The 20 best Christmas songs ever

Noddy Holder, Don Powell, Dave Hill and Jim Lea of Slade perform on a Christmas TV show in December 1973 in Hilversum, netherlands
(Image credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redfern/Getty Images)

Whether they're blasting from the 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... it's time to set aside the bah humbuggery

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 rundown of the top Christmas songs of all time.

20. 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

19. 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".

The Jackson 5 know it, so do Alvin And The Chipmunks and so does Bruce Springsteen.

Written by: J. Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie

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 of 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. 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

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

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

6. Wonderful Christmastime

Not one to be outdone by John (below), 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

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

4. Last Christmas

Going up against Do They Know It’s Christmas? for the coveted UK 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.

Written by: George Michael

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

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

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.

Written by: Jem Finer, Shane MacGowan


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