I’ll be the first to admit that my taste in music is what might be called “eclectic”. A thorough look at the Pandora widget over there could tell anyone as much. That varied taste extends to winter holiday music, too. I enjoy traditional religious carols and such, but few of those even come close to being my favorites. I tend toward songs that are both secular and less than mainstream. From top to bottom, here are the Christmas season favorites that I’ll always jump to the head of my queue:
Tie, 1st place: Robert Earl Keen, “Merry Christmas From the Family”/ Mel Tormé, “The Christmas Song”
Despite what I said above, the top spot is shared by the offbeat and the classic. Keen’s paean to the redneck in us all exhibits both a sense of fun and has elements that anyone from the country can recognize. This is the ultimate, “We ain’t like them city folks” song, but it conveys that without being insulting to the subjects. Tormé, on the other hand, penned a song aimed directly at the secular Christmas market. Conveying traditional images of winter, home, love, and good cheer, it plucks right at my heartstrings. I love the sincerity of the song, the mellow delivery, and the pure joy of it. No song makes me relive good feelings like this one.
“Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano
A kitschy little novelty song, this one is just fun. There aren’t enough fun songs at Christmastime.
“Little Drummer Boy” as performed by Bing Crosby and David Bowie
While this is an excellent arrangement between two spectacular vocal artists, the reason I like this one has more to do with the story behind it. Bowie was invited to appear on Bing’s Christmas special, discovering during taping that he was supposed to just sort of stand there smiling while Bing sang “Little Drummer Boy”. That didn’t sit well with Bowie, who expected to sing. One clash of egos later, we have this beautiful arrangement from two diametrically opposed artists.
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” as performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Again, this song is just fun. Springsteen brings an exuberant flair to the table that’s rarely seen in holiday music, along with a rocking arrangement.
“I am Santa Claus” by Bob Rivers
A takeoff of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, this song helps bring the out the brutal of a holiday icon.
“Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms
This one lands on the list for nostalgia reasons. For some reason, this song just made me go nuts as a kid. I’d listen to it on loop for hours. All year ‘round. It must have driven my parents totally nuts. I still enjoy it. Just not that much.
“Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC
One of the first mainstream holiday rap songs, and one of the best, in my opinion. Kind of the urban cousin to the Robert Earl Keen song above.
There are other holiday songs that I like, such as the carol created when the Beach Boys cannibalized their own “Little Deuce Coupe” to make a song about Santa, but none of those rate enough to listen to over and over.