This is a collection of 25 Christmas songs from a variety of genres—soul, jazz, rock, country, bluegrass, reggae, and 80’s pop and hip hop. Some are classics that most are familiar with, while others may be previously unknown. Either way, I hope this serves as a Christmas gift to you and yours!
1. Christmas Time Is Here — Khruangbin
Released in 2018, Khruangbin pays homage to Vince Guaraldi’s classic album A Charlie Brown Christmas with this funky chill groove that’s sure to warm your heart.
2. Linus and Lucy — Vince Guaraldi Trio
Speaking of A Charlie Brown Christmas and Vince Guaraldi, this iconic Christmas album from 1978 is arguably the most loved and revered holiday offering from the last 50 years. You can’t go wrong with any track, but I’ve chosen this one for its originality and upbeat playfulness.
3. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas — Jackson 5
I love how this song starts off the album, issued in 1970, with Jermaine on lead and his brothers warmly harmonizing. It is laid back for the first 4 minutes, then breaks into an upbeat and energetic Christmas shout out.
4. Christmas Must Be Tonight — The Band
Some Christmas songs are not found on Christmas albums, as is the case with this rendition from The Band (one of my favorite bands) in 1977 off Islands, one of their lesser-known albums.
5. O Little Town Of Bethlehem — Emmylou Harris
Released in 1979 off her Christmas album Light Of The Stable, this somber and reverent number, like practically all from this album, is excellent to play for fans of bluegrass, older country, or simply beautiful female vocals. The musicians on here are also quite accomplished, most notably Ricky Skaggs on mandolin and fiddle.
6. Jingle Bell Rock — Chet Atkins
Released in 1961, it’s the shortest track on this list (1:45) and features that distinct Chet Atkins sound he made famous on his Gretsch guitar, with backing vocals from the Anita Kerr Singers.
7. Jingle Bells — Booker T. & The MG’s
From the venerable Stax label in 1966, this leads off the album with energetic bells and the upbeat groove of the Hammond B-3. This is a great tune to start the festivities with.
8. God Rest Ye Merry Gents — Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
You’ll want to raise the roof and a glass of egg nog with this funky jam, released in 2015. It might be obvious to give the gift of music, but maybe not so obvious to give Christmas albums as a gift for . . . Christmas! I think it’s a great gift idea for the music lover who wouldn’t normally think of buying a Christmas album for him or herself, but would be happy to have it and play right away after opening it, and would look forward to playing it every year.
9. Christmas Stylee — Johnny Osbourne
Please consider this one if you want to incorporate some irie reggae vibes into your Christmas celebration. It came out in 1980 on a compilation with the same title from Studio One, possibly the most iconic reggae label founded and produced by Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd.
10. Sweet Little Baby Boy (Part One) — James Brown & His Famous Flames
If the Godfather of Soul has a Christmas album, you gotta include at least one song from it. If not, you really can’t claim to have soul. That said, this a beautiful original released in 1966 about Jesus being born in a manger. If any musician brings saints and sinners together to celebrate peace on earth, goodwill toward men, it’s James Brown. And that’s the double truth, Ruth.
11. The Christmas Song — Stevie Wonder
Since Stevie Wonder is a musical genius and one of my all-time favorites, he made the list representing one of the most iconic Christmas songs ever. Released in 1967 on the Someday At Christmas album, it’s one of many tracks on this list from well-known artists with distinctive voices who most people immediately recognize.
12. Winter Wonderland — Ray Charles
Speaking of iconic voices, Ray Charles brings us a winter wonderland off his 1985 album The Spirit of Christmas. Young and old, black and white, tall and short, all can agree on Ray Charles. If not, you’re disagreeable, and most likely a grinch and a scrooge.
13. Pretty Paper — Willie Nelson
I think I’ll continue the trend of iconic voices here by inserting Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper off the album with the same name, released in 1979. I think this one is pretty versatile in a playlist because he’s so beloved, it’s an original, goes great with country and bluegrass, and also serves as a great contrast when played with something more upbeat or different, like the next song on the list.
14. Christmas In Hollis — Run-D.M.C.
The YouTube video says 1989, but the album was actually released in 1987. Just wanna be clear on that. I also want to be clear that this is, or should be, a crowd pleaser when you need to inject a bit of energy, nostalgia, and light-hearted good vibes. This compilation is the first in a series of seven A Very Special Christmas albums, but only this one and the second were issued on wax.
15. All I Want For Christmas (Is My Girl) — New Edition
This track from 1985 is a great one for an 80’s theme party. It’s even better if your Christmas party is at a roller skating rink.
16. Christmas Wrapping — The Waitresses
Keeping with the 80’s theme is this fun classic from 1981 off The Christmas Rock Album compilation.
17. Silver Bells — John Prine
Originally released as the B-Side to the single I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus on festive red vinyl in 1981, you can find this more commonly on the ’93 release of A John Prine Christmas. Prine’s low gravelly voice is simple and unadorned like a piece of coal in your stocking, but more enjoyable.
18. Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me) — Elvis
Whether you’re in Vegas or Virginia, Elvis is a nice choice to provide upbeat flair with this cut, originally released in 1957.
19. Santa Claus Is Back In Town — Dwight Yoakam
For a bit of the Bakersfield sound for Christmas I heartily endorse this fun and upbeat Dwight Yoakam song with a honky tonk vibe, released in 1988 off the compilation A Christmas Tradition, Volume II.
20. Lonely Christmas Eve — Ernest Tubb
If you want more old country and honky tonk, how about this slow and depressing tune from 1964? This one may help to satisfy the melancholy Christmas blues we’re wont to get around this year. Perfect for haggard old folks, young annoying hipsters, or those unfortunate enough to be in their company!
21. Christmas Time’s A-Comin’ — The Johnny Cash Family
If you’ve ever asked yourself What’s better than Johnny Cash singing Christmas tunes? the answer is: The Johnny Cash family. This popular bluegrass song was originally recorded in 1951 by Bill Monroe and performed by the Cash family in 1972 with Johnny and brother Tommy on vocals.
22. Christmas Means Love — The Soul Stirrers
Originally released in 1968 and found on a great compilation from Chess Records 20 years later titled Have A Merry Chess Christmas, this has a warm soulful message perfectly represented by its title. I’m sorry to be a bearer of bad news, but this does not have Sam Cooke on it. Regardless, if you love good soul music you’ll enjoy this.
23. Love For Christmas — The Gems
This female vocal group from New York provides a short and sweet soul number, originally released as a single in 1964, and also found on the aforementioned Chess compilation. When putting this list together I discovered this has found itself on several lists of great Christmas songs. I hope you’ll find that it’s been worthy of that.
24. My Favorite Things — Tony Bennett
From the 1968 album Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album, this popular song from the Sound Of Music has been considered part of the Christmas canon for a while now. And we know how Tony Bennett stacks up in the legendary singer canon, which is quite high.
25. Auld Lang Syne — David Grisman
The last song on David Grisman’s Acoustic Christmas album, released in 1983, serves as the last song on this list as well. The first half starts off slow and quiet with Grisman’s mandolin and Bela Fleck’s banjo accompanying, then brief alternating solos between Fleck and Grisman. The second half is upbeat and festive with guitar, bass, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin. This is a must for bluegrass fans and fans of good music in general.
Thanks for checking out this list. I hope it was worthwhile. May God bless you and yours with love and every eternal gift this Christmas and beyond!