Some of us prefer our Christmas music on the thoughtful side, with melancholy lyrics over dark snowfall and memories. It is not joy that is sought, but permission to wallow in melancholy.
Others relish the vivid sounds of sleigh bells and triumphant cascades of horns that embellish so many holiday classics. The season does not come into effect until they have literally shifted into the Christmas tree.
There just might be a Christmas song for everyone – cheerful to melancholy – so putting them together in one list is not only futile, but impossible.
Yet we are trying.
Our ultimate Christmas guide tackles classic and current artists with rock, country, R&B and pure pop.
1. “Have a Merry Little Christmas,” Judy Garland
Songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane said the first version they wrote for Garland’s movie “Meet Me In St. Louis” was so sad she wouldn’t sing it. Good to know that this is the happy version.
2. “All I want for Christmas is you”, Mariah Carey
It sounded like a classic when it arrived, and it’s still the most charming inductee in the hall of modern Christmas carols.
3. “Last Christmas”, Wham!
George Michael’s melancholy words as he laments a failed romance may initially seem depressing. But instead, the combination of a satiny melody and its eventual hope encourages us to cheer ourselves on.
4. “Tennessee Christmas”, Amy Grant
The main track of Grant’s 1983 “A Christmas Album” is not just a warm musical embrace, but a beautiful ballad steeped in nostalgia.
5. “Peace on Earth / Little Drummer”, David Bowie and Bing Crosby
Not the most obvious pair on paper, but the respect between standard glam rocker and standard crooner is palpable and the magic between them is undeniable.
6. “Christmas (baby please come home)”, Darlene Love
We still miss the nearly three-decade tradition of Love singing this classic on David Letterman’s late night show.
7. “The Christmas Song”, Nat King Cole
Maybe the song is a little overplayed, but the holiday season officially doesn’t come until we hear Cole’s pure, dreamy baritone.
8. “Christmas wrapping”, the waitresses
Otherwise best known for their New Wave hit, “I Know What Boys Like,” The Waitresses dropped this impressive dose of storytelling in 1981.
9. “Do you hear what I hear? »Whitney Houston
That rising voice and impeccable delivery that still sounded effortlessly amounted to a worthy memory of Houston power.
10. “Wonderful Christmas”, Paul McCartney
Filled with a playful chorus and distinctively melodic bassline, this solo hit recorded during McCartney’s sessions for his album “McCartney II” illustrates his own constant joy.
11. “Celebrate me at home”, Kenny Loggins
A song for any season, really, with its feeling of longing to be in a familiar place.
12. “Santa is Coming to Town”, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band
This edgy rock version was recorded by the band in 1975 at a show in New York City and remains a live favorite.
13. “Adult Christmas List,” Natalie Cole
Written by David Foster and Linda Thompson-Jenner, The Sweet Ballad is a vital bowel check every holiday season.
14. “The same old Lang Syne”, Dan Fogelberg
If you don’t melt past Fogelberg’s delicately rendered line, “As I turned to go home, the snow … turned to rain,” then we’re so sorry you didn’t have a heart.
15. “I saw mom kissing Santa Claus”, The Jackson 5
The cherished voice of Michael Jackson and his brothers and the unhindered joy of the 1970 arrangement is intact.
16. “Santa Claus”, Eartha Kitt
Considered controversial in 1953. Let it in.
17. “Happy X-mas (War is Over)”, John Lennon and Yoko Ono and The Plastic Ono Band
An anti-war song devoid of the typical holiday sentimentality, the plunging hymn has nonetheless become an annual necessity.
18. “Do they know it’s Christmas? »Band Aid
Often maligned now, but there’s no denying the incredible feat Bob Geldof performed to bring together some of the UK’s best – from Bono to Bowie, from Duran Duran to George Michael – all in the name of charity.
19. “Silent Night”, Kelly Clarkson, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood
While generally best enjoyed in the muted versions, the glorious vocalization of this trio captivates.
20. “Gloria (the angels whom we have heard above)”, Michael W. Smith
An underrated maestro whose compositions for piano and synthesizer are always emotional and triumphant.
21. “White Christmas”, Bing Crosby
The Irving Berlin Standard, written for the 1942 film “Holiday Inn”, won the Oscar for Best Original Song at the 15th annual ceremony.
22. “Winter Wonderland”, Jason Mraz
It might not be the most popular version of the 1934 casual song (that honor goes to Perry Como and later Eurythmics). But Mraz’s unique vocal styles are the most memorable.
23. “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” John Denver and the Muppets
The endearing vocal whims of folklore are appealing enough, but add in the contributions of Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and Kermit and the resistance is futile.
24. “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, Gene Autry
A song intended for children, but who among us has not been carried away by this refrain?
25. “I’ll be home for Christmas,” Josh Groban
Written as a tribute to soldiers overseas who yearn to be with their families on Christmas, the Bing Crosby original is the standard bearer. But Groban admirably communicates the poignant depth of the song.
26. ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, ‘Brenda Lee
Recorded when Lee was just 13, the 1958 staple is still a regular on the Billboard charts and peaked at No.2 in 2020.
27. “Holly Jolly Christmas”, Burl Ives
Beloved for its inclusion in “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” the singalong written by Johnny Marks was delivered by Ives, who also voices the film’s narrator.
28. “We need a little Christmas”, Angela Lansbury
Long before becoming the maven of “Murder, She Wrote”, Lansbury flourished as a Broadway star, most notably playing the title role in “Mame” in 1966, which gave birth to this Jerry Herman gem.
29. “My Favorite Things”, Tony Bennett
The distinctive phrasing that colors every Bennett offering is especially welcome on a song too often reduced to a recitation.
30. ‘Christmas All Over Again’, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Dressed in Petty’s inimitable nasal tones, the Phil Spector-ish bop arrived on “A Very Special Christmas 2” from 1992.
31. “One day at Christmas”, Stevie Wonder
The R & B / soul icon’s first Christmas album produced this gem in 1967. Wonder returned to the charts with him in 2015 after a duet update with Andra Day.
32. “Torerie en sled”, the carpenters
Karen and Richard Carpenter’s 1978 album “Christmas Portrait” is a seamless entry into the holiday canon, but their slippery take on the 1948 winter getaway is remarkable.
33. “Silver Bells”, Michael Bublé with Naturally 7
A smooth Christmas classic requires an equally brilliant vocal delivery and the combination of Bublé and Naturally 7 stand out perfectly.
34. “Merry Christmas everyone”, Slade
Released at the height of British glam rocker popularity in 1973, the bouncy guitar rocker presents the quartet in their chaotic glory.
35. “Christmas time has arrived”, Trio Vince Guaraldi
Always associated with “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, the instrumental composition of jazz pianist Guaraldi also produced a lyrical version.
36. ‘Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays’, NSYNC
Released just over a year after their landmark debut, the group’s 1998 seasonal collection gained momentum and shed light on the charisma of the attractive 50-year-old.
37. “Feliz Navidad”, José Feliciano
He’s over 50 years old, but the simple guitarist who turned a simple Spanish Christmas greeting into global familiarity is still appealing.
38. “Christmas in Sarajevo”, Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Between screaming guitars and layered synthesizers, it’s pure musical drama – and arrogance never gets boring.
39. “Blue Christmas”, heart
We know Elvis made him famous. Ann and Nancy Wilson did better.
40. “This Christmas”, Donny Hathaway
It barely made waves when it was released in 1970, but after a re-release from Atco Records in 1991, the song made its appearance on various Billboard charts and inspired many covers.
41. “Little Saint Nick”, Beach Boys
Blending the band’s iconic harmonies with their affinity for hot rods (or, in this case, Santa Claus and his sleigh), the 1963 original doesn’t let winter get in the way of the Boys’ sunny melodies.
42. “Christmas time”, Bryan Adams
There is nothing particularly deep about Adams’ 1985 foot-stomper (“There’s something about Christmas / something about Christmas,” the chorus goes). But the enduring popularity led to a video release in 2019.
43. “May God rest you, merry gentlemen”, Annie Lennox
The crystal-clear voice of the Eurythmics veteran is the perfect match for traditional English vocals.
44. “As if it was Christmas”, the Jonas Brothers
The sibling trio followed their 2019 resurgence (“Happiness Begins”) with this floating bauble.
45. “Christmas Tree Farm”, Taylor Swift
Who better to sing about the delights of a Christmas tree farm than a woman who grew up on a Christmas tree farm?
46. ”Christmas is the time to say I love you”, Billy Squier
The Boston rock guitarist slapped it as the B-side of his early ’80s hit “My Kinda Lover” and ensured massive video rotation by enlisting MTV’s VJs for the backing clip.
47. “This gift”, 98 degrees
Capitalizing on their peak in popularity in 1999, the quartet of Nick Lachey, Jeff Timmons, Drew Lachey and Justin Jeffre turned to frenzied Christmas tunes for their third album.
48. “Mele Kalikimaka”, Bing Crosby and the Andrews sisters
The title of the song comes from the Hawaiian phrase meaning “Merry Christmas”; this version is one of the first recorded, in 1950.
49. “Run Rudolph Run”, Sheryl Crow
An entry in the 2001 fifth edition of the popular “A Very Special Christmas” compilations (which benefit Special Olympics), the oft-recorded song popularized by Chuck Berry rollicks under Crow.
50. “It’s Christmas for me”, Pentatonix
The title track from the a capella group’s third studio album cemented their status as a necessity for Christmas playlists.