By: Dani Kessel
The holiday season is joyful and heartwarming. The lights! The hot chocolate! The hustle and bustle! The craft fairs!
I love Christmas music, but some songs get old after the 15th time hearing them in a week. They start to drone on. And, though it doesn’t get under my skin personally, I know so many individuals who hate the whole season simply because every store plays the same songs for over a month. (This is especially poignant for retail workers.)
But, don’t fret! Despite the insistence of some people to put on the same music over and over, there are many great, underrated Christmas songs that evoke the spirit but won’t annoy folx.
Here are ten awesome Christmas songs to mix things up on your playlist:
- “Penguin, James Penguin” by Brad Paisley
Some people think elf on the shelf helps Santa know everything; however, thanks to Brad Paisley, we know the truth about Santa’s secret agent bird. He’s a superspy that keeps tabs on the little kids around the world. Then, he reports back to Santa on who’s been good and bad. I’d take the hilarity of James Penguin over Elf on a Shelf any day!
- “Dominick the Donkey” by Lou Monte
My partner, who can’t stand Christmas music, LOVES this song. It is extremely kitschy (in a good way) and fun to sing. Apparently, Santa’s reindeer can’t climb the hills of Italy. Thus, Dominick the Donkey helps carry the toys to all the kiddos, dancing everywhere he goes. Written in the 60s by Italian-American Lou Monte, this tune is a staple in many Italian-American homes.
- “Ay, Ay, Ay, It’s Christmas” by Ricky Martin
Who doesn’t love Ricky Martin, the King of Latin Pop? This Christmas song tells the story of a person who forgets to buy his love a Christmas gift. The upbeat melody incorporates instruments fairly uncommon in Christmas music like a brass quartet, congas, and flamenco guitars. The infectious rhythm is perfect for salsa or cha-cha moves.
- “Merry Christmas, Beautiful” by Luke McMaster ft. Jim Brickman
This collaboration between instrumentalist Jim Brickman and songwriter Luke McMaster deserves so much more notoriety than it has. I’ve never heard it on the radio. This Christmas version of their song “Good Morning, Beautiful” is unbelievably catchy and romantic. The song emanates snuggles and joy.
- “Pretty Paper” by Willie Nelson
The Christmas song Willie Nelson co-wrote and recorded is absolutely heartbreaking. The story is based on a real-life man, Frank Brierton, who lived with spinal meningitis and sold pencils and paper on the street to provide for his family. Willie Nelson remembered him from his time living in Fort Worth. It wasn’t until 2004 that Brierton was identified by name. However, his story is remembered through Nelson’s emotional tribute. This Christmas song will truly make you re-evaluate your privileges and think of those struggling all-year-round but especially during Christmas.
- “I Saw Three Ships” by Órla Fallon
Incredible Irish singer-songwriter Órla Fallon, of Celtic Woman fame, transformed this drab Christmas carol into a hit worthy of the radio stations. My heart melts for the Irish instrumentation. The trills of Fallon’s voice make a fairly simple and repetitive tune sound complex and intriguing.
- “The Twelve Days After Christmas” by Fredrick Silver
If you’re annoyed after hearing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” constantly for years, you might get a good chuckle out of Fredrick Silver’s “The Twelve Days After Christmas.” Apparently, the couple in the original song gets into a major fight that lasts a full twelve days. Across the days, the singer dispenses of the Christmas gifts in various, humorous ways.
- “¿Dónde Está, Santa Claus?” by Augie Rios
In 1958, 12-year-old Puerto Rican-NYC native Augie Rios recorded this bilingual novelty Christmas tune about a young boy who is so excited to see Santa that he can’t sleep. It has been covered by many Latinx musicians over the years, but it has never received the attention it deserves. It’s just as catchy as Feliz Navidad, another popular bilingual song.
- “The Lighthouse Keeper” by Sam Smith
Sam Smith poured their heart into his Christmas ballad that calls back to balladeers like Bing Crosby. The song tells an emotional love story of two partners who are trying to come together in comfort for Christmas. The vocal harmonies and orchestral instrumentation evoke emotions of the holiday season. Smith recorded this song knowing that 2020 was beyond difficult, and they wanted to bring a sense of togetherness to their fans. This should be a Christmas classic alongside “River” by Joni Mitchell and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
- “Father Christmas” by The Kinks
This one definitely isn’t a Christmas song for young kids. It’s a song where a band of poor kids beat up and mug a man dressed as Father Christmas. However, despite its bleak sounding premise, it has a very relevant message about wealth disparity between classes and the commercialism of the holiday. (And, if you think about it, the lyrics aren’t any more bleak than “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” “A Kiss A Toy,” or “The Christmas Shoes.”) With a catchy beat and jingly bells in the background, this song should be given more credit.
Honorable Mention: Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses
At the time of its release, this song was a huge success, but it fizzled over time. There have been a number of resurgences of the song, especially in the UK. As one of the greatest Christmas songs though, it deserves to always be trending during the holidays. The songwriter put together tunes from various unfinished songs, and he wrote a rom-com story for the lyrics. The two characters have a meet-cute and spend the whole year trying to get together (without success). So, they both reserve themselves to spending Christmas alone. Still, kismet works to bring them back together again. This song is one of the all-time greats!
All in all, these songs deserve more airtime than they are getting. Far too often, the same ten to twenty songs are repeated on a loop. By incorporating these underrated songs into your playlists, you’ll add more variety, intrigue Christmas scrooges, and give acknowledgement to other musicians/lyricists that work hard to keep us entertained.
Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, feel free to like and share. Do you listen to Christmas music? What are your favorite underrated Christmas songs? Let us know in the comments section!
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