Classic Christmas songs: the definitive ranking

By MARCIA ZIMMERMAN
For The News-Letter

With the holiday season quickly approaching, there are thousands of Christmas songs that one can expect to hear on the radio. Here’s The News-Letter’s definitive list.

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UZANNE M DAY /CC-PD-Mark Singer Mariah Carey performs her classic Christmas song every year.

1. “All I Want for Christmas is You”
“All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey, first released on her 1994 Christmas album, has a slow, epic opening complete with bells and Carey’s signature dramatic vocal style. The song delves into a happier, faster tune soon after, with backup vocals and repetitive, iconic lyrics. The song is singable and memorable. The song seems to get even more festive with age. In 2010, Carey rerecorded it for her second Christmas album as the “Extra Festive” version, while in 2011, she recorded it in a duet with Justin Bieber, calling the new version “SuperFestive!”

2. “Jingle Bell Rock”
“Jingle Bell Rock,” first released by Bobby Helms in 1957, is iconic today in part because of Mean Girls, the ubiquitous teen comedy released in 2004. Cady (Lindsay Lohan), Regina George (Rachel McAdams), Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chambert) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried) performed the song during their school’s annual talent show. The song also appeared in other movies such as Cookie (1989) and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). “Jingle Bell Rock” has all the components of holiday cheer: jingle bells, frosty air, one-horse sleighs and an upbeat, cheery tune.

3. “Let it Snow”
“Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” is the full name of the emblematic Christmas song, which just goes to show how enthusiastic it is. It was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in July of 1945 (Christmas in July, anyone?) during a California heat wave. It has the classic holiday theme of cold weather, cheeriness and relaxing inside.

4. “Last Christmas”
British pop duo Wham! originally recorded this synth-pop song in 1984. It has also been covered by Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and Cascada, among others. Most people know the song’s iconic lyrics which include, “Last Christmas / I gave you my heart / But the very next day you gave it away / This year / To save me from tears / I’ll give it to someone special.”

5. “White Christmas”
Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” in 1941 when he was reminiscing about an old-fashioned Christmas setting. This concept shines through with lyrics like, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas / Just like the ones I used to know.” According to Guinness World Records, the version sung by Bing Crosby was once the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales over 50 million worldwide. It is also the most-recorded Christmas song with over 500 versions in different languages. However, the original 1942 Crosby version is still the most well-known.

6. “Feliz Navidad”
“Feliz Navidad” is the most popular international Christmas song. It’s a classic in the United States, the Spanish-speaking world and the rest of the world. “Feliz Navidad, próspero año y felicidad” means “Merry Christmas, a prosperous year and happiness” in Spanish. These lyrics are simple enough for non-Spanish speakers to remember and is festive for everyone, especially because of its danceable rock tune.

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MRARIFNAJAFOV/CC-BY-SA 3.0 Michael Bublé recorded covers of multiple songs on our definitive list, including “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”

7. “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”
“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” was an instant hit when it was first sung on a radio show in November, 1934. It is seen as part of the classic Christmas canon and has been re-recorded by the Four Seasons, Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters, the Beach Boys, Jackson 5, Faith Hill, Mariah Carey and (the king of Christmas covers) Michael Bublé. The most well-known version is Bruce Springsteen’s, who turned it into a fun rock song.

8. “A Holly Jolly Christmas”
“A Holly Jolly Christmas” was written by Johnny Marks in the early 1960s and recorded later by Burl Ives. More recently, Michael Bublé and Lady Antebellum have recorded covers. The song uses festive lyrics with all the classic Christmas cheer: “Have a holly, jolly Christmas / It’s the best time of the year / I don’t know if there’ll be snow / But have a cup of cheer….”

9. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” was originally a much more somber song with lyrics like, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past.” When Judy Garland introduced it in 1944, she asked Martin to change the lyrics to make the song more jolly, which is why it sounds merry and bright today.

10. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” can be heard today in Barnes & Noble commercials sung by Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett. It also appeared in the movie “Elf,” where Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) sings it in the shower and Buddy (Will Ferrell) sits on the bathroom counter and sings a duet without her knowing. Other popular covers have been done by the cast of “Glee,” Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé. The song is a nice call and response duet in which one singer tries to convince another to stay for the evening because of the cold weather. A classic Christmas song, its troubling undertone places it at number ten. A line says, “What’s in this drink?” and there is a consistent, unrelenting pressure for the singer to stay inside despite his desire to go.

Now with this definitive list, you too can impress friends, family and colleagues with your extensive of the history and lyrics of these essential Christmas tunes.

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