I'm a music nerd: I used to be a music writer, I've been to more concerts than I can count, and I will unironically declare that I love rock 'n' roll. And I just can't deal with cheesy Christmas music. I want to listen to Christmas music that sounds like the music I actually like. I don't seek out pop music or adult contemporary the rest of the year, so why would I want it during Christmas?
That said, I love listening to Christmas music during the holidays, as long as it's my kind of Christmas music. I love having albums that come out just once a year but when they do, it sounds like Christmastime. I've spent years cultivating a collection of songs that aren't "good for Christmas music," but just plain good. I have a few albums I always fall back on: A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector and The Beach Boys' Christmas Album are true masterpieces (as are the album covers).
This playlist combines some of my favorites from those albums, plus other holiday songs by artists I love, in my favorite genres: rock and roll, soul, motown, and country, with a little Run-D.M.C. thrown in. Read about why I keep going back to these songs, then listen to the playlist.
- "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Darlene Love: The first 20 seconds of this song signal the holidays to me. It's the first thing I play when the Christmas music comes out.
- "Little Saint Nick," The Beach Boys: Everything that's great about The Beach Boys (harmonies and sleigh bells!) in a Christmas song.
- "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," The Jackson 5: Little Michael singing his heart out is all of us as kids.
- "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," Dean Martin: By "my love," I think Dean means "my cocktail."
- "White Christmas," Darlene Love: Enduring proof that Darlene Love is a legend. (Also, if you haven't seen 20 Feet From Stardom, you should.)
- "Blue Christmas," Elvis Presley: Many others have sung this song, but Elvis still does it best.
- "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," James Brown: Ladies and gentlemen, the Godfather of Soul does "funky Christmas."
- "Merry Christmas From the Family," Robert Earl Keen: The ultimate redneck Christmas song will resonate with anyone who has mixed Bloody Marys when the eggnog's gone.
- "Xmas Time Is Here Again," My Morning Jacket: Unlike the misnamed "Jingle Bell Rock," this song actually rocks.
- "Merry Christmas, Baby," The Beach Boys: Probably my second greatest harbinger of Christmas, after track one.
- "Christmas in Hollis," Run-D.M.C.: Possibly the only hip-hop song to feature sleigh bells, and also insanely catchy.
- "The Christmas Blues," Bob Dylan: I'm a huge Dylan fan, but most of his Christmas album is skippable, except this track.
- "The Christmas Waltz," She & Him: Clearly these two are disciples of Phil Spector and his classic album.
- "Wonderful Christmastime," Paul McCartney: It's a tragedy that The Beatles never made a Christmas album, so I have to settle for this.
- "Merry Christmas, Baby," James Brown: Starts out sounding saccharine, then gets sultry.
- "Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past," Sufjan Stevens: No surprise that this songwriter from Michigan warmly embraces the wintertime.
- "Baby It's Cold Outside," Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan: A classic cold-weather tune that's even better when sung by Ella.
- "Father Christmas," The Kinks: The guitar riffs offer proof that a Christmas song can, indeed, shred.
- "Blue Christmas," Bright Eyes: Quite a departure from Elvis's version, but I like the emo-ness of it.
- "Santa Claus Is Back in Town," Elvis Presley: Speaking of Elvis, the dude sure can make Christmas sound sexy.
- "Frosty the Snowman," The Ronettes: Phil Spector may have been a nutjob, but he sure could produce the hell out of a Christmas song.
- "Xmas Curtain," My Morning Jacket: Not technically written as a Christmas song, but even MMJ has embraced it as one.