In all of my years as a DJ, compiled with my pre-DJ years, I’ve been at least as exposed to the music of the Christmas season as the next person, if not more. As a DJ, and working at countless holiday parties, I’ve always made a concerted effort to try and play just the right mix of holiday tunes to keep things fresh. Old and new versions of classics, as well as newer additions to the season’s library have certainly provided an almost inexhaustible array of choices, yet still i find myself turning to certain titles and artists time and time again. I’m not trying to say these are in any way the ‘best’ of the genre, but simply a few of my favorites and why for me they are in the regular rotation of my personal playlist of Christmas songs.
“Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by The Royal Guardsmen
Likely one of the most obscure of my favorites, “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” was released in 1966, and by December had risen to number two on the Billboard charts (second to The Monkees ‘I’m a Believer’). It’s a ballad that tells the tale of Snoopy as the WWI flying ace who, when forced to land behind enemy lines by his nemesis The Red Baron, shares a toast with him in the spirit of Christmas. I fell in love with it as a child, and it’s stayed with me ever since.
“Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano
Simply a classic, this bouncy bi-lingual classic still gets me smiling, and is just one of those “I can’t bring myself to change the channel when it comes on” songs. It’s probably one of the most redundant holiday songs with it’s repetitive chorus, but it’s likely one of the most fun sing-along Christmas tunes where everyone can join in and although I admittedly get lost in some of the Spanish it’s never stopped me from faking it. Although “Feliz Navidad” never charted in the U.S. Billboard Top 40, it is likely one of the most recognizable pop Christmas songs of all time.
“Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley
This song was originally recorded by Elvis in 1957 for a Christmas album, but later released in 1964 as a single. I was surprised to find it had never charted in the Billboard Top 40, as it’s always stood out (to me) as his signature Christmas song. It’s Elvis at his crooning best, and say what you will he’s still the King of Rock & Roll and it’s a song I never get tired of hearing. There’s a whole back story to his recording the song, some saying he didn’t even like it and others saying he lit Graceland entirely in blue for Christmas he loved it so much. Regardless, I love it and it makes my list of favorites.
“Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee
Overplayed? Perhaps, but not as much as “Jingle Bell Rock” and certainly with more punch (in my humble opinion). It first charted at number fourteen in 1960, although it had been originally recorded in 1958. This pop/rockabilly styled Christmas classic is again one of those songs that I don’t change the dial from, and through my experience as a DJ is a sure-fire floor packer if you wait til everyone’s had just enough egg nog. It’s just a fun song.
“White Christmas” written by Irving Berlin
Unlike the other selections on this list, I’ve named the writer of the song tin lieu of an artist. I love “White Christmas” not just for the tune itself, but for everything it represents. In regards to popularity, “White Christmas” is the song of songs. Public opinion has put it so far above all other songs – Christmas or otherwise – that it has become the greatest selling song of all time. “White Christmas” embodies the American Dream. The very existence of the song (written by a Jewish immigrant), it’s rise to unimaginable popularity and it’ s recurring interpretations over the years by literally dozens of artists (Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, The Drifters, Otis Redding, The Jackson 5, Destiny’s Child and U2 just to name a few) is a testament to the song’s staying power and greatness, securing it’s place in the American ethos. I never tire of the song not only because it is so good, but because it has been performed in so many different ways.
There were a few more that almost made the list, like “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney & Wings, “Sleigh Ride” by Harry Connick Jr. and “Please Come Home for Christmas” by The Eagles, but they just didn’t quite make the cut. Again, these are personal favorites and if you aren’t familiar with them you should give them a listen… I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
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