It's Coming on Christmas...
In a month when tunes like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" seem to be on a continuous loop, you may find yourself in the mood for a less predictable holiday playlist. Click through for some great Christmas songs that deserve more airtime, plus a few offbeat numbers thrown in just for laughs.
"River" — Joni Mitchell
Joni's 1971 album "Blue" is largely about her breakup with Graham Nash. Bad for them, good for us. The exquisitely melancholy "River" belongs on any serious list of Christmas songs. It's truly beautiful.
"Merry Christmas, Baby" — Bonnie Raitt & Charles Brown
Too many holiday duets are driven purely by the commercial potential of bringing two popular artists together for a one-off. This isn't one of those. Promise.
"Zat You, Santa Claus" — Louis Armstrong
No self-respecting Christmas music list is complete without at least something from Mr. Armstrong. And "Zat" is about the coolest cut we can think of.
"Fairy Tale of New York" — The Pogues
The Irish band sure knows how to get all warm and fuzzy on us, we'll give them that. "Fairy Tale" opens on Christmas Eve "in the drunk tank," then wishes us, "Happy Christmas, you arse, I pray God it's our last." Sweet, huh? Still, it's a great cut. We don't do Christmas without this one.
"Mary Had a Baby" — Bruce Cockburn
This Canadian folkie released the really fine "Christmas" CD back in 1993. It's not that well-known, but it should be. "Mary" is one of 15 tracks, and there's not a clunker in the bunch.
"Jingle Bells" — Esquivel
Juan Garcia Esquivel's CD entitled "Merry Xmas from the Space-Age Bachelor Pad" is a must-have for anybody who appreciates the wackier holiday classics. A Mexican bandleader most active in the late '50s and '60s, Esquivel was a Latin lounge lizard. He even opened for Sinatra in Vegas.
"The Christmas Waltz" — Tony Bennett With Count Basie and His Orchestra
There's only one word for this cut: lovely. Bennett sings the Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn lyrics with such care and respect that it feels as if he's talking directly to you. And the Count's piano playing is just plain elegant. A true Christmas classic.
"2000 Miles" — The Pretenders
Chrissie Hynde in 1983. Need we say more?
"Christmas Song" — Sleeves
Sleeves is a spoken word artist/musician/recluse who's well-known to listeners of the Ron & Fez radio show, but not to a lot of others. This track (and accompanying animation) is part of a larger piece called "The Christmas Skater."
"Christmas Wrapping" — The Waitresses
"The Christmas Record," released in 1981, has been called the first-ever alternative-rock Christmas album. "Wrapping" was the standout track, and it still feels fresh more than three decades later.
"Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis" — Tom Waits
Happy and jolly it ain't, nor does it have a whole lot to do with Christmas, but how can you resist this Tom Waits classic?
"Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy" — Bing Crosby & David Bowie
The Cardigan meets the Chameleon. This classic duet, recorded for the 1977 TV special "Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas" never gets old.
"Love Is Christmas" – Sara Bareilles
This track is new to us, and so is the artist. But what a beautiful Christmas song it is. Bareilles is a 34-year-old Californian with the potential to build a very nice career. "Love" just might be the most touching of all the songs here.
"Blue Christmas" — Elvis Presley & Martina McBride
Honestly, we can't decide who's the prettier one here. No offense, Martina, but this is the King before his white sequined jumpsuit period—and he is freakin' gorgeous! Oh, and they both sound pretty terrific, too.
"Must Be Santa" — Bob Dylan
Some people have no business doing a Christmas album, and that goes double for Dylan, but this track is a hoot. And the image of the Bard in a Santa hat makes us chuckle every time.
"Christmastime for the Jews" — Darlene Love
What can we say? "Saturday Night Live" parody just doesn't get any better than this.
"Merry Christmas From the Family" — Robert Earl Keene
Around here, Keene's classic is fondly referred to as "White Trash Christmas." So light up a Marlboro, turn the flashing Christmas lights on outside the motor home, pass the pitcher of margaritas and let's party!
"Boots" — The Killers
How could we not include a Christmas song/video that starts out with George Bailey praying for divine wisdom and then takes us on a man's poignant, uplifting journey of redemption? The Las Vegas rockers have done several Christmas productions, but we like this one the best.
"Christmas Lights" — Coldplay
Elvis impersonatorsand fireworks! What's not to like?
"Adeste Fideles" — Luciano Pavarotti
In 1978, the maestro performed a special Christmas concert at Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal. It was about as grand an event as they come, with a full orchestra and not one but two choirs. Pavarotti himself was also at the top of his game. (By the way, this classic hymn was translated into English back in the 1800s as "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.")
The Backwoods Barbie who became a country-pop icon
Major stars whose performances landed on the cutting room floor
Long-running shows that went out with a bang
The best of the blues-rock legend who gave up a piece of her heart with every song
Mannequins who came to life on the big screen
On screen, he was the epitome of elegance, but his real life didn’t match what you saw in the movies