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Ah, the Christmas song. Merrily lapped up by a great many;  loathed by many others. In the traditional sense, most of the best Christmas music is at least over a hundred years old, specifically all those idyllic carols embedded into our collective and cultural consciousness, from Silent Night to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
Most of that stuff is simply unassailable; the penultimate weeks of December would seem hollower without them.

But there’s the more modern breed of “Christmas song”; generally a horrible, nails-on-a-chalkboard type tradition of popular, corporate artists raping and pillaging the season for all the profit it can garner, via invariably AWFUL seasonal releases that are supposed to somehow be ‘memorable’ or become annual ‘classics’. From Cliff Richard, to Mr Blobby, and every X-Factor monkey under the sun, they all line-up to take a dump in Christ’s manger, fart across the nativity scene and gang-rape Santa Claus every year.

In many ways, the greatest Christmas song ever is Rage Against the Machine‘s ‘Killing in the Name Of’ – a song with nothing whatever to do with X-Mas, but which was taken to No.1 in the UK download chart a couple of Christmas’s ago by a Facebook campaign to prevent ‘The X-Factor‘ from claiming the No.1 spot. Alas, that’s not the kind of list I’m going for here.

And there are exceptions to the ‘CHRISTMAS SONGS STINK’ rule; of those, these are my top ten (there are other good Christmas songs too, but the list I came up with was seventeen – and no one wants to see a ‘Top Seventeen’ of anything)…

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Birthday of a KingJudy Garland

This is actually my favorite recording of a Christmas song ever. Garland’s singing on this is just beautiful. You can even ignore the religious theme entirely and just focus on the sheer power of her inimitable delivery; goose-bump city, all the way.

Zat You Santa ClausLouis Armstrong

King Louis at his most playful; a brilliant tune too, sung in a way that makes it uncover-able by any other artists, simply because anyone other than Louis Armstrong singing this song would sound stupid.

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Have Yourself a Merry Little ChristmasJudy Garland

There are other versions too – too many, in fact – but I’m talking about the  Judy Garland version specifically, from Meet Me in St Louis. No piece of modern music captures the idyllic (and always, in reality, that little bit out of reach) mood and tone of a wistful, unattainable Christmas as perfectly as this does.

Merry Christmas EverybodySlade

Most pop or rock Christmas songs are just HORRENDOUS beasts; tacky, annoying, cloying, corporate monsters. This Slade single from the 70s, however, is my exception. I wasn’t born when this was in the charts; but it’s ridiculously catchy. A song I don’t really want to like, but really do.

What’s This? From ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (Danny Elfman)

There’s a fair bit of good music in Tim Burton’s 1993 animated masterpiece; but this is the signature song worthy to be on any X-Mas playlist, Jack Skellington happening upon Christmas Town and witnessing every magical trapping of the season for the first time. The sense of wonder, of joyous and revelatory discovery, in Danny Elfman’s song is conveyed perfectly. Superb film, great soundtrack.

God Rest Ye Merry GentlemenNumerous

Virtually any choral/carol version of this old seasonal song will do; it’s just one of those carols that translates beautifully via any medium/genre (except country). However, it’s always best in its traditional, carol form, as it’s the age of the song, invariably evoking images of Dickensian London and frost-addled streets, that is it’s best effect.

We Three KingsVarious

As above, but a little less dynamic and a little more solemn; and this one only works as a carol, any other form being lame.

Little Drummer BoyBing Crosby/David Bowie

Bing Crosby and David Bowie – what more to say?

White ChristmasBing Crosby

I wanted to not include this, just because it’s obvious and cliched. But then mostly everything to do with Christmas is obvious and cliched; and this is utterly a seasonal standard; has to be listened to. Incidentally, I’m not a big fan of the film, however.

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Oh, Holy NightMultiple

Another really good, timeless carol that embeds itself into your mindscape from an early age and stays there forever; even years later where it might be uncomfortably sandwiched between Butthole Surfers and Public Enemy on your shuffled playlist. If the choral/traditional version doesn’t do it for you – though it really should –  I also recommend the Bing Crosby version, or failing that the hilarious Eric Cartman version on one of the old South Park Christmas albums.

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