Music lover and Spotify addicted - listened to 153 thousand tracks this year. Self explanatory
It's Christmas time again and it's 2020. Chances are we're spending more time at home this year, relying less on shopping mall soundtracks and more on our personal Christmas playlists. Or Christmas playlists curated by someone else because we just can't be bothered.
Either way, this holiday season we can continue to count on classics like 1954's Bing Crosby hit "White Christmas" all the way to more contemporary chart topping standards like Wham's "Last Christmas" and Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas is You".
But after listening to these classics over and over, we find ourselves wishing we could infuse these playlists with amazing less known Christmas melodies, to give our ears a different flavour and to avoid hating the classics altogether because, after a while, it's just too much.
I've selected 21 not so well known Christmas songs, that might give your playlist and holiday season a fresh makeover.
1. Sia - Santa's Coming For Us
When Sia released her Christmas album in 2017, all songs were written by Sia herself and Greg Kurstin. As a result, there was no recognizable holiday classic on the album and that might explain its lack of commercial success. We all love new songs, but when it comes to Christmas albums, we need classics we recognize and sing along to and then, maybe, two or three originals to see if they stick.
This song however has every chance of becoming a Christmas favourite: an uptempo pop song with holiday jingles and Sia's unrecognizable voice.
2. Bette Midler - Mele Kalikimaka
Despite a few musical hits between 1980 and 1990, Bette Midler is mostly known for her acting career ("The First Wives Club", "Hocus Pocus"...). She did however release a "Cool Yule" Christmas album full of classics and even a holiday version of her 1990 hit "From a Distance".
Bette's cheerful renditions of these well known jingle hits are all worth a listen, but 1949 Hawaiian tune "Mele Kalikimaka" is the perfect soundtrack for turkey stuffing with glee.
3. Darlene Love - Winter Wonderland
Darlene Love is very well known for her classic hit "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)". Released in 1974 this single was released with a less known B-side: Darlene's rendition of Winter Wonderland.
In a girl group mono recording style, this song will give you a 60's feel that will make you shimmy and do the mashed potato while putting up the Christmas tree.
4. Kelly Clarkson - Underneath the Tree
This uptempo Christmas hit was written by Clarkson herself and has currently amounted over 200 million streams on Spotify itself. How it hasn't become a classic as big as AIWFCIY is a mystery; this tune is a great catchy sing along prone to get anyone in the holiday spirit.
5- The Manhattan Transfer - Caroling, Caroling
Formed in 1969, this jazz group still performs many jazz staples across the globe. After multiple success in the jazz circles, the band decided to release a Christmas album in 1992. Covering Alfred Burt's song "Caroling, Caroling", the group achieved multiple ding dong vocals and rich harmonization that made this interpretation one of my personal favourites.
6 - The Ronettes - Sleigh Ride
Probably not as "less known" as the rest of the list, this girl group classic has been covered many times although difficultly achieving the 1963 mono sound that makes us imagine a cheerful Christmas of the past.
7. Annie Lennox - The Holly and The Ivy
After departing from the Eurythmics, Lennox pursued a solo career and her voice became unmistakable. Having released "A Christmas Cornucopia" with more obscure cuts than the typical jolly record, the Medusa singer gave us a very personal interpretation of The Holly and The Ivy that will be stuck in your head until Christmas Day.
8. Destiny's Child - Do you Hear what I hear?
When releasing a Christmas album, the most successful ones have one thing in common: a perfect mix of 2-3 originals with classics that you will immediately recognize. This group did just that except for one thing: their interpretation of the classic holiday tunes became almost unrecognizable and searing way too far from their original melodies - this might explain the little comparable success this album achieved.
However, three beautiful voices harmonizing worked beautifully with this one song we all love and know: Do you hear what I hear? A keeper for your playlist.
9. Dolly Parton - Hard Candy Christmas
A song that speaks of hardship and poverty during the holidays, was transformed into a lighter and more cheerful tune by Parton herself. With lyrics that fit perfectly into a country style instrumental and Dolly vocals, the song ends with hope despite the sadness as "I won't let sorrow bring me way down".
10. Mariah Carey - Oh Santa! (feat. Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson)
We all know Mariah's multi platinum Christmas album from 1994 with the yearly number one hit "All I want" to covers impossible to replicate such as "O Holy Night", due to Carey's extensive vocal range.
Although less known, Grande's original "Santa Tell Me" is becoming almost as popular with time. But joining these three vocal powerhouses to sing another catchy fast uptempo Carey original for the holidays is the glee we didn't know we needed. From Hudson's unmistakable belting to Carey and Grande's harmonized whistles, this song is destined to become unmissable in seasons to come.
11. Chris Rea - Driving Home for Christmas
Not your typical jingle bell hit, "Driving Home for Christmas" was written by Rea himself and has been a modest growing staple in the British charts during the holiday season. Intended to be a car version carol while stuck in traffic on your way to family gatherings, this beautiful melody was actually written in the car at every red traffic light.
12. Christina Aguilera - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Criticized for sometimes taking her melismatic arrangements a bit too far, those typical Aguilera runs actually work very well in this Judy Garland classic. Despite her astonishing belting power, this song is sung in a very high range sweet tone during most of the song, accompanied by chimes and bells, making this arrangement a complete package.
13. Stevie Wonder - Someday at Christmas
I often wonder why this song isn't played more often. With a sociopolitical message of peace and justice entwined in this Motown classic and sung by the legend we all love and respect, Someday at Christmas deserves its own airtime in your living room.
14. Sarah McLachlan - River
This song has been covered by a multitude of artists from Joan Baez to Ben Platt. Written by Joni Mitchell, these lyrics many times classified as "depressing" and "melancholic", are often disguised by a beautifully arranged melody and could easily be an all year round ballad, had they not been cutting Christmas trees.
The interpretation by the voice of "Angel", Sarah McLachlan is as angelic as the artist's biggest hit to date.
15. Glee Cast - We Need a Little Christmas
Ryan Murphy's catapult to mainstream success was mainly due to the feel good high school series "Glee" with each episode transformed into a musical of past and present hits to fit the storyline of the day. The Christmas episodes were no different, carrying 44 minutes of holiday singalongs to keep up the holiday spirit in Ohio's fictional McKinley high school.
One of the most cheerful moments is a rendition of Jerry Herman's "We Need a Little Christmas", that immediately set the tone for the remaining episode. With a soundtrack of its own, this jolly carol is a must drag and drop to your holiday playlist.
16. Mary J. Blige - When you wish upon a star (feat. Barbra Streisand & Chris Botti)
Originally a non holiday soundtrack to Disney's Pinocchio, the puppet's dream of becoming a real boy could easily turn into a Christmas wish. With this premise in mind, the beautiful voices of Blige and Streisand decided to blend along to Botti's trumpet playing and created this beautifully orchestrated holiday version of this 1940 Academy Award winner for Best Song.
17. Janelle Kroll - Silent Night
Recorded at NYC Spotify Studios, this fairly unknown Brooklyn singer is just one more artist to cover this timeless classic. However, with a high resonant voice in an almost a cappella rendition, the somewhat somber Silent Night transforms into a "heavenly" arrangement of soulful soprano vocals until the very end.
18. The Pogues - Fairytale of New York
Considered by many to be more of an anti-Christmas song, this song of lost youth and ruined dreams, is composed in a pub-like anthem by Celtic punk band The Pogues. With words not suitable for children or even susceptible adult audiences, this song has grown on me every year and should definitely deserve a listen, as the melody is more pleasant on the ears than the lyrics would call for.
19. Vince Guaraldi Trio - Christmas Time is Here
In 1965, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" became a TV special to be remembered for years to come, delighting all generations. Composed especially for the show by Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson, this song has been covered many times. Yet, no cover has managed to create the nostalgic magical feeling like the original Peanuts' choir.
20. Faith Hill - Where are You Christmas?
Soundtrack to "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", this heartfelt song is beautifully sung by Faith Hill. While the song belts the searching for the feeling of Christmas now lost, Cindy Lou Who tries to convert the Grinch into a Christmas legend in this holiday movie.
As a curiosiity, this song was written by Christmas legend herself, Mariah Carey.
21. Kristen Bell - Do you want to build a snowman?
Not found on a typical holiday playlist, the song performed by little Anna in the movie Frozen, is an endearing attempt to get her sister to play with her. As the movie is snow-themed, playing involves building snowmen. And snowmen remind me of Christmas. And that's why I've unregretfully added this to my Christmas playlist. Watch the video below and ask yourself if you shouldn't add it too.
I hope you enjoyed this selection and that it helped with some new additions to your holiday playlist.
What less known Christmas songs do you suggest?