[THREE CENTS] The Best Christmas Songs

Album cover for "A Very Special Christmas" (1987)
A Very Special Memory

Christmas is barely in the rearview, which means you probably just finished listening to a month and a half straight of Christmas songs. Radio, streaming, the mall and grocery store, you really couldn’t get away from them.

Personally, I didn’t want to. I love almost all of them at least a little, and many quite a lot.

Sure, you can say that Christmas songs are cynical cash grabs. Sometimes a fading star’s last desperate attempt to stay in the spotlight.


But despite all that, there are still plenty with a special alchemy, regardless of whether they were inspired by a full heart or empty bank account.

There’s really no best Christmas songs, of course. A more appropriate title here would be “favorite” Christmas Songs. Specifically, the favorites of this Gen X kid. Like I mentioned in my Desert Island Discs post, these types of lists are – understandably – incredibly subjective.

We’re all highly influenced by what was playing during our formative years, and our favorites tend to cluster around that particular era. Many songs are wonderful from the start, but once they’re also imbued with nostalgic memories of holidays past, that’s when the magic really starts to happen.

As I began to compile these, I realized that I have too many favorites. Nevertheless, I’ve grudgingly whittled down the list to my top ten. And then a few more.

In no particular order, except also, kind of…

Do They Know it’s Christmas (1984) – Band Aid

This is the tune that started the group charity song onslaught back in the 80s (in that category, I rank it a very close second place to Artists Against Apartheid). This song was created to raise money to combat the famine in Ethiopia, so it’s a tough subject matter with a lot of the lyrics on the melancholy side. However, a glorious line up (named in this particular version of the video) resulted in a wonderful and emotional song with an uplifting chorus.

Wonderful Christmastime (1979) – Paul McCartney

It’s a very popular thing to mock the synthesizer on this track. But let me stop all the Scrooges right there. The synthesizer is a key component in making this song so ebullient and light and full of joy. For Pete’s sake, it’s the holidays. Embrace the synth. The synth is our friend.

Snoopy’s Christmas (1967) – The Royal Guardsmen

Piggybacking on the success of their previous year’s hit, Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, the Royal Guardsmen definitely pulled the cash-grab Christmas card. And for that, I’m forever grateful! This is a weird piece of pop, but boy, it charms the crap out of me. When the Red Baron says, “Merry Christmas, my friend!” I get verklempt. Christmas bells indeed.

Christmas Wrapping (1981) – The Waitresses

I used to love this one even more, but it’s become somewhat complicated over the last decade or so since my partner and I tried to option the rights for a movie. That ill-fated process ended up being quite the rollercoaster, culminating in me making a nasty comment about the songwriter in an email that accidentally included him in a “reply all.” It takes a very special bit of music to overcome that fiasco but this one’s got it.

Father Christmas (1977) – The Kinks

Father Christmas is angry, and harsh, and cynical. But also still funny. And it’s a banger that would still be fantastic without seasonal lyrics. Not to mention it’s The Kinks! La la la la love it.

Christmas in Hollis (1987) – Run-DMC

From the first ever A Very Special Christmas album and released at the height of Run-DMC‘s Raising Hell popularity, this is both a fun and funky track from one of the pioneers of rap rock. And as a native of Queens myself (Elmhurst, though, not Hollis), I feel especially connected.

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch (1966) – Thurl Ravenscroft

First of all, you’ve gotta love an artist named Thurl Ravenscroft. Though a name like that should probably be famous for a Halloween song instead of a Christmas one. On the other hand, with a lyric like “You’re a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce,” it’s kind of in that wheelhouse anyway. If you find yourself with an odd hankering for Frosted Flakes while listening to this one, it might be because Thurl also was the voice of Tony the Tiger for over 50 years. Isn’t trivia gr-r-reat?!

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971) – John Lennon and Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band

Created as a protest song against the Vietnam War, it’s endured as a timeless holiday classic. With a message of peace and back up vocals from the Harlem Community Choir, it is simultaneously somber and hopeful. It’s also the likely place I first heard the U.K. holiday greeting of “Happy” instead of “Merry.”

Merry Xmas Everybody (1973) – Slade

Full disclosure: I don’t think I had ever even heard this one before the new millennium as it seems to have primarily been a U.K. staple. But thanks to Run Runaway becoming a Stateside hit in 1984 and my friends, Chris and Jay, sparking my Slade fandom, it was destiny that we would finally find one another. I heard it in the wild for the first time on a cruise ship, and thanks to a Greatest Hits acquisition, I can now listen to it anytime without crossing an ocean. The song was covered by Train in 2015, but alas, they’re no Slade.

Jingle Bell Rock (1983) – Daryl Hall & John Oates

Although the most familiar Hall and Oates Jingle Bell Rock has Daryl on lead vocals, two different versions of both the song and video were produced. The second has John on lead vocals, and you should check it out to give him his due. Lest we forget, he sang lead on both She’s Gone and You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling. It’s kind of sad to have the most successful duo of all time feuding right now. Can’t we all just get along, fellas? You’re running roughshod over my childhood.


Honorable mentions go to Christmas is the Time to Say ‘I Love You’ (1981) – Billy Squier, Little Drummer Boy (1981) – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, A Holly Jolly Christmas (1964) – Burl Ives, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (1986) – Johnny Mathis, Feliz Navidad (1970) – José Feliciano, Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home (1987) – U2, and Last Christmas (1984) – Wham!

I mean, I could go on forever, really, but we’ve all got things to do.


It probably won’t come as much of a surprise that I actually wrote a Christmas song for my college garage band back in the day. It hasn’t been recorded yet, but who knows what 2024 may bring…

And while you’re here, I can’t stress enough that My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music is NOT a Christmas song. Please write your congressperson and stop this madness.


Cover of the graphic novel, "Blowback" (2021)

Jim Hereth‘s latest project is his debut action/adventure graphic novel, Blowback, nominated for Best Original Graphic Novel and winner of Fan Favorite Villain at the Ringo Awards. Available now in digital and paperback editions at Amazon.

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