Brian J. is undoubtedly correct that the Charlie Brown Christmas album is the best. Because what are holidays without music so full of delicate, wistful

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The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

Brian J. is undoubtedly correct that the Charlie Brown Christmas album is the best. Because what are holidays without music so full of delicate, wistful magic that you're tempted to slit your wrists? There are some other contenders, though. I'd like to nominate the following albums and songs. Yeah, there are some obvious choices here, but tradition is about doing the obvious thing.

  • Sleigh Ride - The Ronettes


    The most insanely perky song ever, given the full, glorious Phil Spector treatment.

  • Barenaked for the Holidays - Barenaked Ladies

    Even when I despised BNL in the 90s when they made all that cutesy frat rock. their well-polished pop song craft could not be denied. And they're much more listenable now that they're old and depressed and still have that song craft fully intact. This Christmas album is actually sort of obnoxious and pushy, but in a cheerful way, like that one guest who's drunker than anyone else. It has their characteristic pristine production, so you can hear every snap of the snare and every crisply plucked string. (Irrelevant aside: Why do great song-writing bands like Dr. Dog so often pour low-fi gravy all over their recordings?)

  • Merry Christmas From the Family - Robert Earl Keen

    So funny you might cry. I never get tired of this song. Its perfection gives me goosebumps.

  • Christmas in Prison - John Prine

    It was Christmas in prison and the food was real good
    We had turkey and pistols carved out of wood

    (Couldn't find the original online. The above link is to a cover)

  • One More Drifter in the Snow - Aimee Mann

    On this album, my girlfriend turns her shamelessly soft rock production style and creamy voice to a selection of traditional tunes. Plenty of that wrist-slashing holiday sadness here, especially on a stunning version of "Whatever Happened to Christmas?"

  • Alan Parsons in a Winter Wonderland - Grandaddy

    In the meadow we can build a snowman


    And pretend that he is Allan Parsons.

  • So This Is Christmas - John Lennon

    It's not really Christmas until I hear this song while stuck in traffic and burst into tears. I'm not one of those anti-Paul people (as my former boss says, it makes no sense to take sides, because there can't be one without the other, like there's no up without down), but it's undeniable that John wrote one of the best Xmas songs ever and Paul wrote the worst.

  • Christmas Time (Is Here Again) - The Beatles

    Rare! A little tossed-off fragment of a song, but still a full-power blast Beatlesness.

  • Thanks for Christmas - XTC

    While setting out to mock the season, they seem to get carried away into a genuine sense of joy. Pure pop pleasure.

  • What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? - The Orioles

    They didn't exactly kill themselves over the lyrics to this ("Here comes the jackpot question in advance"?), but the delivery is so sweet and understated that this tune slides on greased rails into the pleasure center of your boozy, late-night brain.

  • What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? - Nick Lowe

    Very different from the (awesome) rocking version by Costello, this is another non-holiday song that deserves to be one, as performed recently by the genius who wrote it.

  • Some Holiday Album - Aaron Neville

    Doesn't Aaron Neville have a Christmas album? He must. I'm sure it's great.

  • Blue Christmas (To Whom It May Concern) - Miles Davis & Bob Dorough

    Jazzy Christmas songs are a torment. "God Bless Ye, Merry Jazzmen"? Ugh, kill me now. Miles Davis apparently agreed, recording this pitch black piece of bah humbug to antagonize his label, and slapping the "So What" riff on top. Fascinating trivia: Bob Dorough is the voice behind Schoolhouse Rock.

  • Betcha By Golly Wow - The Stylistics

    Again, not a holiday song. It SOUNDS like one though, it's so lush and gorgeous. And you can easily change the lyrics in your mind to "Christmas By Golly Wow!"

  • 2000 Miles - The Pretenders

    Another tasty slice of that wistful holiday sadness thing. Holy God can that woman ever sing.

  • Santa Claus - The Sonics

    The Sonics recorded two other Christmas songs, Don't Believe in Christmas (ripping off Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business") and Village Idiot, which seeks to revive the wonderful holiday tradition of mocking retarded people. But nothing can touch the fuzztastic brilliance of this cut. It's also a good chaser for all that wistfulness, which, like butterscotch schnapps, can very quickly become too much of a good thing.

 
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