My brother sent me a link last night to the new album from a little-known pop band we both like from Texas. It’s entitled “Baby, It’s Cold War Outside” and – you guessed it – is a cheeky take on a Christmas album.
“Christmas albums always crack me up,” he typed – a statement I took to mean that a serious rock band taking the time to create a set of songs centered around one day of the year seems like a misappropriation of resources.
But it’s undeniable that the sounds of this particular season are intoxicating to many musicians and non-musicians alike.
When I start pulling the stockings out of storage and balancing the tree on its stand in the living room, the songs playing out of the Bluetooth speaker – regardless of the version – almost all have a nostalgic and personal power to immediately put me in the Yuletide mood.
It’s a testament to the power of melody that I often try to describe, but rarely find the words to use to explain. So instead of trying to distill or dispel the magic of holiday song, below I have tried my best just to bundle up a handful of my favorite songs and versions and create a personal playlist you can try if you are having trouble recognizing refrains that don’t make you want to say, “bah humbug!”
Here is my favorite holiday playlist:
Merry Christmas Baby – Otis Redding – There are lots of good versions of this song, but none compare to Otis. Every version before this one was slow, but Otis picked up the speed and showcased a horn section and an insane amount of jingle bells. The end result is what I think of as the ultimate “new school” (non-traditional) Christmas anthem. I can’t not smile when this one plays.
What Christmas Means to Me – Stevie Wonder – Released the same year as Otis’ version of MCB, this song makes a strong compliment with it’s own helpings of horns and over-produced jingle bells.
Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You – Billy Squier – There is a video of this song from the heyday of MTV that makes me want nothing in my stocking but Aquanet. It’s pure (dated) holiday magic.
Christmas All Over Again – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – I once asked a girl in a job interview to name the greatest American rock band of all time. She didn’t say Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers but we hired her anyway, so I will be playing this on repeat in the office this year in an effort to educate.
2000 Miles – The Pretenders – This song is a weird anomaly in that it is a) about the death of a band member and b) was released as a lead single even though it was marketed as a Christmas song. But 30+ years in, it still holds up with that haunting guitar line.
White Christmas – The Drifters – Yes. I am of the age that this version of this song will always be closely associated with Kevin McCallister. But I don’t think that is a bad thing.
A New York Christmas – Rob Thomas – Speaking of my age… Shut up. This song is great.