14 surprisingly excellent Christmas songs

Rock around your tree with these festive faves

The Christmas song has been a staple of pop culture for well over 60 years, but as anyone with ears knows, they're not always a reason to be jolly.

But it is possible to make a good Christmas single. And here's MusicRadar's own festive favourites, from Ray Charles and Mariah Carey to The Killers and Run DMC…

The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale Of New York

A song to melt the hardest of hearts, set in the underbelly of New York City. An anthem for anyone who finds themselves staring into the bottom of a glass, reminiscing about lost love and wasted opportunities this Christmas. Certain to provoke raucous sing-a-longs in bars across the globe until the end of time. Here's the late Kirsty MacColl performing live with Pogues on St. Patrick's Day back in 1988. Chris Vinnicombe

Low - Just Like Christmas

Every year, there are but two Xmas traditions for me.
1 - Remember to stick Kahlua on the booze list.
2 - Attack the CD landslide and find Low's Christmas EP.
On the whole, this 2003 release is in line with the Duluth trio's trademark slowcore sound but Just Like Christmas is a revelation - rollicking Spector-style production, jangling sleigh. Mike Goldsmith

Run DMC - Christmas In Hollis

'Novelty' hip-hop is a near-impossible gig to pull off, but in 1987 Run-DMC could still rock the beats and the funnies. Christmas In Hollis is built around a sample of Clarence Carter's Back Door Santa - not about Christmas at all, fools! – and although it's (macaroni) cheesy as hell, it's all y'all need to make any old-skool yule rule. Word! Michael Leonard

Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You

Usually, I'm allergic to anything attached to the name Mariah Carey. But this song is an exception. Maybe it's the jingling sleighbells, or perhaps it's the good-time beat. Or maybe, just maybe it's the promise of a pretty girl saying money and gifts don't matter, all she need is...me! This is the carefree, kick-up-the snow, let's-kiss-under-the-mistletoe sound of Christmas all the way. Joe Bosso

Ray Charles and Betty Carter - Baby It's Cold Outside

There are as many grim versions of Frank Loesser's standard as there are great ones (we're looking at you, Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews), but at its best it's a cheeky, cockle-warming classic. Ray Charles and Betty Carter certainly sound like they're having fun in this charming 1961 recording, and because the song doesn't explicitly mention Christmas, you can justifiably keep listening to it well into the New Year. Ben Rogerson

Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas

A song that's sure to evoke emotion – normally either a bile-inducing hatred for Bob Geldof, or the feeling that we just must, somehow, save the world with music. In this writer's case it's the latter. Band Aid may have numerous flaws (Simon Le Bon's horrific over-singing of the oh-so-evocative line "but when you're having fun" to name but one) but the immediacy of the recording and (overall) sincerity of the cause shine through. And the Bono line? It's great. The lyric is horribly selfish, and it's all the more human for it. Chris Wickett

The Beach Boys – Little Saint Nick

If there's one song that blows the 'cheesy Chrimbo' stereotype out of the water it's Little Saint Nick. It's so cool, it almost makes us want to take our surfboards out of hibernation and catch a ride on a snowy hill. Ha, imagine that: a board - not skis - on snow! Then again, The Beach Boys always were innovators. Tom Porter

Slade – Merry Christmas Everybody

Blindingly obvious, but it wouldn't really be the festive season without hearing the alarmingly hirsute Noddy Holder bawling, "It's Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaaas!". Noel Gallagher recorded a rather nice acoustic cover of it for UK comedy series The Royle Family's Christmas Special in 2000. However, we're not so sure about this version by Dexys Midnight Runners. Chris Vinnicombe

Clarence Carter - Back Door Santa

First off, MusicRadar apologises for the wantonly sexy nature of this clip but it was either this - the only original we could find - or some 'interesting' cover versions by Jet or Bon Jovi. Anyhoo, Back Door Santa - released in 1968 by filthy soulman Clarence Carter, sampled by Run DMC for Christmas In Hollis and, as the grooviest Xmas song ever written, about to totally hijack the stereo for the MusicRadar Xmas Shindig. Mike Goldsmith

The Killers – Don't Shoot Me Santa

MusicRadar was a bit underwhelmed by The Killers' Christmas 2008 single (with Elton John), but this 2007 gift to fans is a bit of a, erm, killer. The chorus melody is good enough for a 'regular' Killers tune. You get a bad Brandon Flowers, a murderous Santa, plus Mariachi trumpets, all giving a quirky dark twist to 'Christmas cheer'. Don't like it? Try The Killers' 2006 Christmas single A Great Big Sled. Michael Leonard

Darleen Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

In 1963, The Ronettes' Ronnie Spector couldn't pack the right emotional punch for this rousing 'teenage symphony to God' bit of holiday magic. So legendary producer Phil Spector chose Darleen Love to bring it on home. And oh, how she did, summoning up heartbreak and the yearning for Christmases gone by. In 1987, U2 recorded a version that darn near eclipsed the original. Joe Bosso

Saint Etienne and Tim Burgess - I Was Born On Christmas Day

Can you make a good Christmas dance record? If you're St Etienne and Tim Burgess the answer's yes – despite the fact that both The Charlatans' frontman and Sarah Cracknell sound a little 'pitchy' at various points. Released in 1993, the song still has a bright and breezy charm, though it's probably better played with your mates on Christmas Eve than it is to Grandma on Christmas morning. Ben Rogerson

Howard Blake - Walking In The Air

This one might not be the best choice to drop right after Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody at the work Christmas Party (unless you work for Irn-Bru), but the track from animated short The Snowman is truly an epic piece. Here's the original version sung by Peter Auty – its bleak, expansive sound perfectly captures the feeling of flying through the winter sky holding the hand of an animate snow-sculpture. Also, if you've got a spare seven minutes, check out Oceansize's post-rock interpretation – it's even epic-er. Chris Wickett

Mud – Lonely this Christmas

If you're spending this Christmas with a loved one: well done, hooray for you. If, however, you're on your own: rejoice! The greatest unhappy festive tune ever written is for you. It's so good, those experiencing any hint of relationship problems should seriously consider ending it now - don't wait until the new year, do it now. Wrap up warm, though, it'll be cold, so cold. Tom Porter


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