Every holiday season, we are inundated with Christmas songs. Some radio stations will even play holiday songs exclusively from Thanksgiving until well after Christmas, so you’re bound to hear certain Christmas songs over and over again. There are lists that talk about Christmas songs you’re sure to hear, but what about the songs we like best, that are a little hipper, cooler, or funnier, that don’t get as much airplay or exposure? That’s what this list is for. Here are the top 10 Christmas songs that aren’t overplayed, at least not in this neck of the woods. More importantly, they are Christmas songs that don’t make us want to stuff cotton in our ears because they’re too cheesy or played too much. Keep in mind, they’re all classic Christmas songs in one way or the other. They’re played every Christmas. This is NOT a list of songs you’ve never heard anymore. This is merely a list of songs that DOES NOT include Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” or any version of “Jingle Bell Rock.”
10. Bing Crosby and David Bowie – “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth”
This unlikely pairing spawned one of the most interesting Christmas songs/specials in history. The mash-up, if that’s what you want to call it, was recorded for Bing Crosby’s Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas special. Bowie was trying to un-scare the public, and he knew his mom liked Bing Crosby, so that’s why he made the special. Bing was probably trying to appeal to younger audiences by bringing in a modern performer. You might hear this now and then on someone’s Christmas playlist, but it certainly doesn’t get the attention Bing’s most famous Christmas recording, “White Christmas,” does.
9. Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting – “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
And that’s not the last one for our list, but you can’t deny that of all the versions of this song (save the hard-to-find version by Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton) that this is the best. Better than the one with Dean Martin, and better than the one with the GLEE! cast. We loved it in Elf, but it was a tribute (of sorts) to this version, so we give it the credit. Truth be told, it wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas song, and it doesn’t mention the holiday in the lyrics, but it has appeared on many a Christmas compilation album. The song was first recorded in 1949 by a slew of different artists, including Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, and the Sammy Kaye orchestra.
8. The Peanuts – “Christmas Time is Here”
A Charlie Brown Christmas came out in 1965, and the world got a little brighter. As for the technical details to this song, the chorus was performed by San Rafael, CA’s St Paul’s Episcopal Church choir, and the music was written (of course) by Vince Guaraldi. A little-known fact: because of the smack talked about fake Christmas trees, after this movie came out, there was a sharp decline in artificial Christmas tree sales. The whole movie is full of classic Christmas music, but this song in particular can make one feel Christmassy even in the worst times.
7. Bing Crosby – “Mele Kalikimaka”
More Bing. I know. You think I’m totally Bing=biased. And with all that dirt that came out after his death, how could we give him so much attention. Sorry. He was a really great singer. And this song is so darn happy. Written by Robert Alex Anderson in 1949 (a good year for Christmas songs) but Bing and the Andrews Sisters were in the first group to record it in 1950. You might remember it from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, since you’ve probably already watched that and A Christmas Story a couple times already.
6. Elvis Presley – “Blue Christmas”
The original 1948 song, “Blue Christmas” was different from the version that Elvis recorded on Elvis’ Christmas Album in 1957. Elvis made it his own with the deletion of a verse and the replacement of just minor thirds and major thirds with septimal minor and neutral thirds, plus the soprano backing vocals. The recording was released as a single in 1964, and since then, many, many artists have covered it. Nobody, however, can top The King when it comes to this song, and many others.
5. Eartha Kitt – “Santa Baby”
Even though the Madonna version is very popular, we’re just a little partial to the original recording of “Santa Baby” featuring Eartha Kitt on vocals and Henri Rene and his orchestra. The song was written in 1953 and Kitt recorded it with RCA Victor records October of the same year. Covermeister Michael Buble did a version called “Santa Buddy” but let’s not talk about that. Whenever anybody wants to be Christmassy and sexy at the same time, they do this song.
4. Eagles – “Please Come Home For Christmas”
This song was originally released by blues man Charles Brown in 1960, but it’s the Eagles’ 1978 version that we know so well. I know, I know. Everybody loves the Jon Bon Jovi version, especially the video featuring Cindy Crawford, but it never even CHARTED (of course, it was for charity) in the U.S., while the Eagles version reached 18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1978. It’s a great song to dance to, dedicate to someone on Delilah, or play whilst you stand outside someone’s bedroom holding a boom box over your head ala Lloyd Dobler.
3. Joni Mitchell – “River”
OK, so this song is a pretty famous Joni Mitchell song, though some people heard it the first time when Robert Downey Jr. did or did not sing it on Ally McBeal. Was that him singing? We’d like to think so. Anywhoo, this song is about more than Christmas. It just happens to BE almost Christmas time in the song. It was released in June of 1971 and is one of Mitchell’s most loved songs off of one of her most loved albums, Blue.
2. John Lennon – “Happy X Mas (War Is Over)”
Written and released in 1971 by John Lennon, Yoko Ono as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, the track included the vocal talent of the Harlem Community Choir, and is one of those “message songs,” but somehow is uplifting and joyful anyway. Unlike that Geldof/Ure debacle in 1984. Maybe it’s because it was John Lennon. Lennon and Ono had billboards printed in eleven big cities that said “WAR IS OVER (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko.”
1. The Drifters – “White Christmas”
OK, so it’s a much-played Christmas song, but the Bing Crosby version gets played a lot more. This version, featured in Home Alone, is one of the happiest, best Christmas songs ever, despite its association with two Christmas movies – Home Alone and The Santa Clause. On its own, it is the best cover of the song, and to some, more enjoyable than the original.
Check out the TT10 Christmas Songs Playlist