By Evan Bailyn
20. Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth
You won’t generally turn the headphones down for any version of “The Little Drummer Boy,” but it’s that legendary Bing Crosby-David Bowie duet that sits in the pantheon of eternally listenable Christmas tunes.
19. Christmas Time is Here
Originally written and performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio for 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, this melancholy melody falls on the listener like a light snow — a lovely, welcome distraction.
18. What Christmas Means to Me
There are plenty of great Motown Christmas classics that have been radio staples for decades, but it’s hard to top this bouncy 1967 Stevie Wonder track. That’s probably why it’s been covered by everyone from Hanson to Cee Lo Green.
17. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Talk about staying power! The original Latin roots of this beautiful Christmas hymn may date as far back as the 8th century. The widely known English version was co-translated in the 1850s by the Anglican priest John Mason Neale — equally famous for penning his own original carol, “Good King Wenceslas.”
16. Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)
At a mere two minutes and six seconds, this energetic 1989 single by punk icons the Ramones is a welcome antidote to those seemingly never-ending, “12 Days of Christmas” types of holiday songs.
15. Please Come Home For Christmas
It’s hard to turn the dial when a broken-hearted man is pleading his holiday heart out. First recorded by R&B singer Charles Brown in 1960, a cover by the Eagles climbed the charts almost 20 years later.
14. Carol of the Bells
It might be the most difficult Christmas song to sing along with, but that doesn’t stop millions from trying, even if they’re alone in their car and hopelessly lacking in harmonizers.
13. 2,000 Miles
A hit for the Pretenders in 1983, this dreamy ballad was written as an ode to the band’s late guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, but its lasting appeal seems to be for listeners spending the holidays far away from someone they care about.
12. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
No Christmas is complete without sold-out performances of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, and no portion of that ballet captures that magical innocence of the season quite like this one — immortalized in roughly 8,000 TV commercials, and yet still easy on the ears!
11. Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto
Christmas music could use a little more funk, and James Brown was kind enough to provide it. When the Godfather of Soul addresses St. Nick directly, we all win.
10. You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Stink! Stank! Stunk! One of the funniest and most-imitated songs of the season, the original version featured the voice of the great Thurl Ravenscroft — the same man who made Tony the Tiger say, “They’re Grrrrrreat!”
9. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men” is not a sentiment that’s likely to outlast its welcome, no matter how many people you had to elbow your way around to get your kid the new Elmo doll.
8. Christmas Wrapping
It might stand in stark contrast to the majestic tone of some other entries on this list, but this playful 1981 single by the Waitresses — a little-known New Wave band from Akron, Ohio — has stood the test of time largely thanks to singer Patty Donahue’s relatable, down-to-earth telling of a girl looking for a holiday love.
7. We Three Kings
Just another in a long line of “holiday hits” written by clergymen in the mid 19th century. Hundreds of beautiful renditions have been recorded over the years, but just try to listen to the Beach Boys’ 1964 version without getting goosebumps.
6. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Sure, at its core it’s a silly kids song. But whether it’s the boundless enthusiasm of a pint-sized Michael Jackson & the Jackson 5 or a jean-jacket-era Bruce Springsteen having fun with the E Street Band, this one never gets old.
5. I’ll Be Home for Christmas
While the original Bing Crosby recording captures the heartbreaking daydreams of a GI in World War II, this song remains the gold standard for the experience of Christmas in any wartime, whether it’s a soldier in 1940s Germany or 2013 Afghanistan.
4. Fairytale of New York
One of the most beloved and oft-recorded Christmas songs of the past 30 years, “Fairytale of New York” keeps its charm after 100 listens, thanks to the unbridled folk energy and unorthodox, rough-and-tumble characters created by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.
3. O Holy Night
When it comes to the non-secular brand of Christmas standards, it seems like just about everyone is united in their undying admiration for “O Holy Night” — a legitimately moving epic adapted from a French poem in 1855.
2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
From the moment Judy Garland first warbled it in 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis, we were hooked. No other Christmas song combines joyous lyrics and a somber, wistful tone in quite the way this one does.
1. White Christmas
But of course, if you’re going to name the one Christmas song that nobody ever has gotten sick of, it might as well be the number one selling song of all-time. And yes, that’s “#1 selling song, ” not “#1 selling Christmas song.” Written by Irving Berlin, “White Christmas” has been covered by everyone from Bob Marley to Bette Midler, and Kenny Rogers to Taylor Swift.
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