Annual Request: Christmas Songs That Don't Suck

i-47b5d532d31a39d1693cff2aa09a5cf5-sm_xmas_tree_2010.jpgAs you can see from the picture at right, we've got our Christmas tree up, waiting to surprise SteelyKid when she comes home in a couple of hours. This also means it's getting toward the time when I switch over to the holiday music playlist on iTunes.

Christmas music is, of course, a problematic genre. I spent half an hour in a toy store the other day, looking for stuff for SteelyKid, and the entire time that I was there, the only song that played was "The Christmas Song." After six different versions of that, I was more than ready to roast somebody's chestnuts.

So, it's time for the annual request: recommend some Christmas songs that don't suck. To give you an idea of my definition of "don't suck," I'll put the four-and-five-star-rated songs from my good Christmas music playlist below the fold. I'm looking for more stuff in that general vein.

If you've got favorite Christmas songs that are similar to songs on the list below, leave them in the comments. The playlist we have now is about long enough to last for the drive to my parents' for Christmas, but we could always use more.

  • "Valley Winter SongFountains Of Wayne
  • "Fairytale Of New York," The Pogues
  • "only you can bring me cheer," alison krauss
  • "christmas comes but once a year," amos milburn w. charles brown
  • "yeah, i know, it's christmastime," andrew dost
  • "donna and blitzen," badly drawn boy
  • "in the bleak midwinter," the blind boys of alabama w. chrissie hynde & richard thompson
  • "I Won't Be Home for Christmas (Previously Unreleased)," Blink-182
  • "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch," Boris Karloff
  • "I'll Be Home for Christmas (Ohmega Watts Remix)," Charles Brown
  • "Merry Christmas Emily," Cracker
  • "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Darlene Love
  • "Christmas Song," Dave Matthews Band
  • "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Death Cab for Cutie
  • "Christmas Light," Deegan DeWitt & The Sparrows
  • "I Saw Three Ships," Don Dixon
  • "Christmas Is Going to the Dogs," Eels
  • "everything's gonna be cool this christmas," eels
  • "I Want An Alien For Christmas," Fountains Of Wayne
  • "The Man In The Santa Suit," Fountains Of Wayne
  • "Xmas," Jesse Malin
  • "Wintertime Blues," John Hiatt
  • "Father Christmas," The Kinks
  • "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Psapp's Lady Remix)," Les Brown And His Band Of Renown
  • "Just Like Christmas," Low
  • "merry christmas baby," otis redding
  • "2000 miles," the pretenders
  • "spotlight on christmas," rufus wainwright
  • "Wintersong," Sarah McLachlan
  • "All I Want," The Weepies
  • "Christmas Windows," Youth Group

(A few of these are not so much Christmas songs as general winter songs, and that's fine, too. The goals to keep in mind are "Seasonally appropriate," and "Not sucking." Keep those two things in mind, Piglet, and you'll do well.)

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I don't know your list well enough to know if I'm matching it in tone. I have the Otis Redding song on a Putamayo collection. I have two different Putamayo xmas collections.

I love The Christians and the Pagans, by Dar Williams. And Christmas with John Fahey (I have volume II), instrumental.

"Christmas in Heaven," by James Brown

Putamayo's New Orleans Christmas, the whole CD is great.

I personally like the Blenders and '3 Ships' by Jon Anderson (of Yes). I prefer the Blenders earlier stuff (before they started using instruments). When I got 3 Ships, it was the pre-MP3 era, and I had to special order it because it was only available in Japan. :-)

You have good taste in music.

The entire Bela Fleck "Jingle All The Way" CD.

I think I've recommended it before, but:
Joni Mitchell - River (
Perhaps it's too depressing to make it on the list.

Also, don't forget that Bob Dylan now has a Christmas album, although listening to more than one or two songs from it in a row is only for diehard fans. However, you could chuck "Must be Santa" on the list.

For what it's worth, if that's the "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from the '65 cartoon, it's not Karloff, it's Thurl Ravenscroft (who also did the voice of Tony the Tiger, and had one of the best basso profundo voices EVER!).

I never get tired of "Merry Christmas, Everyone" by Shakin' Stevens (despite his name). It is a fluffy piece of almost nothing, but it has an fun, infectious rhythm that I just can't resist.

'christmas rapping' by the waitresses
'white wine in the sun' by tim minchin...

For what it's worth, if that's the "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from the '65 cartoon, it's not Karloff, it's Thurl Ravenscroft (who also did the voice of Tony the Tiger, and had one of the best basso profundo voices EVER!).

I never get tired of "Merry Christmas, Everyone" by Shakin' Stevens (despite his name). It is a fluffy piece of almost nothing, but it has an fun, infectious rhythm that I just can't resist.

When the barrage gets too much to bear, I put on "Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire" by Bob Rivers

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

I heard Tim Minchin's "Drinking white wine in the sun" for the first time a few weeks ago, and it became my instant favourite.

"Homeless Wassail" by Broadside Electric
"I got a Cheese Log" by Trout Fishing in America (always makes me smile)
"O Holy Night Cha Cha Cha" by Brave Combo

I also like Weezer's collection of Christmas Carols and Annie Lennox's new Christmas album.

Darlin' - Over the Rhine
Goodbye Charles - Over the Rhine (if you liked the Peanuts Christmas Special)

Jingle Jangle - Hot Hot Heat

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen

We usually listen to The Santaland Diaries from David Sedaris' "Holidays on Ice" in the car. Might be a little dark for the kids, though! I like The Roches' version of Silver Bells from the "We Three Kings" album.

By Caudimordax (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

For what it's worth, if that's the "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from the '65 cartoon, it's not Karloff, it's Thurl Ravenscroft (who also did the voice of Tony the Tiger, and had one of the best basso profundo voices EVER!).

I know, I just keep forgetting to change it in iTunes. It was labelled as Karloff when I got it.

'christmas rapping' by the waitresses

I hate, Hate, HATE this song.

"Christmas" -- Blues Traveler
"Christmas Is Coming Soon" -- Blitzen Trapper
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" -- Jack Johnson
"Another Christmas Song" -- Stephen Colbert

So I have to ask, the two suggestions for "The Jethro Tull Christmas Album" last year didn't sway you? Did you even give it a try? How are you going to know if you don't even try it?

From Sweden I would nominate "Achtung Christmas", a spoof on Kraftwerk by the group "Tyskarna Från Lund". Very Kraftwerk-y, especially the video.
Also "Det Ãr Inte Snö Som Faller" (name of group forgotten).

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

Bruce Cockburn's "Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes" and "I Saw Three Ships" - heck, his whole 'Christmas' album is good.
Allison Crowe's version of Hallelujah

1. In the Bleak Midwinter. Kiri Te Kanawa.
2. Go Tell it on the Mountain. Mahalia Jackson.
3. Santa Baby. Pink Martini.

By Anne R. Gillespie (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

"Party for Santa Claus" -- Lord Nelson
(Hard to find, but there are some versions on youtube, if you want to decide if it is worth looking for)

"Come on! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance"
"Did I Make You Cry On Christmas? (Well, You Deserved It!)" --Sufjan Stevens
(There are a number of nice versions of classics on his "Songs for Christmas", but the originals are what you really want off it. If you like his other stuff, that is.)

"Santa Lost a Ho" --Christmas Jug Band
(Super goofy, but I can't resist...)

Also, I recommend looking for Andrew Cirzan's Christmas compilations. They play them and make them available to download at Sound Opinions. Last year's song list (no longer available to download) is here:

Anything off the Charlie Brown Christmas album. It's Vince Guaraldi, and if SteelyKid has seen the show, she'll probably recognize the songs. Then there's the Melissa Etheridge Christmas album from last year, A New Thought for Christmas. There are a couple classics on there, but you should hear the guitar on O Night Divine, which is her take on O Holy Night, but with different words. It's AMAZING.

I'm impressed by the homogeneity of the tree decoration placements. Well done. I take great pride in this skill myself, and cringe at poor setups.

It's an oldie but a goodie. "Oh Holy Night" my favorite Christmas carol and I'm saying this as an athiest.

By Susan Ferguson (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

We have a Chris Isaak "Christmas" album which serves as a decent compromise and a relief from the Wiggles' "Christmas Classics".

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

Christmas with Johnny Cash is great!

By Johnny Cash's Ghost (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

The Rebel Jesus by Jackson Browne. Elvis Costello sings it on the album "The Bells of Dublin" by the Chieftains, which is an excellent Xmas album. Every track is great. Also beautiful to listen to are Loreena McKennitt's Xmas albums "To Drive the Cold Winter Away," "A Midwinter Night's Dream" and the EP "A Winter Garden."

I'll second (or third, or whatever) the recommendation for Tim Minchin's "White Wine in the Sun." It's sweet but has enough tart to keep from being cloying (which I guess is sort of like a white wine, but I don't drink).

For something far more cynical, there's Tom Lehrer's "Christmas Carol". Not sure if you'd like it or not.

By J. J. Ramsey (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

Look for the cover of "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" by Rockapella .good solid fun.


"Chiron Beta Prime" - Jonathon Coulton (I mean, come on, a warm and fuzzy Christams song about humans enslaved by robots on a mining asteroid? You gotta love it.)

"O Holy Night" as performed on the "Christmas Show" episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (it's instrumental brass, and is the single best version I have ever heard, bar none):…

If the Target commercials haven't driven you nuts this year, you can download the music from them. I've enjoyed the Blackalicious, Bishop Allen and Natalie Hemby tracks, at least. And I've been digging The Long Blondes' "Christmas Is Cancelled," Saturday Is Good to Me's "This Time Every Year" and Julian Casablancas' "I Wish It Was Christmas Today."

(The last one is the stupid song that was on SNL for most of the Jimmy Fallon years. If it annoyed you then, you won't like this version any better, but it's surprisingly catchy.)

You could listen to SomaFM's Xmas in Frisko stream for a while. It's got some entertaining non-standards on it.

By Nathan Williams (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

The Santa song from British comedy "Spitting Image". "Santa Claus in On the Dole"

(background info: "Dole": unemployemnt benefit. "UB40" form you fill in to get unemployment benefit)

-The song is probably on YouTube somewhere.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 13 Dec 2010 #permalink

I'm taking the easy way out here, and ignoring whatever I could learn from your list and instead just listing my current favorite Christmas album:

"A Classical Guitar Christmas" by Charles Hammer.

Unaccompanied, instrumental acoustic guitar renditions of the mostly 19th century classic Christmas carols. I find it rather relaxing--it would fit in quite well, for example, in the post-opening-presents or post-huge-dinner daze.

Carla's Christimas Carols

Carla Bley - piano, celeste
Steve Swallow - bass, chimes
Partyka Brass Quintet: Tobias Weidinger: trumpet, flugelhorn (lead), glockenspiel; Axel Schlosser: trumpet, flugelhorn (soloist), chimes; Christine Chapman: horn; Adrian Mears: trombone; Ed Partyka: bass trombone, tuba

By Doc Jones (not verified) on 13 Dec 2010 #permalink

Loreena McKennitt's album "To Drive The Cold Winter Away." The whole thing. The non-Christmasy song "Snow" is especially beautiful.

"Song for a Winter's Night" by Gordon Lightfoot. Simple yet elegant.

By Brian McCullogh (not verified) on 14 Dec 2010 #permalink

Maybe others don't enjoy it, but I don't care. Maybe I just get a bit sentimental for the song thinking of the time I've spent away from home over the years.

I'll be home for Christmas (If only in my dreams) - Bing Crosby

You don't have to have a loved one in the military, we all have people we can't be near that we long for.

Elvis Costello wrote and performed with the Chieftains a song entitled "The St. Steven's day murders". Its about killing one's relatives on 26 december. Rings very true for the season.

By Dr. Decay (not verified) on 14 Dec 2010 #permalink

How about Greg Lake's "I believe in Father Christmas" (with instrumentals courtesy of Sergei Prokofiev, my favorite part)

A couple more:

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Holly Cole and Ed Robertson (of the Barenaked Ladies). If you aren't a fan of the song, then don't bother, but if you don't mind it, this is a good version of it. Ed does a good job of capturing the male character's longing.

"The First Noel" by the Crash Test Dummies (from the anthology album A Lump of Coal - there's another version on their Jingle All the Way album that's not as good). The harmonies and layers are fabulous, as is Ellen's rich voice as the lead singer on two of the verses.

Pomplamoose has done a Christmas EP that they are releasing as thank you to those who contribute to the Richmond Book Drive: .

Their version of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is totally worth it.