If you’re like me, you’ve about had it with holiday music by now. Don’t get me wrong: I love Christmas. But the carols start in early November, bombarding you from the radio and assaulting you while you’re shopping. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve already heard “O Holy Night” this year, I could pay for Josh Groban and Celine Dion to serenade me in my living room.
Luckily, there are a few offerings that touch sweetly on the season while still paying heed to the bitter music critic inside us all. Here is a playlist of those songs guaranteed to get you through the holidays with sanity intact and nights divine.
“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon
One of the few oft-played Christmas songs that never gets tired, it can still send chills with its clear-eyed message and John’s haunting vocal.
“Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love
Love still brings down the house with this song on David Letterman’s last live show before the holiday every year.
“Father Christmas” by The Kinks
Ray Davies’ morality tale uses the robbing of a department store-Santa as a way to illustrate that hard times don’t take a holiday for some less fortunate people.
“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” by Bruce Springsteen
Starring Clarence Clemons as the most soulful Santa Claus you’ve ever hear, with The Boss playing the wisecracking elf.
“Someday At Christmas” by Stevie Wonder
Like Lennon, Wonder imagines a time when the spirit of the season truly wins the day over modern ills like war, oppression, and indifference. (The video is a recent version that Wonder sang with Justin Bieber.)
“Christmas Must Be Tonight” by The Band
One of rock’s all-time great groups takes us back to the manger with a typically tender musical performance and moving harmony vocals.
“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders
For my money, the best holiday songs have a hint of melancholy to leaven the joy; Chrissie Hynde understands this perfectly on this lovely single.
“Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Petty rocks the chimney on this funny offering; about long-lost relatives: “Yeah I kind of missed ‘em/I just don’t wanna kiss ‘em.”
“I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake
Classic rock stations still serve this one up from time to time; it certainly conjures the majesty of the season with its ornate arrangement.
“Must Be Santa” by Bob Dylan
Only Dylan could serve up a Christmas polka, sung as if his vocal chords had been trampled by deranged reindeer, and make it work.
“Little Saint Nick” by The Beach Boys
You could try to sing this around the piano with your relatives, but you’ll never sound near as good as these guys.
“Frosty The Snowman” by The Ronettes
Featuring a sexy vocal from Ronnie Spector and Phil Spector’s sleigh bell-filled production, it’s warm enough to melt the heart of any Scrooge.
“That Spirit Of Christmas” by Ray Charles
It always helps to be featured in a great Christmas movie, as this one was in the scene where Chevy Chase watches home movies in his attic in Christmas Vacation.
“Same Old Lange Syne” by Dan Fogelberg
The late singer-songwriter’s classic may have a New Year’s title, but it’s actually about a bittersweet reunion with a high school sweetheart on Christmas Eve.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” by Frank Sinatra
Francis Albert gets the last word; listen to this one and you’ll be able to muddle through whatever holiday heartache befalls you.