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.
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.
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.