Jingle bells, Batman smells
Whether they're blasting from the department store speakers as you make that final present-buying dash, or being sung by the dancing bluetooth Santa that you wish you'd never bought, once you get to this time of year, Christmas songs are inescapable.
There's no point fighting it: you may as well accept right now that you're frequently going to be told tales of last Christmas, wonderful Christmas times and bells ringing out for Christmas Day.
This being the case, it's time to set aside the bah humbuggery and enjoy the festive season, and to help you get into the holiday mood, we present MusicRadar's now traditional rundown of the top 40 Christmas songs of all time.
40. Mary's Boy Child
Mary’s Boy Child was a substantial hit for Harry Belafonte in 1956, although the best-known version (and the one likely to appear on your Xmas Hits compilation) is Boney M’s take, re-worked and re-titled to Mary’s Boy Child - Oh My Lord. Watch the disco-tinged German band performing 1992’s Christmas Mega Mix for a reminder.
Written by: Jester Hairston (and Frank Farian, Fred Jay on the Oh My Lord version)
Listen: Harry Belafonte - Mary's Boy Child
39. Frosty The Snowman
Originally recorded by Gene Autry And The Cass County Boys in 1950 as a follow-up to the previous year’s hit Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snowman - as well as spawning an animated short in 1954 - is another oft-covered standard in festive music. They don’t come much better than the Jackson 5’s stomping Motown version...
Written by: Walter ‘Jack’ Rollins and Steve Nelson
Listen: The Jackson 5 - Frosty The Snowman
38. Feels Like Christmas
The Feeling’s frontman Dan Gillespie Sells displayed a refreshing lack of cynicism when he confessed that he loved Christmas and wrote this song as a pure and simple celebration of the season.
With its twinkling bells and sparkling strings it’s a slight but seductive, even straying into a singalong territory with its ‘nah-nah-na-nah’ refrain at the start of the chorus.
Written by: The Feeling
Listen: The Feeling - Feels Like Christmas
37. Stop The Cavalry
Bit of a weird one, this: how an anti-war, First World War-referencing song sung by a man with pointy new wave sideburns became a Christmas hit is anyone’s guess, but it did.
The jaunty melody, brass band arrangement and bluff English delivery come together to make Stop The Cavalry more festive than a big red sack full of mince pies and reindeers, against all the odds.
Written by: Jona Lewie
Listen: Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry
36. Merry Christmas Everyone
Okay, so the video features a lone child being flown to a bleak cabin apparently standing in an isolated Swindon car park, but then the Welsh Elvis starts singing and all is forgiven.
All the constituent ingredients of a yuletide banger are here: jingling bells, almost laughably clichéd lyrics, and a towering juggernaut of a chorus. Festive.
Written by: Bob Heatlie
Listen: Shakin’ Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone
35. Please Come Home For Christmas
Feeling blue this Christmas? You know what you need, don't you: silky smooth yuletide rocking, Eagles style.
Don and the boys barely break a sweat on Please Come Home For Christmas, but we'll let them off because somehow this ends up in our rotation every year. It's so utterly professional in execution it's almost cold, which is sort of fitting given the theme and time of year.
Written by: Charles Brown and Gene Redd
Listen: Eagles - Please Come Home For Christmas
34. Wrapped In Red
Producer Greg Kurstin took inspiration from Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound when he took charge of Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red, which comes from her Christmas album of the same name.
Apparently, the song was inspired by the slightly creepy moment in Love Actually when Andrew Lincoln’s character holds up cards telling Keira Knightley that he’s secretly in love with her, but don’t let that put you off.
Written by: Kelly Clarkson, Ashley Arrison, Aben Eubanks, Shane McAnally
Listen: Kelly Clarkson - Wrapped In Red
33. Run Rudolph Run
Recorded the same year as Johnny B Goode, Run Run Rudolph has the same scattily brilliant guitar work, the same irresistible toe-tapping rhythm, and one of those strident, uber-confident Chuck Berry vocals.
He could have fallen over a microphone and come up with a hit in '58, and this sub-three minute runaround catches him in his pomp, tossing off a timeless Christmas tune for laughs.
Written by: Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie
Listen: Chuck Berry - Run Rudolph Run
32. Winter Wonderland
The tune adopted by chanting fans on football terraces is, of course, from Winter Wonderland. Released first by Richard Himber in 1934, the song, like every festive staple, has attracted its fair share of interpretations. And ‘Wonderland’s are as diverse as any you'll hear: Bob Dylan, Cocteau Twins, Cyndi Lauper, Ozzy Osbourne ft. Jessica Simpson… we could go on.
Written by: Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith
Listen: Elvis Presley - Winter Wonderland
31. One More Sleep
A shameless attempt to recreate the feelgood Christmas hits of the past, this Motown-inspired stomper has more bells and chimes than Santa’s sleigh, and sparkled on its release in 2013.
There’s a strong vocal hook, with Lewis playfully counting down the days until her amour returns, and the production, from pop supremo Richard “Biff” Stannard, has ‘office Christmas party’ written all over it.
Written by: Leona Lewis, Richard Stannard, Iain James, Jez Ashurst
Listen: Leona Lewis - One More Sleep
30. Lonely This Christmas
This is it. The greatest Elvis Christmas song ever, written and recorded by '70s glam-rockers Mud with absolutely no involvement from the King whatsoever.
Lonely This Christmas shifted three quarters of a million copies to top the charts in 1974, and with tongue firmly in cheek, Mud gifted us a dyed-in-the-wool seasonal classic.
Written by: Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman
Listen: MUD - Lonely This Christmas
29. In Dulci Jubilo
This list doesn’t contain any traditional carols, apart from this one: In Dulci Jubilo (translated to ‘In Sweetest Rejoicing’ or ‘Good Christian Men, Rejoice’) is thought to have been written by the “German mystic” Heinrich Seuse in 1328-ish.
It was translated into English by Robert Lucas de Pearsall in 1837 and it was this version that multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield transformed into the festive standard we know and love today.
Written by: Heinrich Seuse, Robert Lucas de Pearsall, John Mason Neale
Listen: Mike Oldfield - In Dulci Jubilo
28. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
Possibly the best tool a parent has for keeping their kids in check throughout the year: “He [Santa] knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake".
Written by: J. Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie
Listen: Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
27. Santa Baby
With memorable covers by the likes of Madonna, Kylie Minogue and, er… Ally McBeal, this ode to gluttony, Girl Power and stockings stuffed with Tiffany’s swag is the soundtrack to any self-respecting diva’s holiday season.
However, it’s the late Eartha Kitt’s brilliant 1953 original take that we’re paying tribute to here. Orson Welles once described her as the “most exciting woman in the world." That, and the most demanding…
Fact: Eartha Kitt passed away on Christmas day, 2008.
Written by: Joan Javits, Philip Springer
Listen: Eartha Kitt - Santa baby
26. Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
Brenda Lee’s 1958 swinging version of Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree is a cracker. Mel (Smith) & Kim (Wilde)’s 1987 Comic Relief cut with added spoken word lines written by Smith and sometime partner in crime Griff Rhys Jones, does indeed provide some comic relief. And it’s somewhat better than Gareth Gates and the Kumars doing Spirit In The Sky.
Written by: Johnny Marks
Listen: Mel & Kim - Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
25. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Like The Christmas Song, Let It Snow was penned in sunny California during one of the hottest days on record!
And, just like The Christmas Song, it became a staple cover of the Rat Pack alumni after Vaughn Monroe took it to number one in 1945. Fact: while Let It Snow certainly marks the festive season with its cheery lyrics, there is actually no mention of Christmas at any point. Both composer and lyricist were Jewish.
Written by: Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne
Listen: Dean Martin - Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
24. Christmas Lights
Just like Christmas, Coldplay are inescapable, so it’s probably appropriate that they have a record to mark the season.
As you might expect, 2010’s Christmas Lights is a mid-tempo piano-led number, but just as you think that you know where it’s going, there’s a timing shift and we’re into a hearty singalong section. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that, in situations like this, Chris Martin knows exactly which boxes need ticking.
Written by: Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion, Chris Martin
Listen: Coldplay - Christmas Lights
23. Little Saint Nick
Brian Wilson and Mike Love took the rhythm from Little Deuce Coupe, added the “run run reindeer” bridge and some obligatory sleighbell magic and made the track that may or may not have invented snowboarding.
Little Saint Nick was first released as a single in 1963 and re-recorded for 1964’s The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album. Another alternative version, which borrows the melody from Drive-In, was added to the 1992 reissue.
Written by: Brian Wilson, Mike Love
Listen: The Beach Boys - Little Saint Nick
22. Christmas Wrapping
While the word ‘Wrapping’ is usually (and rightly) associated with shiny festive paper, The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping is actually a nod to rap music which was making its mark in 1981. Hence Patty Donahue’s deadpan delivery.
Fact: the song was covered by the Spice Girls in 1998, who changed the very American lyrics appropriately: enter “Tesco” and “the all night garage".
Written by: Chris Butler
Listen: The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping
21. Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End)
The Darkness, in their early 00s pomp, were quite something to behold. This novelty Christmas single sums them up rather neatly, with its Thin Lizzy guitars, most classic of classic rock stylings, Justin Hawkins’ falsetto and whopping great big double entendre.
Incidentally, the band has just released another Christmas song and it’s not a patch on this. Take from that what you will.
Written by: Justin Hawkins, Dan Hawkins, Frankie Poullain, Ed Graham
Listen: The Darkness - Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)
20. Little Drummer Boy
Another classic to be honoured with an animated short film by the same name is Little Drummer Boy.
The song first came to prominence with the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1958, but the real recording to be treasured is David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy. Watch this clip from Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas TV special to see and hear why.
Written by: Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati, Harry Simeone
Listen: Bing Crosby and David Bowie - Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth
19. Stay Another Day
White parkas, specific facial hair and first-class boyband handiwork: behold England in the '90s and rejoice, for it was good.
Stay Another Day has a fair shout at the most retrospectively ridiculous music video ever made, but the song itself is a classic. A massive hit in '94 thanks to its sparkling melody and delicate piano, you’d be hard pushed to find a better example of Christmas popcraft.
That video though. Astonishing.
Written by: Tony Mortimer, Rob Kean & Dominic Hawken
Listen: East 17 - Stay Another Day
18. Jingle Bell Rock
Credit where credit’s due for Bobby Helms’s 1957 original rockabilly version of Jingle Bell Rock. It’s great. But anyone who’s seen Mean Girls will know that the only way to enjoy the song fully is to have Lindsay Lohan and three scantily clad Santa’s helpers dancing along to it. See? OK, maybe not. Listen to Arcade Fire’s take instead.
Written by: Joe Beal and Jim Boothe
Listen: Bobby Helms - Jingle Bell Rock
17. What Christmas Means To Me
This not a great Christmas song. It’s better than that, bigger than that - this is just a flat-out Motown banger, courtesy of Stevie Wonder circa 1967.
An amazing ascending bassline keeps things groovy, and Stevie’s vocal gives What Christmas Means To Me a level of energy rarely associated with binge-eating turkey and keeping Nan away from the sherry.
Written by: Anna Gaye, Allen Story and George Gordy
Listen: Stevie Wonder - What Christmas Means To Me
16. December Song (I Dreamed Of Christmas)
Already a festive fixture thanks to Wham’s Last Christmas (more on that later), George Michael returned to the Christmas fray in 2008 with the release of this reflective ballad.
Taking a sentimental look back at - one assumes - the Christmases of Michael’s youth, the song feels all the more poignant following his death on Christmas Day 2016, and seems destined to be played for years to come.
Written by: George Michael, David Austin
Listen: George Michael - December Song (I Dreamed Of Christmas)
15. I Believe in Father Christmas
One third of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Greg Lake, wrote I Believe In Father Christmas as a protest against the commercialisation of Christmas.
The original accompanying video was criticised for containing shots of the Vietnam War - not light-hearted enough for MTV or VH1’s Mega Xmas Countdown, presumably.
Written by: Greg Lake/Peter Sinfield
Listen: Greg Lake - I Believe in Father Christmas
14. Step Into Christmas
It didn’t make much of an impact on the charts back in '73, and if you ask us that is a travesty, because Step Into Christmas is an effortlessly brilliant seasonal smasher.
Remember when Elton John was young and weird and fun and his voice hadn’t had all the sparkle scrubbed out of it? This is the result: infectious, joyous and catchy as all hell.
Written by: Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Listen: Elton John - Step Into Christmas
13. Driving Home For Christmas
On its first release in 1988, Driving Home For Christmas barely dented the UK chart at number 53, only to slightly better itself 19 years later in 2007 with a re-entry at 33.
Despite this, no Christmas compilation worth its weight in salt grit should be without Chris Rea’s classic, which cunningly turns something as monotonous as “driving home” through “top-to-toe tail-lights” into a magical quest to “see those faces”. Ahhhh, bless.
Written by: Chris Rea
Listen: Chris Rea - Driving Home For Christmas
12. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
First uttered by Judy Garland in 1944’s romantic tear-jerker Meet Me In St. Louis, before being modified, re-recorded and brought to prominence by Frank Sinatra in 1947.
And then again and again by a few hundred more would-be crooners including Mel Torme, whose version soundtracks everybody’s favourite Macaulay Culkin movie - scratch that, everybody’s favourite Christmas movie - Home Alone.
Written by: Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane
Listen: Frank Sinatra - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
11. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)
Apparently the ‘most-performed Christmas song of all time’ was written on a blistering hot summer day in an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool”.
First released in 1946 by The King Cole Trio and covered by just about everyone from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to Christina Aguilera and ‘N Sync. Most-performed indeed.
Written by: Mel Tormé, Bob Wells
Listen: Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song
10. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
In 1963, The Ronettes' Ronnie Spector couldn't pack the right emotional punch for this rousing slice of holiday magic.
So legendary producer Phil Spector chose Darlene Love to bring it on home for his essential A Christmas Gift For You compilation. And oh, how she did, summoning up heartbreak and the yearning for Christmases gone by.
Written by: Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector
Listen: Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
9. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday is the first of two entries from Yuletide’s glam rock year, 1973.
Unfortunately this office party favourite has always played second fiddle to Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody (beaten to the number one spot for five consecutive weeks!), and this countdown is no exception. Surprising when you consider that Wizzard (aka Roy Wood) boasts a beard to rival even Father Christmas’s.
Written by: Roy Wood
Listen: Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
8. Do They Know It's Christmas?
A song that's sure to evoke emotion - either a bile-inducing hatred for Bob Geldof, or the feeling that we just must, somehow, save the world with music. MusicRadar’s plumping for 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.
Written by: Bob Geldof, Midge Ure
Listen: Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas?
7. All I Want For Christmas Is You
It has to be said, it’s not every day you’ll see Mariah Carey taking pride of place in a poll voted for by musicians. It also has to be said that when the American diva sings “I don't care about the presents, underneath the Christmas tree,” we don’t believe her.
Regardless, All I Want For Christmas Is You is not only the most recent festive release (1994) to make the list, it’s a staple soundtrack to every office party, turkey preparation session and mistletoe shenanigan the world over.
Written by: Mariah Carey, Walter Afanasieff
Listen: Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You
6. Wonderful Christmastime
Not one to be outdone by John, our Paul’s contribution to the Christmas canon is a strange but beguiling beast. Squelchy synth sounds brush against sleigh bells, there’s weird delay pinging off everywhere, the video clearly cost about a tenner, but it all somehow works.
Amazing what a Macca melody can do in a pinch.
Written by: Paul McCartney
Listen: Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmastime
5. Merry Xmas Everybody
The second entry from 1973 and surely glam rock’s finest festive hour, without the “alarmingly hirsute" Noddy Holder bawling, "It's Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaaas!" on Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, how else would we know what season it was?!
Fact: on its initial release, the track hung around in the UK singles chart well into February 1974. Surprising, as that’s probably more of a nod toward its rival, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. Literally, every day.
Written by: Noddy Holder, Jim Lea
Listen: Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade
4. Last Christmas
Going up against Do They Know It’s Christmas? for the coveted Christmas number one spot in 1984 was never going to be easy, so it’s no real surprise that Last Christmas became the biggest selling single in the UK never to reach the top of the charts!
Still, we’re sure George Michael didn’t mind, being heavily involved in Band Aid himself. In fact, he donated all of the song’s royalties to the Ethiopian famine appeal. Now that’s charity.
UPDATE: Check out Brett Domino's version of Last Christmas using TC-Helicon's Voicelive Touch. Astonishing.
Written by: George Michael
Listen: Wham! - Last Christmas
3. White Christmas
A croon for those longing for the Dickens-esque Christmas Carol white blankets of old. Bing Crosby’s version remains one of the best selling singles of all time and, with heart-warming lyrics about ‘glistening treetops’ and heart-wrenching memories of Christmases at home - “just like the ones I used to know” - you’d have to be Scrooge himself not to hear why.
Fact: the song’s writer Irving Berlin’s opening verse is often dropped from many of its covers. Darlene Love’s take on A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector is one of the few to include it.
Written by: Irving Berlin
Listen: Bing Crosby - White Christmas
2. Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
With lyrics based on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 billboard campaign which displayed the words "WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko" in cities deeply entrenched in the Vietnam War, it’s perhaps surprising that the song’s original release failed to chart in the US.
Fact: The song’s whispered beginning is a greeting to the couple’s children - Yoko says “Happy Christmas, Kyoko" and John says “Happy Christmas, Julian” - not, contrary to popular belief (and incorrectly included in the lyric sheet from 1982’s The John Lennon Collection!), “Happy Christmas, Yoko. Happy Christmas, John”.
Written by: John Lennon, Yoko Ono
Listen: John & Yoko - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
1. Fairytale Of New York - The Pogues
Our top Christmas song is set in the underbelly of New York City, and guaranteed to melt the hardest of hearts.
An anthem for anyone who finds themselves staring into the bottom of a glass, reminiscing about lost love and wasted opportunities. 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.
Fact: the song's typically Irish lyrics include the words “faggot” (slang for a lazy person) and “slut,” which BBC Radio One deemed unsuitable for its listeners in 2007. Literally on the same evening of the ban, the Beeb reversed its decision. To this day, however, VH1 still scramble the offending lyrics, plus the word “arse.”
The Pogues themselves found the whole incident “amusing.”
Written by: Jem Finer, Shane MacGowan
Listen: The Pogues - Fairytale of New York
Liked this? Now read: 14 kick-ass alternative Xmas anthems
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