Christmas songs can be terrible, annoying things. Oftentimes, by the time Christmas Day actually gets here, we’re sick to death of “Silent Night” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” So the songs that are genuinely great, as well as being holiday-themed, are to be cherished. Here are 10 that shouldn’t drive you into an eggnog stupor by Christmas Eve.
10. The Waitresses, "Christmas Wrapping"
Ohio new-wave band The Waitresses will arguably forever be best known for this catchy Christmas ditty (alongside “I Know What Boys Like”), and that’s OK because it is a holiday classic. Yeah, it’s simplistic and repetitive, but the hook is insistent, and it’s not too schmaltzy. The song came out in 1981 and didn’t exactly set the charts ablaze, but in the years since then it’s become a family favorite.
9. Louis Armstrong, "Zat You, Santa Claus?"
Satchmo’s original version of this vibrant, cheeky Christmas tune is clearly the best, if for no other reason than Armstrong has one of the best voices of all time, any genre. That said, The Brian Setzer Orchestra also has a killer version that’s well worth checking out, on their Dig That Crazy Christmas album.
8. Run-DMC, "Christmas in Hollis"
Run-DMC try out some Christmas wrapping of their own. They pulled it off, too: “Christmas in Hollis” is simultaneously topical, socially relevant and full of good cheer. “Rhymes so loud and proud you hear it, It’s Christmas time and we got the spirit. … The time is now, the place is here, And the whole wide world is full of cheer.” Honestly, that’s a message we all need.
7. Wham, "Last Christmas"
George Michael wrote a Christmas song that instantly passed into the mainstream consciousness alongside the traditional favorites. And for good reason: “Last Christmas” is atypically melancholy — a tale of lost love over the holidays — but it’s so beautifully constructed and authentically performed that it just works.
6. The Darkness, "Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)"
One of the more recent songs on the list. The Darkness were keen to return to the traditions of the great Christmas single, after years of some decidedly un-Christmasy Christmas No. 1s. So they came up with this operatic rock & roll gem, which recalls the great days of Wizzard and Slade. There’s a children’s choir in there, a roaring fire in the video — all bases are covered.
5. John Lennon "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"
The ex-Beatles bar is low thanks to Paul McCartney’s not-great “Wonderful Christmas Time,” but still, Lennon deserves his place on this list. The song just builds and builds into a crescendo of beautiful, mildly melancholy Yuletide glory. It’s both festive and political, and it’s not easy to make those two things comfortable bedfellows. Lennon pulled it off. Another year over, indeed.
4. Band Aid, "Do They Know It’s Christmas?"
There have been at least three versions of Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s song, written back in 1984 as a reaction to the heart-wrenching famine in Ethiopia. But the original is the best. Everyone from Duran Duran to Wham, Culture Club to Bananarama, gathered in one London studio to record what is, as it turns out, a magnificent Christmas tune. Plus, there’s always the memory of Bono wailing, “Well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you.”
3. Slade, "Merry Christmas Everybody"
In Britain, there’s a general belief that it’s not actually Christmas until you’ve heard Noddy Holder screech, “IT’S CHRIIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAS.” And for good reason. The Slade singer’s Xmas declaration is so warm and full of joy that even the Scroogiest Grinch can’t help but get into the spirit of things. But even after that, when the song actually kicks in, it’s a rollicking, glam rock banger. Glitter rock at its finest, with a chorus that will stick in your head until well after New Year's, “Merry Christmas Everybody” remains the best-known Slade song that Quiet Riot didn’t cover.
2. Wizzard, "I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday"
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This is another one that’s more popular across the pond. Roy Wood’s Wizzard penned a Christmas tune for the ages, although the sentiment isn’t necessarily one that everybody can get behind. Christmas everyday honestly sounds a bit much, with the ongoing music in malls. And there’s only so much turkey that anyone can eat. Still, it’s a killer tune with a hook that won’t quit.
1. The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl, "Fairytale of New York"
The undisputed, without a shadow of a doubt, best Christmas song of all time. Don’t even try to argue. The song has everything — a full-on argument set to gloriously poetic lyrics, a hook to die for, and the perfect vocal interplay between Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl. It’s just a magnificently constructed song, from the slow open to the Celtic swing of the verses that climax with a spat-out “The bells were ringing out, for Christmas Day.” Sigh. Perfect.