“Christmas music”–the mere mention of the two words anywhere in close proximity is enough to make many people cringe, which I certainly understand. From Thanksgiving through New Years, we are bombarded with “Christmas music” anytime we enter a store or turn on a radio and 98% of it pure philistine trash.
But just like any other genre, if you look hard enough, there’s plenty of “good” Christmas music out there with redeeming qualities, you simply have to look. To help you out in your search, I thought I would put together my “Ultimate Christmas Playlist.” Chances are, you will not hear many of the versions of the songs on this playlist at any store or on any radio station.
1. “Linus and Lucy” Vince Guaraldi Trio – Though ostensibly not a Christmas song, most of us associate with the holiday season since the Peanut’s holiday specials have been such a large part of American life since the 1960′s.
2. “Merry Christmas From The Family” Robert Earl Keen – The Texas troubadour captures a special type of Christmas spirit unique to the Lone Star state.
3. “The Spirit of Christmas” Ray Charles – You probably remember this tune from Christmas Vacation during the scene where Clark is locked in the attic and breaks out the family film reels.
4. “Un Flambeau, Jeannette Isabelle” Les Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal – As a youngster, this was one of the first Christmas carols I learned to play on the piano. If presented with a keyboard right now, I’m fairly confident I would still remember the melody.
5.) “The Nutcracker, Op 71: No. 2 March” Orchestra of the Kirov Opera – Perhaps the most recognizable piece from the The Nutcracker.
6.) “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” Mahalia Jackson – Was debating on whether to include the Sinatra or Mahalia Jackson version of this Christmas classic. No knock on Franky, but there is just something so majestic about Jackson’s voice that no Christmas playlist would be complete without this recording.
7. “The Christmas Song” Frank Sinatra - While Sinatra’s version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” was not strong enough to win out, his version of “The Christmas Song” is the only one you will ever need.
8. “The Nutcracker, Op. 71: No. 12d Russian Dancers” Orchestra of the Kirov Opera – A rush of adrenaline from start to finish…
9. “Please Come Home for Christmas” The Eagles – I normally don’t care much for contemporary Christmas music, especially of the secular variety, but this is an obvious exception.
10. “O Holy Night” David Phelps - Easily my favorite Christmas song and with so many different versions it’s not easy finding the perfect one for this list, so I’ll keep it in the family, kind of, and go with Phelps’ version.
11. “Il es ne, le divin enfant” Cambridge College Orchestra – I have my high school French teacher, the late-great Ms. Ruth Trumble, to thank for this one making the list. Every year at Christmas, she made our classes learn several French carols. Today, it’s pretty much the only French I remember.
12. “Let All Mortal Flesh” Fernando Ortega – One of the more obtuse inclusions on this list, but I really do think it captures the reflective nature of the season.
13. “Go Tell It On the Mountain” New Orleans St. Peter’s Gospel Choir – Sometimes you need quiet and reflective songs, other times you need the bombastic stylings of a full gospel choir.
14. “Mele Kalikimaka” Bing Crosby – Another song that most of us only know from Christmas Vacation.
15. “The Nutcracker, Op. 71: No.14c (Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy) – Another Nutcracker piece that never gets old.
16. “Silent Night” Ray Charles - It was actually a rather easy choice on the version of “Silent Night” to include. Like so many other songs Ray Charles touched, this one would never be the same.
17. “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion” London Philharmonic Orchestra – For any Christmas playlist to be considered legit, you must find some way to work in at least parts of Handel’s Messiah.
18. “What Child Is This?” Cambridge Singers – Without a doubt, this John Rutter arrangement of “What Child Is This” is superior to all others.
19. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Mahalia Jackson – No one sings this song quite like Mahalia.
20. “Mary Did You Know” David Phelps – But you can’t go wrong with any version of this classic.
21. “Christmas Song” Dave Matthews – A modern take on the Christmas story.
22. “Ave Maria” Christina England – Truly one of the most beautiful of sacred songs.
23. “Gabriel’s Message (Basque Carol)” Cambridge College Orchestra – Another reflective carol that instantly puts the season in perspective for the listener.
24. “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” Cambridge College Orchestra – At one point, I knew every verse to this epic Christmas carol.
25. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” Tori Amos – One of the most philistine of all Christmas songs, but Tori saves it and make it art.