In Search of the Perfect Christmas Playlist (and the top 20 songs from mine)

Tips and Resources for putting together your perfect Christmas playlist, plus my top 20 Christmas songs

Way back the very first Christmas I was blogging here, I posted that year’s Christmas Playlist. I’ve made a lot of additions (and subtractions) since then, and every year I think about posting an updated list, and every year I…..don’t. This year I decided to search deep within myself for the reason, and what I came up with is pretty basic: everyone has different taste in music, so why should anyone care what songs I like on my playlist?

So. How about this? How about I offer up a few resources and tips gleaned from the many, MANY hours I’ve spent compiling my own playlist. And also my top 20 songs (out of, umm, 123 songs. And counting); I’ve tried to put together a good mix of genres and artists and whatnot on there.

Amazon Music is your Playlist-making Buddy

This will sound like a big commercial for Amazon (and, yes, there will be affiliate links here; if you buy something through my links I’ll earn a small commission, but you won’t pay anything extra), but I’m telling you this because it’s true: Amazon Music is a complete Christmas playlist game changer.

I used to spend forever wrestling with iTunes every year, and we all know that when you wrestle with iTunes, iTunes always wins. Also, my carefully curated playlist would get deleted somehow every year, and I’d have to start all over (to be fair, Amazon did the same thing to me this year. But it’s much less painful to reconstruct my list on there. But bonus handy tip: keep a copy of the songs on your playlist somewhere).

I only use Prime music right now; there’s a library of songs on there that’s available to anyone with an Amazon Prime Subscription (if you don’t have an Amazon Prime subscription you should get one. Or not, because it’s kind of like sleeping in a king size bed in that once you get used to it you won’t be able to live without it anymore. But, yeah, even putting aside the fast free shipping for procrastinators, we definitely get our money’s worth on music and video stuff. That link is actually to a 30 day free trial, so you could check it out just for the Christmas music and cancel if you don’t use the rest of it). There’s also Music Unlimited, which gives you access to WAY MORE music for $9.99/mo or $7.99 for Prime members. I’m tempted, but I haven’t gone for it yet. Which means I pay for songs sometimes (and I imported a bunch from iTunes that I’d already bought); they’re generally $1.29 each.

But! You can put together a very nice, if less than perfect, playlist just with the stuff that’s free with Prime.

And it’s very easy to search out holiday music that fits your tastes. There are a ton of curated playlists on there if you search “Christmas” or “Holiday” with names like “Ugly Sweater Party,” “Christmas Break for Kids,” “90’s Christmas,” etc. etc. I spend a lot of time perusing those and listening to songs to find ones I like.

My very FAVORITE way to find new and fabulous Christmas music on Amazon, though, is on their series of Amazon original playlists. These are generally made up of songs specially recorded for Amazon and only available there and they often highlight little known indie artists, so giving them a listen is a great way to discover new artists in addition to being a great way to bulk up your Christmas playlist. There may be more, but the ones I’ve enjoyed are Acoustic Christmas, Indie for the Holidays, All is Bright, and Christmas Soul.

And late breaking news! They’ve JUST yesterday added new songs for 2017 to a couple of these playlists (and Christmas Soul is new this year, I believe). I know what I’m doing when I finish this post.

It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint

The perfect Christmas playlist takes time. Years, even. I probably spend several hours most year–when I should absolutely be doing other things–looking for new songs to add to my playlist. This is a great activity for when you should be cleaning your house for Thanksgiving, for example, because you need your playlist to be ready to go as soon as you finish Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not like you can decorate your tree  without it, right?

But when all the songs start to sound the same, it’s time to call it for the year. All the songs you’ve missed will still be there next year.

Google, but Trust Yourself

Google’s a great place to find a gazillion other playlists that other people have put together. Most of them will have Mariah Carey on them, but that does not mean yours needs to. Mine doesn’t. And it never will. I kept Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” on my playlist for years, even though I wanted to skip it every time it played, because it seemed like a must have classic. Nothing is a must have classic. Except “Fairytale of New York”. Anyway, I kept Jack Johnson’s version of Rudolph, and that’s worked out just fine for me.

Variety is the Spice of the Christmas Playlist

YMMV, but I’m a firm believer in covering all the bases here: old songs and new songs, happy songs and sad songs, cynical songs and earnest songs, Jesusy songs and secular songs. For SOME reason, all those songs about something coming along and bringing light and hope to a dark and miserable world are really resonating this year (the weary world rejoices indeed), but I like a little bit of all of it. A significant portion of my playlist making time is spent trying to find good, interesting versions of all the traditional carols. Thank you, Weezer.

My Top 20

With that, I offer you my own, personal, maybe or maybe not relevant to your own interests Christmas playlist top 20. This was, of course, tricky to narrow down, but I did it! They even go in very roughly chronological order, starting with an Advent song and ending with a couple of post-Christmas songs. (*indicates songs available on Prime Music)

  1. O Come, O Come Emmanuel–Sufjan Stevens*
  2. Merry Christmas, Baby–Otis Redding*
  3. Alone on Christmas Day–Phoenix
  4. Fairy Tale of New York–the Pogues*
  5. O Holy Night–Tracy Chapman
  6. Tiny Tree Christmas–Ryan Miller*
  7. Christmas in Hollis–Run-DMC*
  8. Christmas at McKinley Pub–the Stone Foxes*
  9. Christmas in Prison–John Prine*
  10. Go Tell it on the Mountain–The Blind Boys of Alabama
  11. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen–Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan*
  12. Merry Christmas from the Family–Robert Earl Keen*
  13. Someday at Christmas–Stevie Wonder
  14. Thank God It’s Christmas–Queen
  15. Children Go Where I Send Thee–Natalie Merchant
  16. Here it is Christmas Time–the Old 97s
  17. Beautiful Star of Bethlehem–Emmylou Harris
  18. Twelve Days of Christmas–John Denver and the Muppets*
  19. Christmas Time–Linda Stonestreet*
  20. Boxing Day–Reliant K*
  21. Auld Lang Syne–Barenaked Ladies*

 

Oops. That’s 21.

Honorable Mentions

Best Christmas song for cats: Carol of the Meows–Guster

Best song about how Christmas is actually terrible: I Hate Christmas--Oscar the Grouch*

Best songs so earnest they could only get away with it because they’re Christmas songs:

The Christmas Wish–John Denver and the Muppets* Rudy–the Be Good Tanyas Christmas Must Be Tonight–The Band

Best songs that aren’t really Christmas songs, but they mention Christmas so I put them on my list: River–Joni Mitchell* If We Make it Through December–Merle Haggard Christmas in Washington–Steve Earle

Best song about dating Santa Claus: Santa, My First Love–Swear and Shake*

Best Christmas song that’s also a cautionary tale about fire safety: Christmas Tree on Fire–Holly Golightly*

Best Christmas songs so slow they’ll put you to sleep: Come on Christmas–Dwight Yoakam* Bethlehem –Over the Rhine* We Were Just Kids Then–Arum Rae*

Best album to keep your four year old interested: A Laurie Berkner Christmas

 

 

 

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