There's still plenty of the holiday season left to brave, but by now you may already be tiring of corporate radio's nonstop holiday music. There's only so many sleigh bells and treacly Sarah McLachlan ballads one can stand before wanting to drive off a very merry cliff.
It's not an easy task to fill all that time with nonstop joy and cheer, so we can't blame them for having to dig deep in Santa's sack of tunes. If you're just looking for the perfect soundtrack for your holiday party or some background music while you deck the halls, here are some suggested albums and a guide to putting together just the right mix.
Some songs are quintessential wintertime favorites. They're heartwarming, timeless and have the power to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia. These are the songs that are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and are great for when you're entertaining a mixed crowd.
If you just want to grab one album, make it "A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector." The classic '60s pop record boasts standards such as Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and "Marshmallow World," as well as The Ronettes' "Sleigh Ride." It's a joy from start to finish and wins over older and younger listeners with its retro charm.
The trick to putting together your own collection of classic holiday tracks is to think a little outside the box. Not every song needs to have aged 40 years to qualify. Hits like Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" and "Christmas in Hollis" by Run-DMC can appear beside Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas." The key is making a mix that appeals to a wide variety of folks.
Word of warning: While we maintain the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" is a classic, it is not for the faint of heart.
- Bing Crosby: White Christmas
- John Lennon: "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"
- Elvis Presley: "Blue Christmas"
- Mariah Carey: "All I Want for Christmas Is You"
- Paul McCartney: "Wonderful Christmastime"
- Whitney Houston: "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
- Run-DMC: "Christmas in Hollis"
- The Chipmunks: "Christmas Don't Be Late"
- Vince Guaraldi Trio: "Christmastime Is Here"
- Adam Sandler: "The Chanukah Song"
- The Waitresses: "Christmas Wrapping"
- The Pogues: "Fairytale of New York"
Sometimes you just need something easy (and a little brainless) while you bake some cookies. Or maybe you've been hitting the eggnog a little hard with some pals and are looking for a laugh. Either way, there are times when your holiday season needs a hefty helping of camp.
You could keep it simple and just pick up "A Very Special Christmas Vol. 1." The original collection of holiday hits reinterpreted by contemporary chart-toppers is the best. The 1987 album (complete with Keith Haring album art) features a totally over-the-top rendition of "Santa Baby" by Madonna, Bruce Springsteen's signature version of "Merry Christmas Baby" and the Pointer Sisters' manic "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."
For a mix that's not so '80s heavy, there are plenty of quasi-embarrassing, giggle-inducing holiday tracks to choose from. For instance, whoever thought that French-Canadian Celine Dion needed to do a version of "Feliz Navidad"? Also, you can never go wrong with any version of Wham!'s "Last Christmas," so we've included two. Additionally, we're particularly fond of Bette Midler's" "holiday" treatment of "From a Distance," mostly for the Divine Miss M's ability to rehash the hit: this time with more pan flute.
- Dolly Parton: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
- Bette Midler: "From a Distance" (Christmas version)
- Wham! "Last Christmas"
- Glee cast: "Last Christmas"
- Eartha Kitt: "Santa Baby"
- Kristin Chenoweth: "Sleigh Ride/Marshmallow World"
- Destiny's Child: "8 Days of Christmas"
- Celine Dion: "Feliz Navidad"
- 'N SYNC: "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays'
- Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton: "Baby, It's Cold Outside"
- Bill Nighy: "Christmas Is All Around"
- Stephen Colbert: "Another Christmas Song"
Perhaps the best thing about holiday music is the way the songs can be transformed by different artists. This year, you can boost your indie cred with a Pitchfork-pleasing selection of winter jams.
Sufjan Stevens' five-disc collection "Songs for Christmas" is a simple way to impress musi-snob friends this December. It's a mix of classics and originals, all put through Stevens' sensitive, indie-folk lens. The result is a warm, twangy way to ring in the holidays.
Finding deeper cuts for your own indie mix might be a bit challenging, but the rewards are worth the search. For instance, Beth Ditto's slinky love song "Every Day Is Christmas With You" has a subtle groove you'll be hard-pressed to find on any other jingle bell rock song. Belle & Sebastian's cover of The Sonic's "Santa Claus" from a Radio 1 Peel Session is a jewel of a find. (As is every track from that session, if you can find them.) "All I Want for Christmas" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is even more rare, but it showcases just enough of the group's combination of art-rock weirdness and tenderness. (You can find it streaming on their MySpace page.)
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "All I Want For Christmas"
- Eisley: "The Winter Song"
- Death Cab for Cutie: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"
- The Killers: "A Great Big Sled"
- Belle & Sebastian: "Santa Claus"
- The Ramones: "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)"
- matt pond PA: "Snow Day"
- Stars: "Fairytale of New York"
- Beth Ditto: "Every Day Is Christmas With You"
- Feist: "Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming"
- The Kinks: "Father Christmas"
- The Boy Least Likely To: "The First Snowflake"