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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The 100 best Christmas songs of all time

16. Please Come Home for Christmas (1978) – Eagles

Originally by bluesman Charles Brown, The Eagles play it dead straight on a miserable country rocker that doesn’t hold out much hope for the big day: “If not for Christmas by New Year’s night,” negotiates Don Henley. 

15. White Christmas (1942) – Bing Crosby

A warm, cosy reminiscence of the ideal picture-box Christmas, with a languid melody, sweet strings, and the original crooner’s intimate, easy-going vocal. As Crosby walks us through the simple lyric of glistening treetops and rapt children, you can almost feel the fire crackling in the fireplace and see the snow drifts gathering. Irving Berlin actually wrote it by a hotel poolside on a blazingly hot day in Arizona, and was so struck he told his secretary, “I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written – hell, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!” The Guinness Book Of Records bears this out, with over 100 million sold (in all versions).

14. Winter Wonderland (1997) – Ray Charles

Ray Charles’s festive album, The Spirit of Christmas, is a funky affair (his take on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is lovely) but the highlight is his joyful version of the classic Winter Wonderful. When he sings the lines “When it snows, ain’t it thrilling / Though your nose gets a chilling / We’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way / Walking in a winter wonderland,” it is an object lesson in how to record a well-known song and drill every single note right through the middle. 

13. Blue Christmas (1957) – Elvis Presley

Elvis ’57 conjures up images of a rebellious, world-changing, sexy Memphis flash of rock ‘n’ roll lightning. His playful version of this country pop standard reminds us just how much lightness and joy there always was in that hiccupping vocal and bouncily rhythmic style. With The Jordanaires chirruping in the background, Presley makes Christmas alone sound anything but blue.

12. Cold White Christmas (2007) – Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Owen Ashworth’s bleak tableau is all about a hard first Christmas after leaving home, as a 22-year-old girl tries to hold herself together against drudgery, mouldy bed sheets and harsh cold. “Beer for breakfast,” Ashworth drawls, “Who’s gonna scold?” A sad but beautiful chance to reflect on how your youthful dreams didn’t come true quite the way you planned them. 

11. Christmas Wrapping (1981) – The Waitresses

1981 was the year the cool kids fell for rap and made up song titles with bad puns in them – such as Blondie’s Rapture and this track from Ohio posse The Waitresses. Regardless of the title, Christmas Wrapping is one of the most charming, insouciant festive songs ever, with a lively brass section and a nice – if implausible – story where a girl has her lonely holiday turned on its head when she bumps into the handsome guy she’s been chasing all year while out buying a jar of cranberries. So good it has survived numerous adverts and even a Spice Girls cover.

10. Gee Whiz (It’s Christmas) (1963) – Carla Thomas

Not to be confused with her swooning hit ballad Gee Whiz (Look at his Eyes), this 1963 number from Memphis soul queen Carla Thomas is a chiming r’n’b march with sweetly double-tracked vocals. It tells the familiar tale of reconnecting with an old lover at Christmas – when we feel most lonely. Happily, Thomas doesn’t mention any 4am texts sent after the office Christmas party.

9. Walking in the Air (2010) – The Maccabees

In 2010, indie five-piece The Maccabees recorded this cover version of Howard Blake’s 1982 song The Snowman. And it’s a festive treat: gauzy guitars, crashing drums and frontman Orlando Weeks’s tremulous falsetto come together to create an imaginative take on a Christmas classic, overflowing with sincerity and emotion.

8. I Want an Alien for Christmas (2004) – Fountains of Wayne

The New York alt-rock trio evoke the spirit of childlike Christmas wonder with this catchy track. When you’re a kid, anything’s possibly at Christmas, right? Still, it’s good to make things clear to the bushy-bearded fellow with the sleigh: “Please don’t bring me another bike!” they implore as four-chord pop-punk hustles along cheerfully behind them.

7. Stop the Cavalry (1980) – Jona Lewie

But for the tragic death of John Lennon in December 1980 – and two reissued songs of his dominating the top two chart positions that Christmas – this thoughtful number from Southampton balladeer Jona Lewie would be talked of in the same breath as festive favourites from Wham and The Pogues. The whimsical melodies, oompah beat and references to plodding about in the snow mask a spiky undertone to the song, which Lewie would later admit was meant as a protest about war. Yet as the track slinks into a festive new-wavey groove with rustling bells, parping brass and Lewie pining “wish I could be home for Christmas” in his dry mockney accent, it’s as warming as any other holiday staple. The unsung hero of Christmas classics; probably just the way Lewie – a man who’s only other hit was called You’ll Always Find Me In the Kitchen at Parties – would like it.

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