You had to know we wouldn’t go through the entirety of the season without a discussion of holiday hits.
That said, this list (presented in reverse chronological order of song release) is as much about the particular artist in each case as it is about each song. You may notice the absence of more well known classics (cough, cough Jingle Bells) as such a plethora of recordings exist that it proves difficult to pick just one. While some of these selections are originals by that particular artist and others have been made and remade…in the remake cases listed here, certain artists just, well, nailed it.
Christmas All Over Again – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1992)
Featured on one of the first A Very Special Christmas albums back in the ‘90s (if your parents are as “into” music as mine are, they have a copy), Christmas All Over Again does not sound like a Christmas song…at first. While it gets some play on Sirius XM Holly, that’s not enough play for this classic that is bound to get any holiday party going. Ultimately, it’s classic Tom Petty – the same as American Girl is – with drums and guitar that are hard to forget.
Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid (1984)
The whole premise of the Live Aid concert is enough to make me tear up a little…and then, coupled with this gem – which is essentially a coming together of some of the best of the ‘80s (including Bono, Phil Collins and Sting) to support Africa – could lead me to a full-blown cry. I’ve found it gets more play than most of the others on this list. However, its apparent overplaying during late-November and December could almost take away from its true meaning. While nothing beats the original Band Aid recording in 1984, here is one of those rare cases when the remake (another coming together of artists to fight the Ebola virus, except the 2015 version featuring the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Bruno Mars) is almost as solid as the original. In both cases, the message is powerful – let them know it’s Christmas.
One Little Christmas Tree – Stevie Wonder (1967)
Ah, Stevie Wonder, wizard of original Christmas songs that earn yearly radio play and frequent movie appearances…except for this one. Not to say that there is anything wrong with the scene in Elf where Buddy and Michael dance around the department store to What Christmas Means to Me, because there absolutely isn’t. But One Little Christmas Tree is special and sentimental. Similar to Do They Know It’s Christmas, it serves as a message of hope – one tree, which could be used as a metaphor for one person, can indeed light up the world.
If Every Day Was Like Christmas – Elvis Presley (with The Imperials Quartet and The Jordanaires) (1966)
Elvis recorded a number of Christmas songs over the course of his career (turn on any FM station playing continuous holiday music and within five minutes you’ll hear his version of Here Comes Santa Claus). But If Every Day Was Like Christmas does not get even close to the airtime it deserves. I discovered it as a child when my parents and I would listen the famous Time-Life Treasury of Christmas ad nauseum, and is one of the standouts on the collection’s multi-disc (yes, disc, we’re talking 1986 here) set.
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love (1963)
Here’s another example of a satellite radio favorite that doesn’t get enough play anywhere else. And yeah, Mariah recorded it too, but there’s no comparison to this original track, part of the famous A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector album that includes other favorites including the Ronettes’ Sleigh Ride (used in more movies than I care to discuss).
Listen to all of these greats right here: