In our last AllMusic Playlist, some of our editors shared their least favorite holiday songs. This time, we turn the tables toward festive favorites, those timeless tunes that fill one's heart with joy and remind us what makes this such a special time of year. Whether you're spending time with family, meeting up with friends, working overtime, or just carrying on with business as usual, may your days be merry and bright, indeed!Check out the editors' picks in blurb and video form below and subscribe to the playlist on Spotify - but don't stop there, 'cause we wanna hear from you! Scroll to the end of this post to learn how to share your Gifts of Music track picks.
Marvin Gaye - "Purple Snowflakes"
Only Berry Gordy knows how this ever became a title for a holiday song, but with Marvin Gaye and the mid-'60s Motown groove machine vamping over some cascading piano that would've done Vince Guaraldi proud, "Purple Snowflakes" is a left-field Christmas classic.
Miles Davis & Bob Dorough - "Blue Xmas (To Whom it May Concern)"
Here's one for the humbugs, a sourball among the sugary Christmas cookies and nostalgic gingerbread men of the season's music. Not to be confused with Elvis Presley's pouty “Blue Christmas,” Miles Davis, Bob Dorough and arranger Gil Evans' 1962 collaboration “Blue Xmas (To Whom it May Concern)” is a beatnik-y, bongo-driven takedown of everything wrong with the modern holiday season: “It's a time when the greedy/Give a dime to the needy.” While the song's complaints are nothing new, the wit with which Davis and Dorough deliver them makes them clever and poignant rather than heavy-handed. The song celebrated its 60th birthday this year, and it's hard to tell whether how relevant it sounds more than half a century later is heartening or disheartening. Either way, it's a welcome reminder that you don't have to force yourself to be cheery during “the most wonderful time of the year” if you don't want to be. It just might put you in some very good - if misanthropic - company.
The Sonics - "Don't Believe in Christmas"
Here's the perfect anthem for everyone who thinks Santa is a withholding punk, Rudolph is a drunk deer, holiday cheer is phony, mistletoe is misleading, and Christmas is just one giant lump of coal. Leave it to the mighty Sonics to tell it like it is.
The Wailers - "Christmas Spirit"
The Pacific Northwest Wailers released this track on the über-rare LP Merry Christmas from the Sonics, Galaxies and Wailers in 1965. As great as the Sonics tracks "Santa Claus" and "Don't Believe in Christmas" are, they can't match the unrelenting sneer of the Wailers' "Christmas Spirit," a cynical folk rock protest tune sung in the style of Bob Dylan. The Wailers manage to tear down everything sacred about the holiday in under three minutes; it just doesn't let up. Even as the song fades, you can hear vocalist Kent Morrill grumble, "it's in the air... I can smell it!"
Charlie Parker - "White Christmas"
It's early Christmas morning, 1948 at the Royal Roost club in New York City, as the ever-laconic announcer Symphony Sid once again introduces saxophonist Charlie Parker by saying, “The Bird's got a little arrangement, a little surprise for you on ‘White Christmas'.” The clink of glasses is audible as partygoers - undoubtedly fairly buzzed and, one imagines, not paying much attention to the jazz quintet taking the stage - chatter away while pianist Al Haig chords the intro to Irving Berlin's classic song. While most likely a cheeky, holiday-themed addition to the set, here Parker and trumpeter Kenny Dorham proceed to deliver one of the hippest, most thoughtful and swinging, bop-style versions of the tune you'll ever hear. It's pure magic!
Yogi Yorgesson - "I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas"
This one's for you, Cleveland - or Buffalo, or Pittsburgh, or Milwaukee, or Minneapolis, but mostly for Cleveland - specifically the Parma area where Yogi Yorgesson once reigned supreme. It was a time when kids "flipped their lid" as their parents went "in hock", but it's not so far in the past as to be irrelevant. Why, just this year I was looking for a nightgown for the wife and ended up with a carpet sweeper. Yogi speaks truth to Xmas and ain't nuthin' changed but the slang, yo.
The Tradewinds - "New York's a Lonely Town"
In 1965, a striking single called "New York's a Lonely Town" by the Tradewinds flitted briefly across pop radio. Telling the story of a California surfer stuck in New York for the winter, the song was beautifully produced, echoing some of the studio techniques then favored by Brian Wilson. It isn't a holiday recording per se, but it's full of sleigh bells and glockenspiels, the lyrics are full of woodies all covered in snow, and it sounds a bit like like "Jingle Bells" crossed with "Surf City." It remains one of the great lost singles of the surf era.
Run-D.M.C. - "Christmas in Hollis"
Santa leaves this devious little elf alone and he's determining if the kids are naughty with a Simon and a VCR. He starts going ballistic, issuing coal to everybody. Then he stops on the files of the Hollis trio. After hearing Run rhyme about finding Santa's wallet and D.M.C. rap about tasty egg nog and collard greens, he has to admit how nice they are. But he's still crazy, right? So he zips off to steal Darryl's gifts (a dookie chain and Fedora) and mom's turkey. Meanwhile, Jay's buggin' because he got the same pair of Adidas last year.
Reflect on these seasonal sounds in playlist form, and keep the tunes coming by sharing your Gifts of Music track picks. Spotify users can contribute by adding AllMusic Editors to your people list, and then sending your selections to our inbox. Not a Spotify user? Share your track picks on the AllMusic Facebook page or by tweeting @AllMusic with hashtag #giftsofmusic.