Today is Christmas Eve. The Portland Trail Blazers are off until they face the Utah Jazz at 7:30, Pacific on Christmas Day. Between now and then we’ll have our usual preview and coverage, plus any Blazers and NBA news that’s worth hearing, but we also want to do a little something different for the holiday...more community-oriented and fun. Later today and tomorrow our authors are going to share with you their own, personal Christmas wishes for the Blazers. We’ll also throw in a holiday-only feature or two, like this one!
I’m going to kick off the Christmas celebration by going totally off-topic. When I’m not covering the Blazers, I love to listen to Christmas music. I’m not one of those barbarians who start at Halloween. (I’m looking at you, Brian Freeman.) I force myself to wait until after Thanksgiving, but then it’s nothing but Christmas music for a solid month.
Delving beyond the usual Rudolph and Silver Bells is a must if you’re going to maintain an entire month of listening. I have nearly 250 Christmas songs on my personal playlist. Most of them are familiar, but over the years I’ve found plenty of solid-to-great offerings that don’t show up in radio rotations much.
Today I want to share with you the Top 25 Christmas songs you’ve (mostly) never heard of. Even if you know the songs themselves, you probably don’t have these arrangements. Go ahead and mix these into your holiday list along with the standard offerings by ex-Beatles and cowboy crooners. You’re bound to have a great time and impress your friends!
25. Papa Noel, Brenda Lee
We start with one of the teenage ingenues of the Rock and Roll era, famous for “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree”. That song is cool, but this one somehow captures her youthful enthusiasm better, plus the tune is catchy. It has a nice back-beat without being quite as obvious about it as, say, a Chuck Berry track. This feels like a Christmas song that got the rock-pop treatment rather than a rock-pop song shoehorned into Christmas.
24. Child of Love, Sara Groves
This is one of the few songs that manages to convey the story of the manger without being preachy through a melodic tune that isn’t saccharine. It almost has a “Silent Night” quality.
23. Mr. Heat Miser, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Any veteran of Rankin-Bass Christmas specials will recognize this classic instantly. The original, featuring the Brothers Miser (Heat and Cold) is impossible to come by, but this remake is faithful and a little bit edgier...a more than worthy replacement.
22. The Holly and the Ivy, Roger Whittaker
Roger Whittaker is not as instantly recognizable as Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, but he has a baritone voice made for Christmas. This arrangement is done with synthesizer (usually an automatic disqualification) and voices, but the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It feels like winter and small-group choral singing all rolled into one.
21. The Gift, Aselin Debison
This song is beautifully composed, and no arrangement is purer than this one with guitar and the gentle vibrato of a young Aselin Debison. If you hear only one song on this list, you might want to make it this one.
20. All Through the Night, The Irish Rovers
There’s something right about an Irish accent at Christmas. Almost anything by the Irish Rovers will make you feel more seasonal. (Check out Christmas in Killarney too!) This song is soft and pretty, plus the dialect gives it a poignant layer.
19. It’s Christmas All Over the World, New Edition
You’ve probably heard of this one, but you’ve probably also forgotten it. One of the super-original boy bands of the 20th Century, New Edition featured singers who would later become famous in their own right. If you’re at all familiar with the 80’s this song will bring it all back, before they were stars.
18. Must Be Santa, Bob Dylan
“Must Be Santa” is usually reserved for elementary school Christmas programs, but Bob Dylan gives a wonderfully-adult version with rhythmic flair that cannot be missed. Plus anybody who can work in accordions and make them actually sound good is alright in my book.
17. Light of Christmas TobyMac with Owl City
What happens when Wreck-it-Ralph meets the nativity? TobyMac gives a contemporary look at the holiday that even folks over 30 can enjoy. Jump up, y’all.
16. A Marshmallow World, Dean Martin
From contemporary to classic, this old standard fits Dean Martin’s insouciant approach perfectly. The first time you hear it, it’s, “Eh...ok.” The second time, you’re stuck and singing along.
15. The Gloucestershire Wassail, Waverly Consort/Michael Jaffee
No Christmas is complete without a bit of madrigal/caroling music. This is a fantastic example of the right group, arranged well, breathing life into an otherwise-obscure tune. If you’ve ever sung in a choir or small group at Christmas, you’ll probably feel at home picking a harmony and singing along.
14. Angels We Have Heard on High, Sixpence None the Richer
The tune is patently familiar but the interpretation is fresh. Anyone who remembers “Kiss Me” or “There She Goes” in the late 90’s will recognize the voice and arrangement, thick with guitars. This hymn inevitably makes you want to sing. This is one of the few arrangements of it that make you just want to listen.
13. In the Bleak Midwinter, Katie McMahon
This song is criminally under-used. It’s fantastic. Katie McMahon’s voice conveys it without gooping it up, accompanied by simple strings and a choir. It’s a great listen in front of the fireplace with something hot to drink.
12. Universal Child, Annie Lennox
The Eurythmics veteran pulls out a torch song for Christmas, connecting a single babe to world-spanning themes...a move the chord progressions support amply.
11. God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen, Barenaked Ladies
BNL adopts a Christmas hymn into their own style, adding Sarah McLachlan to the mix. It’s the pick-me-up you want to hear while bopping down the aisles of Target picking up the perfect gifts for your loved ones.
10. Christmas Eve, Blackmore’s Night
If you have one non-standard Christmas album in your collection, it should be from Blackmore’s Night. A former Deep Purple guitarist formed a Renaissance band, and nowhere does their work shine clearer than in their Christmas collection...so much so that two of their songs are on this list. Once you’ve heard them, you’ll never be without them.
9. O Come Little Children, Neal and Leandra
This is another fireside, simple arrangement. Two voices, a guitar, a lesser-known but beautiful melody...Christmas can be really nice.
8. Fruitcake, The Superions
Seriously? Yes, seriously. This ode to everybody’s least-favorite Christmas treat almost redeems it. This song’s quadruple-entendres and the earnestness with which they’re sold put the cherry, well...in the fruitcake. Play this and you will become the life of the party.
7. What a Glorious Night, Sidewalk Prophets
Somehow the fade from Linus reading Christmas-special scripture into an upbeat, modern tune unites the best of past and current childhoods. It’s not the most revolutionary song but it’s easy to sing along to and fun.
6. Song of the Stable, David Haas
This is one of those melodies that makes you wonder why it wasn’t invented at the beginning of time. The duet between high and low voices is gorgeous as well.
5. Santa’s Coming for Us, Sia
This is the most recent song on the list. Sia has come up with a take that, if a tad repetitive, is still destined to become a classic earworm. The video is populated with vintage and current TV stars, which doesn’t hurt.
4. Song for a Winter’s Night, Sarah McLachlan
When she’s not making you cry about orphaned dogs (Where was she when Rudolph needed help?), Sarah McLachlan remakes songs that almost, but not quite, got enough attention in their original form. Here she adopts a Gordon Lightfoot ballad to excellent effect. You might even wonder if the adaptation is better than its source.
3. Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord, Boney M
Yes, you’ve heard this one, but:
A. Maybe there’s someone who hasn’t, and that would be a shame. And...
B. You should have it at your disposal with a click.
This may be the most complete Christmas anthem ever recorded. It runs over four minutes, yet somehow always tempts you to hit “repeat”. It’s disco-ish, steeped in the 70’s, mashing up completely different themes. That shouldn’t work, yet like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, the fusion is unforgettable.
2. All I Want for Christmas Is You, Vince Vance & The Valiants
When you hear “All I Want for Christmas Is You”, you think Mariah Carey. This version is completely different than hers, more like a jukebox standard. It’s well-sung and made for slow dancing. It’ll never be as popular as that other song with the same name, but it’s a sentimental favorite.
- Ding Dong Merrily on High, Blackmore’s Night
Blackmore’s Night returns with a song so balanced between classic source and amplified modern performance that it’s practically perfect. The voices, guitar, bass, counterpoint, big crescendo...everything chimes together to make this the singular “Christmas is not here until you’ve heard this” song.
And that’s it! Hope you enjoyed the list! If I missed any of your non-familiar favorites, be sure and link them below.
(P.S. Also check out Night of Silence/Silent Night, Laurie N. Festa if you can. There’s no video for that.)