Let's get to it:
- Stevie Wonder - What Christmas Means To Me
From the first crack of the snare, to the bouncing bass line, to the jingling sleigh bells, you know you're in for a good time with this song right off the bat. Stevie didn't write it, but he makes this frequently covered song his own, and even the harmonica outro doesn't ruin it.
- Los Campesinos - A Doe To A Deer
"I came two weeks before Christ" is a greatly weird opening line. They drop some references to other Christmas songs and paraphernalia in the first verse before moving on to a nice power pop chorus tinged with sadness. The combination of anticipation and sorrow makes this feel like a classic holiday song to me, even when sung through Gareth Paisey's thick Welsh sneer.
- Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox - We Three Kings / O Come All Ye Faithful (feat. Von Smith)
I was 100% sure that Von Smith was a woman until I watched the video for this song. Apparently I was mistaken. As usual, Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox does a killer job nailing down a solid music bed in service of a fantastic vocal performance. If you don't know these guys, check out some of their covers, including Radiohead's Creep, which isn't on the list in the first link.
- Laurie Cameron - Merry Christmas from Scotland (Lulled With a Stiff Drink)
This song feels like a hot toddy on a cold winter's night. The glockenspiel, the soft instrumentation, and Laurie Cameron's beautiful voice (complete with Scottish accent) combine to form something truly lovely. Plus, it's about drinking, and what could be more Christmas than that?
- Michael Christmas - Pleasant Winter
Yes, that's his real name (or at least his real stage name) - he didn't make it up just for this song. His voice is a bit harsh at first, but that background is so mellow that this song grows on me every time I listen to it. The simple yearning for closeness during the holidays is universal enough that it works in any genre. (From what I've heard of it so far, his album "What a Weird Day" is definitely worth a listen as well.)
- YACHT - Christmas Alone
The masters of computer rock deliver a catchy, silly, nonchalant paean to spending Christmas on the west coast, where there's no snow and "there's nobody at the mall." This song is light and fluffy as a snowflake, but manages to get stuck in my head for hours at a time.
- The Crystalairs - Silent Night
Perhaps Germany's best-known doo wop quartet, The Crystalairs absolutely nail the 50s sound they clearly love so much. This half-German, half-English, half-Spanish version of Silent Night shows off their tight vocal arrangements and warm vocal tone. For me, it's the aural equivalent of sitting next to a burning Yule Log.
- Prince - Another Lonely Christmas
I am not really a Prince fan, but with lyrics like "Remember the time we swam naked/In your father's pool?/Boy, he was upset that night/But boy, was that ever cool" how could I not like this kind-of-about-Christmas tune from The Purple One? Sure he talks most of it, but the choruses are strong and it's a great addition to the list of Christmas songs that are really about sex. Also Prince apparently digs banana daiquiris, so maybe I'm all wrong about him.
- Pearl Bailey & Hot Lips Page - Baby It's Cold Outside
I do not believe this song is about date rape. You can read a lot of articles on the subject if you wish, but I think if you read the lyrics in the context of their time and learn a little more about the history of the song, it's not nearly as creepy as it sounds. Especially in this performance from 1949, where the great Pearl Bailey more than holds her own - putting up a verbal front for appearances' sake, all while pursuing what she really wants, even talking herself into staying by the end.
- The Living Sisters - Neon Chinese Christmas Eve
An all-female vocal group in the tradition of the Andrews Sisters (and contemporaries The Puppini Sisters and Good Lovelies), The Living Sisters deliver a warm treat here about the joys of Chinese food on Christmas Eve. What more could a nice atheist-but-culturally-Jewish-and-in-love-with-Christmas-music boy like me ask for?
- Page One, Theory Hazit, MG! the Visionary and DJ Because - We Three Kings
If I'm being honest, most Christmas hip hop sucks, with some notable exceptions. This tasty treat from Illect Recordings manages to be Christmas-y and still deliver a solid track at the same time, a rare feat from the genre that gave us Eazy-E's Merry Muthafuckin' Xmas (which is actually kind of great in its own terrible way).
- Kenny Vance & The Planotones - Doo Wop Christmas
Simple, pretty, full of doo wop. Just like Mom used to make.
- Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - White Christmas
Sharon Jones's holiday album is mostly so good (and it includes a real powerhouse of a track featured on 2012's playlist) that it's even possible to overlook her truly lame attempt at writing a Chanukah song. Also this song has a great beat.
- Dodie Stevens - Merry Merry Christmas Baby
A great Christmas torch song, full of heart, sorrow, and saxophone. Short but not sweet, like a heartbroken elf.
- The Legendary Tiger Man - Fuck Christmas, I Got The Blues
The title of this track from Portugal's own Legendary Tiger Man basically says it all. Who among us hasn't felt this way at one December or another?
- Jordan Hirsch & Sapient - Old St. Nick
This is by me and my online friend Sapient (AKA Amsterdam's own Peter Watkinson). This song was originally created as part of FAWM 2015. I had reached out to Sapient about doing some sort of dark, metal, nasty song about Santa Claus. Sapient came back with an amazing backing track, which inspired me to write the lyrics. I then sang the vocals and did the vocal production on top of his track. The result is pretty damn Christmas-y. Kind of.
- Phoenix (feat. Bill Murray, Paul Shaffer, Jason Schwartzman) - Alone on Christmas Day
One of the highlights of the Bill Murray Netflix holiday special, this cover of a never-quite-properly-recorded Beach Boys track improves a lot on the original (to be fair the only recording you can find is an outtake), even with Bill Murray's half-drunken interjections. Featuring Paul Shaffer on the keys and Jason Schwartzmann on drums. This might be my favorite Phoenix song.
- James Brown - Let's Make Christmas Mean Something
OK, there's not a lot to this song other than it's insanely catchy chorus, which I guarantee will play on a loop in your head long after you want it to. But it's still great. Every James Brown Christmas song is great. There, I said it.
- Hannah Peel - REBOX - I Believe In Father Christmas
This Irish musician put out a whole EP of music box versions of cover songs, and this one made the list. It's really pretty and also kind of disturbing at the same time, thanks to the ominous background noise that's always threatening to overwhelm her delicate voice.
- Quiet Company - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Austin's Quiet Company make melodic guitar-driven rock with a slight emo tinge, and the results are highly listenable. Their whole Christmas EP is worth a listen, particularly their cover of Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas is You.
- United States Navy Band - Joy to the World
Yes, that United States. Yes, that Navy. Don't let the slow start fool you, those cats in the Navy Band can pick a banjo as sure as they can [insert some Navy metaphor here - Ed.]. Also pedal steel guitar. And the backbeat, held down with [ahem] military precision.
- The Dukes of Dixieland - Frosty The Snowman
A good old-fashioned Dixieland cover of Frosty, from people who have likely never seen actual snow. From Columbia's excellent "Jingle Bell Jazz" compilation.
- Glenn Miller Orchestra - We Wish You A Merry Christmas
A perfect note to end on, if I do say so myself. Both of Glenn Miller's Christmas albums are divine - every track feels like a classic to me, as well as a time machine to a simpler time when all our enemies lived overseas and it wasn't yet abundantly clear that America is just as often the bad guy. And on that happy note...