Ultimate Christmas music guide: 50 of the best songs to get you into the holiday spirit

Some of us prefer our Christmas music on the pensive side, with wistful lyrics about dusky snowfalls and memories. It’s not joy being sought, but permission to wallow in melancholy.

Others relish the frisky sounds of sleigh bells and triumphant cascades of horns that embellish so many holiday classics. The season doesn’t go into effect until they’ve literally rocked around the Christmas tree.

There just might be a Christmas song for all tastes – jolly to melancholy – so corralling them into one list is not only futile, but impossible.

Still, we try.

Our ultimate Christmas guide touches on classic and current artists with rock, country, R&B and straight-up pop thrown in. Maybe you’ll find something to add to your holiday cheer … or prompt a tear.

1. ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,’ Judy Garland

Songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane have said the first version they wrote for Garland’s film “Meet Me In St. Louis” was so sad, she wouldn’t sing it. Good to know that this is the happy version.

2. ‘All I Want for Christmas is You,’ Mariah Carey

It sounded like a classic upon its arrival, and it’s still the most delightful inductee in the hall of modern Christmas songs.

Ultimate Christmas music guide: 50 of the best songs to get you into the holiday spirit

3. ‘Last Christmas,’ Wham!

George Michael’s melancholy lyrics as he laments a fizzled romance might initially seem like a downer. But instead, the combination of a satiny melody and his eventual hopefulness keeps us cheering.

4. ‘Tennessee Christmas,’ Amy Grant

The lead track from Grant’s 1983 “A Christmas Album” is not only a musical warm embrace but a beautiful ballad steeped in nostalgia.

5. ‘Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,’ David Bowie and Bing Crosby

Not the most obvious pairing on paper, but the respect between the glam rocker and the standards crooner is palpable and the magic between them is undeniable.

Ultimate Christmas music guide: 50 of the best songs to get you into the holiday spirit

6. ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),’ Darlene Love

We still miss the nearly three-decade tradition of Love belting out this classic on David Letterman’s late-night show.

7. ‘The Christmas Song,’ Nat King Cole

Perhaps the song is a tad overplayed, but the holiday season doesn’t officially arrive until we hear Cole’s pure, dreamy baritone.

That soaring voice and that impeccable delivery that always sounded effortless equate to a worthy keepsake of Houston’s potency.

10. ‘Wonderful Christmastime,’ Paul McCartney

Filled with a sprightly chorus and a typically melodic bass line, this solo hit recorded during McCartney’s sessions for his “McCartney II” album exemplifies his own consistent cheer.

11. ‘Celebrate Me Home,’ Kenny Loggins

A song for any season, really, with its sentiment of longing to be somewhere familiar.

12. ‘Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,’ Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band

This sinewy rock version was recorded by the band in 1975 at a show in New York and remains a live favorite.

16. ‘Santa Baby,’ Eartha Kitt

Considered controversial in 1953. Let that sink in.

17. ‘Happy X-mas (War is Over),’ John Lennon and Yoko Ono and The Plastic Ono Band

An anti-war song that is devoid of typical holiday sentimentality, the swooping anthem has nonetheless become an annual necessity.

18. ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas,’ Band Aid

Oft-maligned now, but there can be no denying the incredible feat Bob Geldof executed to corral some of the U.K.’s finest – from Bono to Bowie, Duran Duran to George Michael – all in the name of charity.

19. ‘Silent Night,’ Kelly Clarkson, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood

Though usually best appreciated in hushed versions, the glorious vocalizing of this trio captivates.

The endearing folkie’s vocal quirks are appealing enough, but add in the contributions of Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and Kermit and resistance is futile.

24. ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ Gene Autry

A singalong directed at children, yet who among us hasn’t gotten swept up in that chorus?

25. ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’ Josh Groban

Written as a tribute to soldiers overseas who yearn to be with their families at Christmas, the original by Bing Crosby is the standard-bearer. But Groban admirably communicates the song’s deep poignancy.

26. ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,’ Brenda Lee

Recorded when Lee was only 13, the 1958 staple is still a regular on the Billboard charts and peaked at No. 2 in 2020.

34. ‘Merry Xmas Everybody,’ Slade

Released at the peak of the British glam rockers’ popularity in 1973, the bouncy guitar rocker showcases the quartet in their shambolic glory.

35. ‘Christmas Time is Here,’ Vince Guaraldi Trio

Forever associated with “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the instrumental composition by jazz pianist Guaraldi also produced a lyric version.

36. ‘Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,’ NSYNC