To be constantly on the lookout for new Christmas music might very well defeat the whole purpose of Christmas music, which is that it allows you to escape whatever rat race you are currently, grudgingly running and take comfort in the familiar—in music that seems like it’s always been familiar. It’s like sports that way: I didn’t choose to root for the stupid Mets any more than I chose to be deeply moved by the stupid Partridge Family Christmas album. For better or worse, it’s the shit you’re born into. It’s either the most authentic kind of human experience or the least.
And so it stands to reason that the holiday songs you listen to each year wouldn’t change very much. Last year, we shared It’s Christmas, Let’s Be Glad, a Spotify playlist that, along with some weird stuff that hasn’t yet made its way onto the streaming service, is essentially the soundtrack to my every December. It would be pointless to publish a new one this year—“Fairytale of New York” is still really good, it turns out!—so instead, here’s the old one again, with a handful of new additions. Mostly I just added some basic stuff that had been omitted the first time around, but there’s a handful of new discoveries, too—songs that, despite not always being part of my life, feel like they should have been and like they now always will. For instance:
Hooboy, Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper” is not a happy song! It’s about ignoring homeless people because you have too much Christmas shopping to buy. Don’t do this.
Though not technically a Christmas song, Allo Darlin’s “Will You Please Spend New Year’s Eve With Me?” is right at home here, in that a) you could listen to it while sitting alone on your couch, say, crying hysterically, or b) you could get drunk and dance to it with the person you most like to get drunk and dance with. Also, c) whistling. And d) the line “I won’t let our acquaintance ever be forgot/ Happy New Year, I love you, you’re the best of the lot.”
The good people at Oscilloscope just released a really wonderful documentary about obsessive collectors of Christmas music called Jingle Bell Rocks, and one of the many songs it includes is by 60s pop band the Free Design. It’s called “Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas)” and it’s a hilariously delicate, upbeat track that includes the mind-blowingly earnest-sounding line, “Get to know the people in your house/ You might like ’em.”
Lots of people keep saying the Weezer record that was released this year is a “return to form” or whatever, but it’s not. In fact, one could make the argument that, post Blue Album and Pinkerton, the closest they got to a “return to form” was their 2008 Christmas album, which opens with this very, very good, guitar-heavy take on “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”
How was the Boss’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” not on this shit? How does all this Clarence stuff still almost make me cry at my desk?
Speaking of crying? Fuck it, I’m including “Blue Christmas” by She and Him. There are like three songs in the world where her voice wouldn’t be annoying, and this is one of them. (NB: Listening to Elvis’s version this weekend, I was inspired to reach out to an old friend who’s equally susceptible to holiday-related melancholia. This stuff works.)
“All the Best” by John Prine is one of my five favorite songs of all-time… Christmas or otherwise.
The Christmas song I’ve listened to most this year is probably “Gee Whiz It’s Christmas” by Memphis soul legend Carla Thomas. It’s a special voice that can make simple, conversational lines like, “Hello there, merry Christmas. How’ve you been? Gee, it’s so good to talk to you again” sound so impactful.
And that’s pretty much it. “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight”) is for some reason still not available on Spotify, but you should make sure that’s part of your life as well.
Follow @MikeConklin on Twitter, where he is constantly spreading holiday cheer.