Holiday spirit seems so much greater when good tunes are involved. I, for one, start playing holiday music as soon as is socially acceptable. We all have our go-to holiday songs, so I spoke with the team at Lifehacker to find out what they are listening to as we race toward Christmas day.
(By all means, click through the slideshow to read our comments, but you can also check out our picks on Spotify.)
“‘tis the damn season,”Taylor Swift
Joel Cunningham, managing editor
Taylor Swift’s two surprise 2020 albums make for excellent low-key cosy-up-to-the-fireplace (or virtual Yule Log) listening, but none captures the melancholy ache of the holidays quite like “’tis the damn season,” co-written with The National’s Aaron Dessner. It follows the narrator on a visit home, where she mulls reconnecting with an old flame, because why not? There’s something paradoxically lonely about returning to your parents’ house and your childhood bedroom as an adult, placing yourself back into a context in which relationships you’ve grown out of suddenly make sense again, and the roads not travelled start to look real good, if only for a weekend.
“Christmas Time Is Here,”Vince Guaraldi Trio
Mike Winters, personal finance writer
My rule for Christmas music is that the songs should stand on their own, without the added novelty of a holiday theme. Vince Guaraldi’s melancholic piano melodies remind me of the end-of-the-year reflection that comes with Christmas — the sound of optimism mixed with sadness. In the case of this song, I prefer the instrumental version that scrubs away the lyrics. It just sounds like Christmas to me.
“Winter Weather,” The Benny Goodman Orchestra with Peggy Lee
Beth Skwarecki, senior health editor
There’s only so much “Let It Snow” a person can stand. “Winter Weather” is on the same theme, but catchier and way less overplayed. I first met this song via the Squirrel Nut Zippers version; both are great.
“The Christmas Song,” Nat King Cole
Alice Bradley, editor-in-chief
I grew up listening to The Nat King Cole Christmas Album, and try as I might to mix up my Christmastime playlist, I just can’t shake the King. The moment those strings swell, whammo — it’s Christmas morning. As my (Jewish) husband observed, “It’s schmaltzy and it’s grand and it sounds like cinnamon buns and coffee and warm jammies and wrapping paper, and it’s so goyischer I sometimes feel as though I need to check that my foreskin hasn’t grown back from hearing it.” Well, there you have it. (Fun fact: as goyischer as it may be, “The Christmas Song” was written by two Jewish composers — Mel Tormé and Robert Wells.)
“What Christmas Means to Me,” Hanson
Claire Lower, senior food editor
Snowed In is a criminally underrated Christmas album, and this catchy cover of “What Christmas Means to Me” is the crown jewel. I never was a huge Hanson fan, but my mum bought this album the year it came out, and though I tried very hard to be “too cool” for it, I eventually succumbed to the infectious harmonies of the Hanson brothers.
“Christmas (Baby please come home),” Darlene Love
This is the best Christmas song ever recorded. I get chills every time I listen to it. The soaring vocals! The wall of sound! The bells! The heartbreaking lyrics! I am listening to it now and I am tearing up. This song is so powerful, it convinced Darlene Love quit her job cleaning houses and give music another shot, and for that alone we should be grateful.
“Christmas in Prison,” John Prine
I am still very sad about the passing of John Prine, and have a hard time listening to any of his music without crying, but that just means I’ll be crying while I wrap presents this year. Prine’s Christmas album, which is appropriately titled A John Prine Christmas, has a few tracks that aren’t technically Christmas songs in the strictest sense, and this is one of them. It’s a song about longing, rather than celebrating, but that feels more appropriate for 2020 anyway.
“All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Mariah Carey
I like it. Fight me.
“Wonderful Christmastime,” Paul McCartney
Aisha Jordan, staff writer
I have no regrets. This is by far my favourite Christmas song. Growing up, Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Chrismastime” played every morning on Christmas day in my home. It may be the nostalgic feelings it brings up, or the upbeat harmonies and rhythms, but this is played on repeat during the holidays in my home. I thought everyone loved this song, but when I used to play it at office holiday parties, my enthusiasm was received with nasty faces and rolled eyes. (Which just made me want to turn the volume up louder.)
“Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come To The Ghetto),” Carlene Davis
It’s wasn’t Christmas until this song was played in my household as a kid. The song’s Caribbean influences and down to earth lyrics are honest and relatable. “Santa Claus, do you ever come to the ghetto? Santa Claus, do you ever wonder why we suffer so?” I grew up asking those questions because I knew I wasn’t rich (and also that I did not have a chimney and most of my friends didn’t either.) It sounds sad, but it was the truth, and I loved the song even more for it.
“Last Christmas,” Wham!
Call me an ‘80s baby, because 80’s Christmas music has claimed my soul. Wham!’s “Last Christmas” always gets me in a sentimental mood. (It also makes me want to put on a red blazer with shoulder pads and a high collar and then dance in the mirror.)
“Last Christmas,” Jimmy Eat World
Look, I love Wham! And their version of “Last Christmas” is a seasonal mainstay in finer malls everywhere. But my money is on the Jimmy Eat World cover of the song, which I first encountered on one of the many soundtracks released from the mid-aughts teen soap The O.C. If it’s good enough for Chrismukkah, it’s good enough for me.
“Fairytale of New York,” Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues
Wait, no one said “Fairytale of New York” yet? Obviously, you gotta have “Fairytale of New York” in there. If you’d prefer your traditional holiday tune not have any slurs in it, there is even a sanitised version. But there’s no better song to commemorate a holiday season spent in the gutter.
“Rudolph, The All-Gracious King,” [A.I. Generated Christmas Song]
David Murphy, senior technology editor
I generally find holiday songs droll, repetitive, and annoying, which is partly why I avoid any kind of shopping centre during the holidays (or, really, up to two months before). The constant drone of cheerful music about Santa, presents, snuggling up with your “baby,” drinking festive brews, and adorning your dead plant with stuff — it all drives me nuts. So, to counteract all that artificial good cheer — which is what most modern holiday music sounds like nowadays — please enjoy “Rudolph, The All-Gracious King,” a song that was composed entirely by a neural network. See how easy it is? You’ll be humming “with human flesh…” all throughout your holiday break.
“Christmas Wrapping,” The Waitresses
I’m a real purist when it comes to Christmas songs — I prefer 19th-century hymns, frankly, or if we’re going to be secular about it, I’ll accept an Ella or a Nat King Cole. I generally condemn anything quirky or contemporary (Get away from me, Sir Paul McCartney and the accursed Wham). That said, I love this song. I don’t know why! Do I have to have a reason for everything? Maybe the line “Merry Christmas/ But I think I’ll miss this one this year” is hitting home for me right now. Maybe it will for you, too.
“O Holy Night,” The Carpenters
Meghan Moravcik Walbert, parenting editor
I’ll tell you what your Christmas playlist should be: The Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait album circa 1978, from start to finish, The End. My husband grew up listening to this and forced it on me as we were decorating our tree the first year we lived together. “It’s tradition,” he said. “OK, whatever,” I replied. But it is a perfect Christmas album, and when the opening notes of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” play for the first time each year, I know it is officially the Christmas season. But if I have to pick one from this album — which I should not have to do — I’m going with “O Holy Night,” which is both my favourite all-time Christmas carol and is lovingly handled by these wonderful Carpenters.
“I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus,” The Jackson 5
Jordan Calhoun, deputy editor
My favourite Christmas song is also the earliest one that I can remember my family playing when I was a child, outside from the “traditional” songs about Frosty and Rudolph that I had learned in school. It was catchy, soulful, and made us dance, and it also held the first riddle in music lyrics that kid-me was proud to solve: Mummy was kissing Santa Claus, which was oh-so-salacious until I realised that Santa Claus was Daddy. It was the literal moment I realised that Santa Claus wasn’t real, and The Jackson 5 took the sting out of the discovery by making it a moment of joyous pride as I danced in the living room with the real people who made Christmas special.
“Blue Christmas,” Bright Eyes
Oh, did you want to have a cheery Christmas? Sorry, you have now listened to Bright Eyes’ version of “Blue Christmas,” and your holidays will never be happy again.