Christmas is almost here, and it’s good to be prepared for the upcoming holidays. While decorations and gifts are one of the first things that come to mind when preparing, nothing is better at setting a fun and festive mood than holiday-themed music.
A Christmas song will try to find the perfect balance between nostalgia and timelessness while at the same time trying to tap into that memory of a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Xmas songs have been around for thousands of years and have developed together with the evolution of music. Musicians from all over the world have come up with unique versions while honoring the holiday season in different music genres.
Below are 5 of my best Xmas singles of all time that I think you should be playing during the holiday season.
5. Santa Claus is coming to town by Bruce Springsteen
Santa Claus is coming to town is a classic tune that was first recorded live during the tail-end of a set performed in front of over 3000 people on December 12, 1975, at CW Post College in Long Island. This was four months after his hit song, Born to run.
Even during that time, Springsteen was already recognized as a legendary performer, and his improvisation is what makes his version of Santa Claus memorable.
The song’s arrangement is loosely based on the Crystals’ take from LP, and it stimulates the holiday well as it comes complete with sleigh bells and glockenspiel sounds in the background.
4. What Christmas means to me by Stevie Wonder
What Christmas means to me is Stevie Wonder’s signature Xmas song. His primary goal was to define the Xmas spirit itself in the song. He sets a quiet scene in the song as carolers trudge door-to-door through the snow and with a fluorescent glow of ornaments strung together.
He wrote the song along with Anna Gordy Gaye, Goerge Gordy, and Allen Story. It was released on Stevie Wonder’s holiday album titled Someday at Christmas.
Wonder portrays all the wonderful feelings we appreciate during the holiday season in unflattering joy, and it’s no surprise that the song is played in almost every household during the holiday season.
3. All I want for Christmas is you by Mariah Carey
There are very famous artists from the 1990’s who could come up with a new Xmas standard. Creating covers and holiday classics is easy for a skilled musician, but to make something that is capable of lasting generations requires a long of personality.
Mariah wrote the song with her longtime collaborator Walter Afanasieff which was mainly for her first holiday season album titled ‘Merry Christmas.’ The song puts Carey’s voice at the front and center while using a pure 90’s pop R&B style.
However, it’s the song’s wink towards Motown and the backup singers in a Ronettes style that makes it memorable and even helped it become one of the best-selling singles of all times in all genres.
2. Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley
Blue Christmas was a song that was first recorded in 1948 by Doye O’Dell as a country song when Presley himself was only 13 years old. However, Elvis went on to claim the song for good in his 1957 LP titled ‘Elvis Xmas Album.’
He was the first singer to make Blue Christmas into a blues jam as he leaned into simple changes and let his back singers work as a choir, wailing away in the chorus.
There is a swing to the song’s rhythm which is complemented further by how Presley himself plays around with the melody. While O’Dell sang it as a sacred song, Presley pours himself into his feelings of sadness while at the same time delivering something that is timeless.
1. Have yourself a merry little Christmas by Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra recorded this song three times in 15 years. The first recording appeared on his 1948 album titled ‘Christmas Songs by Frank Sinatra’ where he covered Judy Garland’s amended version of the 1944 film ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’. The actress found some of the original lyrics to be too unnatural and so composer Hugh Martin changed some words to make it suitable for the holidays.
The second recording took place in 1957 where Sinatra himself requested a few lines changed. The third and final version was polished and perfected from the first two recordings and first aired in the 1963 film, ‘The Victors’.
‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ is a timeless holiday classic thanks to Sinatra’s gentle and sentimental approach to the ever-renewing appreciation for family and home.