“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – DARLENE LOVE
The song was written by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry (Phil Spector also is co-credited). Love was given a demo of it over phone performed by them. She went on to record the song in studio, which became a big success over time and one of her signature tunes.
Beginning in 1986 and continuing for 29 years, Darlene Love performed the song annually on the final new episode before Christmas of Late Night with David Letterman (NBC, 1986–92) and Late Show with David Letterman (CBS, 1993–2014), 28 times in all. The exception was in 2007, when Love was unable to perform due to the Writers’ Strike, a repeat of her 2006 performance was shown instead.
In December 2010, Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” first on its list of The Greatest Rock and Roll Christmas Songs, noting that “nobody can match Love’s emotion and sheer vocal power.”
“Christmas Time Is Here” – VINCE GUARALDI TRIO
“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” – Charlie Brown.
Originally written and performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio for 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, this lovely wistful melody falls on you like a light snow.
“Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” – AMY GRANT
This Christmas carol first appeared in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. As it is known in the modern era, it features lyrical contributions from Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, two of the founding ministers of Methodism, with music adapted from “Vaterland, in deinen Gauen” by Felix Mendelssohn.
In 1840, one hundred years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems Mendelssohn composed a cantata which English musician William H. Cummings adapted to fit the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Amy Grant’s version is unparalleled.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”- BING CROSBY (or JUDY GARLAND)
Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Garland’s version may be the most famous, but Bing’s version is the best.
“Holly Jolly Christmas.” BURL IVES
Also known as “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas, and written by Johnny Marks in 1962, the song was featured in the 1964 Rankin Bass Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, in which Burl Ives voiced the narrator, Sam the Snowman. The song has since become one of the Top 25 most-performed “holiday” songs ever.
“I Saw Three Ships” BLACKMORE’S NIGHT
Published in 1833, by William Sandys, this hymn originated from an English folk song performed by Middle Age minstrels. The lyrical reference to ships sailing into Bethlehem may be the three camels used by the Magi, as camels are frequently referred to as “ships of the desert.”
This version is performed by Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, and his wife Candance Knight, and their retro Renaissance-style band, and it is superb.
‘In Dulce Jubilo’ – Mike Oldfield
This a traditional Christmas carol dating from the Middle Ages. Subsequent translations into English only increased its popularity. This instrumental arrangement by English musician Mike Oldfield, most famous for his epic “Tubular Bells”, used to great creepy effect in the film “The Exorcist, reached number 4 in the UK Singles Chart in January 1976. This perfectly captures the 1970s: a progressive-folk rock version of a carol that dates to the 14th century, performed a man who composed the soundtrack for one of the creepiest movies ever. The band Mannheim Steamroller also recorded a version for their 1988 Christmas album A Fresh Aire Christmas, using a dulcimer as the main instrument.
“Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.” DEAN MARTIN
Written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in July 1945 during a California heat wave as Cahn and Styne imagined cooler conditions than what they were living through. Despite the lyrics making no mention of any holiday, the song has come to be regarded as a Christmas song due to its winter theme, being played on radio stations during the Christmas season and having often been covered by various artists on Christmas-themed albums.
“Linus and Lucy” – Vince Guaraldi Trio
Written by San Francisco jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, the song first appeared in A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). Named for the fictional siblings Linus and Lucy van Pelt, it has become the most recognizable pieces by Vince Guaraldi, and has gained status as the de facto theme song of the Peanuts franchise. It is impossible not to be joyful while listening to this song.
“The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” ANDY WILLIAMS
Written in 1963 by Edward Pola and George Wyle, it was recorded and released that year by pop singer Andy Williams for his first Christmas album, The Andy Williams Christmas Album. In the issue of Billboard magazine dated November 28, 2009, the list of the “Top 10 Holiday Songs (Since 2001)” places the Williams recording at number five.
“Sleigh Ride” THE RONETTES (or BOSTON POPS ORCHESTRA)
Ronnie Spector’s sensual vocals are capable of melting all the snow in the world as she purrs about getting cozy beneath a blanket on a sleigh ride while her fellow Ronettes ‘ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding’ in the background. The Boston Pops version is probably the popular version that most of us hear on the radio.
“Run, Run Rudolph” CHUCK BERRY
First released by Chess Records in time for Christmas 1958, this exuberant rocker – co-written by Johnny Marks of ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ fame – is quintessential Berry. The best Christmas driving song. Made more famous in the Home Alone movie.
“Winter Wonderland” RAY CHARLES (or DARLENE LOVE)
Written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and lyricist Richard B. Smith. Smith, a native of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, was reportedly inspired to write the song after seeing Honesdale’s Central Park covered in snow. Smith had written the lyrics while being treated for tuberculosis in the West Mountain Sanitarium in Scranton.
The song was originally recorded by Himber and his Hotel Ritz-Carlton Orchestra at RCA in 1934. At the end of a recording session with time to spare, RCA suggested arranging “Winter Wonderland” with its own orchestra, which included Artie Shaw.
The Charles version is a smooth jazzy workout, as only Charles could pull off. The Darlene Love version is just … perfect.
“You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” THURL RAVENSCROFT
Originally written and composed for the 1966 cartoon special Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The lyrics were written by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, the music was composed by Albert Hague, and the song was performed by Thurl Ravenscroft, who for more than 50 years, he was the uncredited voice of Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. His booming bass gave the cereal’s tiger mascot a voice with the catchphrase “They’re g-r-r-r-eat!!!!”
Because Ravenscroft was not credited in the closing credits of the special, it is often mistakenly attributed to Boris Karloff, who served as narrator and the voice of the Grinch in the special but who himself could not sing.