By now you’ve probably heard a Christmas song or two playing overhead on a grocery store trip. The typical bland covers of classic holiday standards you’ll find at Safeway or Freddy’s range from annoying to irritating. It’s enough to make you go home and set up your own playlist.
The Vanguard has you covered. We’ve compiled a list of contemporary and classic tunes for that special time of year. We couldn’t fit everyone’s favorites (sorry, Burl Ives) even if we had two Holiday Guides, but we like to think that we’ve nailed the essentials.
Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby: A lot of women have tried their hand at seducing St. Nick over the years, but none compare to history’s best Catwoman. Sweet but not cloying, sultry but not overbearing, Kitt has a way of making you forget the song is about a gold digger asking for luxury boats and real estate.
Willie Nelson – Pretty Paper: When you need a little country in your yuletide, there’s no one better to turn to than the red-headed stranger.
Bing Crosby – Silver Bells: Many prefer Crosby’s immortal White Christmas, but it only reminds Portlanders of the fact that the snow will never, ever stick on December 25 (let alone the rest of winter).
Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone – Baby It’s Cold Outside: You could pick any one of a dozen fine couples for this vintage duet, but Deschanel and Redbone offer a healthy mix of styles old and new.
The Kinks – Father Christmas: It’s easy to get cynical about the commercial insanity that is this season. The Kinks offer a cathartic release of materialistic and economic cynicism that you can bop your head to.
Barenaked Ladies – Hanukkah Blessings: Unless you’re somehow still into Adam Sandler in the year 2013, pickings are slim for decent Hanukkah songs. BNL is one of the few groups to pull off a genuine and heartfelt song for the Jewish holiday. The band also does a peppy version of the classic “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah.”
Jackson 5 — Santa Claus is Coming to Town: Young Michael Jackson’s energy here is infectious; you really believe that he is unbelievably excited for Santa’s arrival and there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be, too.
The Ronettes – Sleigh Ride: It was tough choosing between this rendition and the one by the famous Johnny Mathis, but the big band backup and vocal melodies cinch it.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Carol of the Bells: Not every holiday ditty has to have lyrics. In this case, we’ll settle for anything that lets us play air guitar in a Santa hat.
Jose Feliciano – Feliz Navidad: We’re sorry. You’ve got this song stuck in your head now. And it’s most definitely Feliciano’s voice you’re hearing too — judging by its omnipresence, this version of this song is probably the only one that’s ever been recorded.
John Williams – Somewhere in My Memory: It might not spring to mind by reading the title, but there’s no doubt you’re familiar with the theme from the film Home Alone. Just a few seconds of this song is enough bring images of bright lights, snowy sidewalks and Joe Pesci’s head being lit on fire by a booby trap.
Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis: There are a few Christmas rap songs that you wouldn’t want to play with relatives present (we’re looking at you, Eazy-E), but Run’s clean and positive rhymes would probably fly around grandma’s fireplace.
Wham! – Last Christmas: The holiday isn’t complete without some smooth 80s synth pop to round it out. Fair warning, listening to this song may result in growing a feathered mullet and skiing in a Cosby sweater.
Frank Sinatra – Let It Snow: We mentioned snow songs being a bit of an unfair tease in our part of the state, but you can’t blame us for giving ol’ blue eyes a pass.
Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas Is You: It had to be done. It might be overplayed to death, but it remains one of few enduring Christmas standards to emerge in the last 20 years.