Most Christmas songs are like fruitcake. Something you endure in the spirit of the holidays, but you wouldn’t even consider induging in in say, February. But believe it or not, are actually a few Christmas songs with enough craft, enough soul, enough edge that you’d he happy to hear them on your Ipod any day of the year. Here’s my top 10 countdown of great songs that just happen to be about Christmas.
Don't Miss: iPhone 8: Everything You Need to Know
10. Ramones: “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight) The Ramones apply their own kind of Wall of Sound to a christmas song even cooler than Phil Spector’s classics.
9. Frank Sinatra “Let it Snow:” Frank Sinatra signing a Sammy Kahn/Jule Styne song written on a 100 degree California day? What’s not to like?
8. Lou Monte: “Dominic the Donkey:” Of all the outright silly Christmas songs, this one by Lou Monte is the most gloriously goofy. But couplets like this one–”a pair of shoes for Louie and a dress for Josephine. The label on the inside says it’s made in Brook-a-lyn”–remind us that Christmas predated Toys R Us and the Apple Store.
7. The Pogues “A Fairytale of New York:” Ask anyone in the UK of a certain age for their favorite Christmas song, and they’ll likely cite this Pogues classic. With good reason. It captures the melancholy that’s part and parcel of the season, but adds a smidgen of hope.
6. John Fahey: “Joy to the World:” No guitarist ever played with timing more brilliantly than the late John Fahey. Here he deconstructs Handel’s melody in a way that lets you listen to this timeless tune afresh.
5. Chuck Berry: “Run Run Rudolph” Berry might be America’s most underrated songwriter, and this sly and playful take on the commercialization of Christmas is a worthy rockification of the Gene Autry classic.
4. Big Star: “Jesus Christ” A refreshingly unpolished, irony-free original from the last of three albums by these star-crossed alt-rock pioneers.
3. Tom Waits “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis:” From Jesus in the Manger to Dickens’ Tiny Tim to Frosty the Snowman, Christmas is all about stories, and no stories are more powerful than the ones we tell ourselves. “Charlie, for Chrissake, if you want to know the truth of it, I don’t have a husband, he don’t play the trombone. Need to borrow money to pay this lawyer. I’ll be eligible for parole come Valentine’s Day.”
2. Otis Redding”White Christmas:” Otis Redding could sing the phone book into a cell phone with a head cold and it would be worth a listen. But her he imbues this Christmas classic with his trademark brand of aching soul. Move over, Bing Crosby.
1. Robert Earl Keen “Merry Christmas to the Family:” Robert Earl Keen’s masterpiece is not only laugh-out loud funny, but brilliantly specific. “Send somebody to the Quick Pack store, we need some ice and an extension cord, a can of bean dip and some Diet Rite, a box of tampons and some Marlboro Lights.” But throughout this romp, we’re laughing with Keen’s kin, not at them.
What’s your favorite Christmas song? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Allen St. John is the author of Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game, published this month by Ballantine Books.