Welcome to The Pulse, your lifeline on media and pop culture! The holidays are upon us and you know what that means, endless renditions of the same handful of songs played over the radio for the next 20 odd days. What is it about these tunes that have made them such a mainstay of Christmas tradition? You won’t find the answer here, but you will find me arbitrarily ranking them and giving my opinion on many beloved and cherished musical classics. It’s the Top 10 Christmas Songs here on The Pulse! A note, this was actually one of the harder lists I’ve compiled so far, while Halloween will always have my heart, I’m a sucker for Christmas music so narrowing down a top 10 was pretty tough and there’s a lot of songs I would have loved to include. If you don’t see your favorite, feel free to leave a comment below and list your own top Christmas tunes!
Top 10 Christmas Songs
Dishonorable Mention: Last Christmas
Let me get this out of the way, Wham’s Last Christmas is not a Christmas song. It’s a sappy and depressing song about heartbreak that just so happens to throw the word Christmas in where literally any other day of the year would leave you with the exact same song. “Last Arbor Day”, “Last Lief Erikson Day”, “Last Freaking Wednesday” and it is all the same. It’s an awful song with far too many covers that has no business being roped into the Christmas canon (no not that one, we’ll get to that one). The recent flick with Daenerys (sans dragons) was decent enough though.
10. The Hanukkah Song
So, kicking the list off proper is…a song about a different holiday entirely. Adam Sandler puts it best, there’s plenty of Christmas songs out there, but you really don’t hear many jams our Jewish friends can get festive to. With some fun and simple rhymes and an ever changing and growing list of the fine Jewish folk in entertainment, The Hannukah Song may not be a Christmas song at its core (still more of one than Last Christmas at least) but it holds many of the values associated with the holiday and I couldn’t imagine a Christmas without it (or a customary watch of Adam Sandler’s “Eight Crazy Nights”.)
9. Happy Xmas (War is Over)
On a holiday promising peace on Earth, what song could be more fitting? John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s plea for peace and personal responsibility is a somewhat somber yet hopeful song that delivers its message with optimism while avoiding much of the overly sentimental tropes most Christmas songs carry on their shoulders. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece with a timeless message that grows more and more relevant all these decades later. War is over, if you want it.
8. Mary Did You Know?
This list won’t be overly full of traditional carols or religious music. Not that I dislike them or that they don’t have their place, as I do and they certainly do, but generally speaking that’s a side of Christmas music that just never appealed to me beyond the tradition of it. That said, I do feel obliged to include this particular song that poses the question to the virgin mother of Jesus Christ, did she know all the great and wondrous things her yet to be born child would accomplish and the sacrifice he would one day have to make for the salvation of mankind. I actually feel this is a somewhat criminally overlooked song, it never really comes up much in discussion, and while there are certainly covers of it out there it never quite caught on as many others have and that’s a bit of a shame. I can’t really speak from a mother’s point of view, but I have to imagine that the questions it asks and the idea of holding all of that untapped potential inside of you hits pretty hard.
7. The Little Drummer Boy
My dad’s personal favorite and one I remember really enjoying as a kid growing up. The simple story of a young boy making the journey to see the newborn king and having naught to offer him but his music. It’s humbling and touching and the simple “pa rum pum pum pum” is just the right amount of repetitive and catchy. Another song that’s had several great covers, some giving it a bit more grandeur than I think the story really warrants (I’d actually argue that it’s counterpoint to the message of the song, but I digress). It’s a cute song, the stop motion animation for it is charming, I always enjoy catching it when it comes on the radio during the holidays.
6. Little Saint Nick
I’m from California, I like the Beach Boys, what can I say? The blend of surf rock with Christmas themes is a mix that probably shouldn’t work so well, but I mean, it’s the Beach Boys, it just works. A lot of the songs on this list I may have favorite renditions of, be they the original recording or a cover many decades later, but Little Saint Nick falls just shy of the top five specifically because it really is only the Beach Boys that can make this song work for me, I haven’t heard a cover of it that does it and I gotta knock some points off for that because the variety and versatility of the Christmas canon (no, not that one) is a big part of the staying power of music. Still, the Beach Boys version of this song is really, really good, it’s fun and it mixes in so many of the sounds I associate with the group that livens my spirit.
5. Jingle Bell Rock
I think a certain memorable scene from Mean Girls may have given this song a bit of an edge whereas it may have placed much lower than the top 5 had the movie not existed, but even that aside Jingle Bell Rock really does a lot to spice up the usual (and honestly kinda boring) “Jingle Bells” with a much catchier tune, funner (ooooh, grammatical faux pas) lyrics and just a generally livelier sound. From kids Christmas pageants to less than appropriate talent shows, it’s a holiday staple that re-conceptualizes a classic with a bit of that 1950’s ‘tude.
4. Feliz Navidad
Our neighbors south of the border really know how to ring in the holidays. I may not understand all of the lyrics, but man is this song full of energy and good vibes. It’s always fun to pretend I can actually speak Spanish as I sing along (badly, might I add).
3.You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? Next to a certain Mr. Scrooge, the Grinch may just be the quintessential holiday curmudgeon. Easily the most mean spirited song on this list, it’s no wonder the Grinch was such a sourpuss what with all of the nasty things Tony the Tiger has to say about him. I’d be grumpy to if someone said they’d rather keep company with a seasick crocodile than me. Obviously the original recording of this is hard to beat, but I have to give a special shout out to Gary Hoey’s absolutely shredding cover from his album “Ho Ho Hoey”.
2. Christmas Canon
I was already a fan of Canon in D Major, it’s a beautifully orchestrated piece, so when the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (who I HIGHLY recommend seeing live if you get the chance) combined it with the very spirit of Christmas..this song is enough to almost bring you to tears. It is absolutely, to reuse the term, beautiful. It is a much, much softer song than TSO usually records and combines a children’s choir with strings and piano and it is just magical. It was honestly really hard deciding between this and my ultimate choice for number one, they both perfectly encapsulate everything I associate the holiday with.
1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Specifically the Frank Sinatra recording of the song. When I think of Christmas, this song is everything I associate with the holiday. Joyous times with friends and family, those long lasting bonds that transcend time and distance. So many of my fondest memories are of these big family get-togethers that we had when I was a kid, going from my grandma’s (on my mom’s side) to my aunt’s (on my dad’s) on Christmas day and visiting with my grandparents and cousins and everyone I only ever really got to see on those days, they were always a big thing for us and this song takes me back to those days. My family may be divided and long since drifted apart, but this time of year especially I always feel so close to them as I look back and dwell upon those times and the happy memories we made and it’s this song that plays over those memories for me, that closeness of the ones we love, that is the spirit of Christmas and this song embodies that spirit perfectly.
Sorry to get a bit sentimental there, we’ll be back another week with my usual sharp wit and sarcastic remarks, don’t you worry. It won’t be all Christmas this month long, I know you’re going to be sick of the holiday within the first week or so of the month if you aren’t already, believe me I understand. We’ll have another Christmas list in a week or two, I’ve got something else planned for next week and for the end of December as well. I hope you enjoyed this little look at what the holidays mean to me, what songs you can expect me to be bumping, as they say. As I said, if I missed your favorite be sure to give a shout in the comments and let us know what you’re listening to for Christmas (or whatever holiday it is you celebrate this time of year), would love to hear it.
If you missed last week’s list and are still hungry after Thanksgiving, be sure to check it out below:
And if you’re just wanting more from me feel free to check out some of my retrospective reviews such as my look at the sci-fi action RPG The Surge or my full review of its sequel. Or if you’re in the mood for something spooky you can give the sample chapter for my upcoming short fiction collection a read: