her swinging 1960s take on the holiday classic “Winter Wonderland”, written in 1934, is a necessary addition for every holiday dinner’s playlist.
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, 1943
Written by lyricist Kim Gannon and composer Walter Kent, the lyrics of this heartbreaking song are actually from the perspective of a World War II soldier writing a letter home. “I’ll be home for Christmas … if only in my dreams,” Bing Crosby croons in the 1943 version.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” by Gene Autry
Just about everyone has covered the classic school recital favourite — even rapper DMX. It’s based on the 1939 story of the same name, with the 1949 version by Gene Autry hitting No. 1 on the US charts. The 1968 version by The Temptations is also a winner. See also The Jackson 5 and Destiny’s Child.
“The Christmas Song”, 1945
Similarly to “Let It Snow!” Mel Tormé and lyricist Bob Wells wrote “The Christmas Song” in an attempt to get their mind off the blistering heat Los Angeles was experiencing in July of 1945. Nat King Cole’s 1961 version has long been a favourite of many.
“Do You Hear What I Hear” by Whitney Houston
Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker reportedly wrote “Do You Hear What I Hear” in 1962, around the time of the Cuban missile crisis in response to the existential dread they felt because of the Cold War.
“Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie
It doesn’t get more iconic than two of music’s biggest legends uniting for an unlikely duet. Reportedly Bowie first rejected Bing’s invitation to sing “Little Drummer Boy” with him, but they later came to a compromise and merged the two classics.
A month after their heartwarming duet, Crosby died of a heart attack.
The sickly-sweet, cavity-inducing candy canes of Christmas music, these are the ear worms you’ll be humming through to February. And if you’re anything like us, you won’t be complaining.
“All I Want for Christmas Is You”, Mariah Carey, 1994
The indisputable megahit that we will all inevitably belt out drunkenly at some point this December, Mariah Carey’s soaring 90s spectacular is no less than iconic.
And it’s proved staggeringly lucrative for the self-confessed Queen of Christmas.
According to Business Insider, by the time Christmas had come around last year, All I Want for Christmas Is You had grossed Mariah a whopping $88 million since its first release.
That’s a lot of Christmas trees.
Surprisingly, it didn’t win enough hearts to land the number one spot the year it came out. She was pipped to the post by East 17’s Stay Another Day.
But in the years since, it’s gone on to break records.
Last year, it broke Spotify’s global single-day streaming record on December 24, surpassing 10.8 million streams.
And a little fun fact about the song: it was written in 15 minutes.
When Mariah and songwriter Walter Afanasieff got together in 1994 to come up with material for the album “Merry Christmas,” they carved out the chords, structure and melody for the track in just a quarter of an hour.
That’s $88 million for 15 minutes of work.
“Feliz Navidad”, José Feliciano, 1970
Written in 1970 by the Puerto Rican singer and songwriter José Feliciano, who was born blind, this song is a classic for its simplicity. Try and go through December without getting it stuck in your head at least once, just try.
The song has been covered by artists including; Boney M, Michael Bublé, Glee Cast, Luciano Pavarotti, Celine Dion, and David Hasselhoff.
Feliz Navidad means Merry Christmas in Spanish, by the way.
“Last Christmas”, Wham, 1984
This song is so beloved it even had a film made based on the lyrics this year starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Goulding.
While the film was widely panned, it hasn’t made the song any less iconic.
On its release, it reached No. 1 in Denmark, Slovenia and Sweden and No. 2 in eight countries. Wham! donated all of their royalties to the Ethiopian famine at the time.
These days, it wouldn’t feel like Christmas without blasting it at least 200 times.
“Underneath the Tree”, Kelly Clarkson, 2013
Clarkson’s twinkly, soaring-vocal offering definitely feels like an attempt at a new “All I Want for Christmas Is You”.
It’s become a favourite over the years, and lands itself a spot on the playlist to end all playlists.
The American Idol winner was at the centre of a Christmas controversy earlier this year when she and John Legend rewrote the dated lyrics to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, which has been called “an ode to date rape”, with Dean Martin’s daughter Deana Martin slamming their attempt.
“I think what (Legend) has done is, he’s stealing the thunder from Frank Loesser’s song and from my dad,” Martin said.
Sharon Osbourne also called the new lyrics “ridiculous”.
“I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday”, Wizzard, 1973
This song is a slice of 70s pop heaven.
The UK glam rockers’ biggest hit went on to feature in 2014 Black Mirror episode “White Christmas”, giving a much creepier edge.
“Little Saint Nick”, The Beach Boys, 1964
It sounds just like every other Beach Boys song ever, only slightly twinklier, which of course makes it a valuable addition.
“Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”, *NSYNC, 1998
From JT’s two-minute noodle hair to Gary Colman’s cameo, this track is worth a mention for the film clip alone. Feast your eyes:
“Mistletoe”, Justin Bieber, 2011
This hit from baby-faced Bieber’s album Under the Mistleto e deserves a play at every holiday party. Like everything Bieber touches, it’s undeniably catchy.
“8 Days of Christmas”, Destiny’s Child, 1999
With lyrics such as “On the sixth day of Christmas my baby gave to me, a cropped jacket with dirty denim jeans,” this is 90s RnB at its finest.
It was the title track of the group’s Christmas album, released two years later in 2001.
“Santa Tell Me”, Ariana Grande, 2013
A fair crack at reaching Mariah Carey-status of gutsy Christmas pop, Ariana’s 2013 festive effort is by all definitions a banger.
The upbeat Chrissy tracks of yesteryear you lapped up as an excitable kid in festive PJs. Here are the best guitar-driven additions to your holiday playlist.
“Run Rudolph Run” Chuck Berry, 1958
Recorded at the height of his career, Chuck Berry’s frenzied ode to everyone’s favourite reindeer didn’t quite break the top fifty when it was first released, but has become a holiday favourite and spawned plenty of covers.
“Jingle Bell Rock”, Bobby Helms, 1957
Released in 1957, this rockabilly tune sung by Bobby Helms topped the Christmas charts five years in a row.
“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”, Bruce Springsteen, 1978
There are versions of this song by everyone from Bieber to Bublé.
But The Jackson Five and Bruce Springsteen renditions stand as the most popular.
“Do They Know it’s Christmas”, Band Aid, 1984
Controversy surrounded the late 1980s push of Band Aid and Live Aid to raise funds and awareness for various charity efforts in Ethiopia, starting with the song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” in 1984.
A take-down of the song in The Washington Post after its re-release in 2014 to raise awareness for ebola, calling it out for its white saviourism.
Other articles highlight ‘demeaning’ lines like: “There’s a world outside your window / And it’s a world of dread and fear / Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears” and “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.”
WEIRD, WACKY AND WONDERFUL
Here we have the tunes that celebrate the dark and delightfully bizarre side of Christmas.
Whether it’s wild rockstars waxing about the inevitable family argument, to oddly heavy rap verses that paint a picture of a Christmas far from your summery family lunch. If you haven’t heard these Christmas tunes before, do yourself a favour and check them out now.
“Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)”, The Darkness, 2007
This surprise Number 2 hit by the flamboyant UK glam rock outfit has stood the test of time.
Complete with sleigh bells, singing children and puns that could make Santa Claus blush, it’s a cheeky track for the ages.
“Merry Something to You”, Devo, 2009
A song written for inclusivity during the holidays, this song pretty much involves Devo wishing you a nonchalant merry something over and over and over again. It’s simple, fun and a little strange.
“Believe what you want to, nothing’s really true,” sings Gerald Casale.
Perhaps not one for the kids who still believe in Father Christmas.
“A Christmas Duel”, The Hives & Cyndi Lauper, 2008
Another nod to the inappropriate, nothing quite beats Cyndi Lauper screeching about sleeping with her partner’s entire family, from his brother to his mother, meaning she forgot to buy a Christmas tree. Suffice to say, this one’s for grown-up ears only.
“Christmas In Harlem” – Kanye West featuring Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Vado, Cyhi Da Prynce & Pusha T, 2010
This track serves up just about everything you’d expect from pre-Kim Kanye, who raps about “unwrapping” (ahem, removing the knickers from) his Christmas present. All up it’s a pretty slick track if you’re up for throwing in a hip hop homage to the holidays.
“Christmas In Hollis”, RUN DMC, 1987
While you’re at it why not add a little wholesome rap to the mix?
Following the story of a man who finds Santa’s wallet in the park, it doesn’t get cheesier than this. Behold the oh-so 80s film clip below:
“Text Me Merry Christmas”, Straight No Chase featuring Kristen Bell, 2013
The fact that this song even exists makes us want to burst with glee.
It’s terribly cheesy, but also pretty adorable.
“Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)”, The Ramones, 1987
This festive anthem from the punk rock pioneers (it felt bizarre writing that), failed to even chart at the time it was released, but has since become a cult classic.
“Hey Sis, It’s Christmas”, RuPaul, 2018
Listening to this glittery masterpiece of a pop is like being slapped in the face by Christmas. Thank you, RuPaul.
“Christmas Unicorn”, Sufjan Stevens, 2012
Yes, it’s as obscure and indie as it sounds. It’s also 12 minutes long, and morphs into Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at the end, because of course it does.
Because we clearly don’t have enough to choose from already, here are a few 2019 jams to keep your playlist fresher than a dip in the ocean on Boxing Day.
“Like It’s Christmas”, Jonas Brothers
“Just Ain’t Christmas”, Ne-Yo
“Make It To Christmas”, Alessia Cara
“Christmas Tree Farm”, Taylor Swift
Have we missed one of your favourites? Let us know in the comments below.
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