80 Holiday Songs You Better Have…Or Else

Posted December 23, 2017 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Eighty great holiday songs to rock around your Christmas tree or your mistletoe – revealed



Tis‘ the season to be merry. Since the dawn of vinyl, holiday music has been a favorite resource for the fall and winter months (yup, the Winter Solstice). And there are thousands upon thousands of albums, singles, mp3s and streaming copies to pick from – with dozens being released with every passing year. And the cool yule tradition is showing no sign of stopping. So what are the finest holiday songs to date? Well, we’ve got a fair list of rock, pop, soul, R&B, gospel essentials, and all are guaranteed to deck your halls.


c-80“Merry Christmas All”
Writer: Vincent Montana, Jr., Andy Kozak
Producer: Vincent Montana. Jr.
from the album Christmas Jollies


With his daughter Denise Montana on vocals, arranger extraordinaire Vincent Montana smooths his disco orchestra into a delicate piece of Philly soul. And the sexy struts of the grooves are so good; it’s almost edible, evidenced on the repetitive “happy jolly, yummy time of the year” bridge.


c-79“8 Days of Christmas”
Writer: Beyoncé Knowles. Errol “Poppi” McCalla, Jr.
Producer: Beyoncé Knowles, Matthew Knowles,  Errol “Poppi” McCalla, Jr.
from the album 8 Days of Christmas


Putting their contemporary spin on the holiday carol “Twelve Days of Christmas,” Beyonce and Co. treat us with an urban club groove akin to “Bug a Boo” and “Independent Women.”


c-78“Lonely This Christmas”
Writer: Mike Chapman, Nicky Chinn
Producer: Mike Chapman, Nicky Chinn
released as promotional single


With Elvis Presley vibes, this doo-wop-ish holiday tune, co-penned by hitmaker Mike Chapman, reached number one on both the UK pop and UK Christmas chart.




c-77“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
Writer: Haven Gillespie, Fred Coots
Producer: The Whispers
from the album Happy Holidays to You


Soul group The Whispers are probably best known for their velvety greeting card original “Happy Holidays to You,” but their salsa take on “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” almost shades the Jacksons’ teen pop take into a winter coma.


c-76“Christmas Tree”
Writer: Stefani Germanotta, Nicolas Dresti
Producer: Martin Kierszenbaum, Space Cowboy
released as a digital download


A snazzy synth-heavy treat done with the coke-sniffing attitude of “Pokerface,” Lady Gaga is able to mix her sexual innuendo adventure (“ho ho, Christmas/my Christmas tree [is] delicious”) with family-oriented gems (“Deck the Halls,” “The Little Drummer Boy”) while skirting passed the censors.



c-75“Our First Christmas”
Writer: James Harris, III, Terry Lewis
Producer: Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis
from the album My Gift to You 


Minneapolis crooner Alexander O’Neal and Tabu labelmate Sounds of Blackness pour their hearts into a soaring midtempo gem trimmed with a meticulous production and one of Jam & Lewis’s finest R&B melodies. Thanks to the timeless synths and a sexy rhythmic strut, O’Neal and his sexy lines (“under, under the mistletoe/never, never let you go”) beats his contemporaries like Johnny Gill to the effective seasonal slow jam.


c-74“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”
Producer: Lee Gillette
Writer: Sammy Cahn, Ken Lane
from the album A Winter Romance


Traditional crooners like Dean Martin are always an exceptional add to a holiday playlist. And although Dino’s style is somewhere below Mel Torme and Tony Bennett, his warm baritone blends perfectly in the Disney-saturated orchestration of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”


c-73“Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas”
Writer: Deanie Parker
Producer: Al Bell
from the album It’s Christmas Time Again


No stranger to a crossover, gospel pop group The Staple Singers – still riding high on the wings of “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself” – suited up for this fun sermonette masquerading “merry” for Mary – Jesus Christ’s saintly mother. Marvelously penned by longtime Stax secretary Deanie Parker, this sneaky piece of evangelism isn’t too preachy, but fires shots at the sensationalism of the holiday hustle (“Too busy buying toys/Learning ‘bout Santa’s joy. Leave it to Mavis and Pop Staples’s smoldering Chicago gospel punch to bring salvation to the holiday season.


c-72“Every Year, Every Christmas”
Writer: Luther Vandross
Producer: Luther Vandross
from the album This Is Christmas


With the swag of Luther Vandross’s dreamiest balladry and the co-writing collaboration of late-‘80’s- ‘90’s pop idol Richard Marx, the “Here and Know” crooner delivers a holiday promise for a sweetheart: “I’ll be here ever year, ever Christmas.”


c-71“Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child”
Writer: Traditional
Producer: Milton Biggham
from the album Everytime I Feel the Spirit


Before Mariah Carey touched and turned “Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child” into the popular hymn it is today, gospel groups mastered it. Margaret Allison’s take with the Angelic Gospel Singers is probably the most definitive of the ilk, but Dr. Charles G. Hayes’ rollicking seven-minute version wins the first-place trophy. The spunky rhythms, guitar plucks and Diane Williams’s impromptu ad-libs (the voice you’ve heard in the 2017 Google Chromebook commercial) sounds like Chuck Berry at a Sunday revival.

c-70“Christmas in New York”
Writer: Nathan East, Chris Christian
Producer: Nathan East, Chris Christian
from the album Smooth & Soulful Christmas


Buoyant images of a festive New York (“there’s no place I’d rather be/Than in the Apple on Rockin’ New Years’ Eve”) and a groove conjuring the Pointers’ ‘80’s synthpop, this bubbly number plays like an infomercial jingle for a Rockefeller tree lighting. Released on a 2005 YMC holiday compilation, this Nathan East-produced song managed to peak at number 21 on the adult contemporary charts.


c-69“Give Love on Christmas Day”
Writer: Berry Gordy, Jr., Fonce Minzell, Freddie Perren, Deke Richards
Producer: The Corporation
from the album Christmas Album


Out of everything featured on the heavily bubblegum pop Christmas Album LP, this Berry Gordy-Corporation original has the Jackson 5 and a pre-puberty Michael Jackson on lead vocals humming something a little more grown. It’s a tender ballad decorated with Delfonics/Stylistics soul and “What the World Needs Now Is Love” wisdom.


c-68“That Special Time of Year”
Writer: Arnold Goland, Jack Gold
Producer: Jack Gold
from the album That Special Time of Year


Arranger Gene Page drops his Barry White symphonic magic on an uptempo disco-pop wonder capturing festive tingles, Gladys’s convincing soul and the Pips’ marvelous harmonies.


c-67“My Favorite Things”
Writer: Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II
Producer: Harvey Fuqua
from the album Merry Christmas


With a breeze of Copa sophistication, wintry spice and complimentary vibes, Diana Ross and her Supreme singers tackle the popular Rodgers/Hammerstein classic better than anyone that’s touched it. The poofy big band arrangement, all designed by producer Harvey Fuqua, gets extra nods.


c-66“Soul Holidays”
(1980; #5 r&b)
Writer: James Harris, III, Terry Lewis, James Wright, Ann Nesby,  Jamecia Bennett
Producer: Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis
from the album The Night Before Christmas – A Musical Fantasy


Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis takes Sounds of Blackness’ breakthrough urban R&B hit “Optimistic” and blends it into moving harmonies and lyrics recounting the joys of “Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years’ Day.” The verses aren’t exactly memorable, but give thanks to the freestyle ad-libs by the fiery vocalists Ann Nesby and James Wright. They seal the deal.

c-65“Let It Snow”
Writer: Brian McKnight, Wanya Morris
Producer: Brian McKnight, Boyz II Men
from the album Christmas Interpretations


This sexy Jodeci-type update on the classic Snow Day carol finds the “End of the Road” quartet crooning alongside Brian McKnight. Seriously it’s just rewarding to hear frontman Wanya Morris and McKnight show off their melisma skills before the bedroom lights dim. When originally released, the song stormed to number 32 pop.


c-64“December Will Be Magic Again”
Writer: Kate Bush
Producer: Kate Bush, Jon Kelly
released as a  7″ single


Quirky, giddy and almost esoteric, Kate Bush’s icy vocals on this magical art rock piece are perfect for this type of storytelling about Bing Crosby singing “white Christmas and “Oscar Wilde into the “silent night.” She creates an animated holiday display in a contemporary Norman Rockwell setting all the way down to her operatic “ma-ha-ah-gic” vocal floats.


c-63“Step into Christmas”
Writer: Elton John, Bernie Taupin
Producer: Gus Dudgeon
from the album Purple Rain


The perky “Step into Christmas” conjures everything we’ve associated with a magical Elton John pop number. But taking it to the edge, to make it just a little more Christmas-y, John and producer Gus Dudgeon decided to mix it down in a way that was reminiscent of Phil Spector’s iconic Wall of Sound blueprint. It was a success on both sides of the pond when originally released, hitting number one on the Billboard Christmas Singles chart and number 24 on the UK Singles chart.


c-62“Homo Christmas”
Writer: Jon Ginoli
Producer: Pansy Division
from the album Diamonds and Pearls


This gay-loving uptempo rock song cut by queer punk rock band Pansy Division is as raunchy as X-rated gay porn, but there’s so much to like here. Dressed in pre-melodic chords of Blues Traveler’s “Run-Around,” this song is a sleigh ride full of shade (“Don’t be miserable/Like Morrissey”), naughty anal play (“Licking nipples, licking nuts/Putting candy canes up each other’s butts”) and witty humor.


c-61“Silent Night” (Happy Holiday Mix)
Writer: Chuckii Booker
Producer: Thomas McElroy, Denzil Foster
from the album Remix to Sing


With a bouncy New Jack swing groove and new lyrics powered by “Games” singer Chuckii Booker, R&B girl group En Vogue supplies the ‘90’s with a festive earworm. It didn’t get a single release, but it didn’t stop urban radio from programming it.

NEXT: #60-49

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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