As radio stations play Christmas music to get us all into the mood for the holiday season, listen long enough and you’ll notice that there are certain songs that are played over and over and over again. Sometimes they are versions by a classic artist, sometimes several versions are played as a more recent artist takes on the favorite song and puts their own spin on it. And then, sometimes, a current artist writes a song that becomes a standard.
While most people these days prefer leaving the playlist generation up to iHeartRadio, Spotify, Pandora or one of the other online music services, here are ten songs that never seem to go out of favor that you might want to make sure to play when entertaining at home this season.
1. “All I Want for Christmas is You,” Mariah Carey
This song has been topping the Christmas charts since 1994 when it was first produced. Fun and upbeat, it has a timeless quality. There have been several videos made of the song with Carey, all playing on a sense of nostalgia while being very current. It has been the number one Christmas song on the charts for five years in a row beginning in 2019. Due to the song’s lasting impact, Carey has been dubbed “Queen of Christmas.”
2. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Brenda Lee
Lee originally recorded this song when she was 13 in 1958, but this year she has knock Carey off her Christmas music throne, as the song has taken the number one spot on Billboard’s top 100 for the last two weeks this year. Now 79, Lee is the most senior artist to ever hit the number one spot, yet she grooves to the music in a recent video. And those who have watched the movie, “Home Alone,” will never forget Kevin McCallister using it to outsmart the bad guys.
3. “White Christmas,” Bing Crosby
Written by composer Irving Berlin in 1942 for the movie musical “Holiday Inn,” it was sung in the movie by Bing Crosby and became an instant hit. While other artists have recorded versions of the song, of the 100 million copies sold, half of them are the Crosby version. It is the top selling single of all time. It was the first secular Christmas song to become a popular hit, and it won an Academy Award in 1942. Amazingly enough, Crosby didn’t think there was anything great about the song initially.
4. “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You),” Nat King Cole
Initially recorded in June 1946 by Cole, and written by Mel Torme and Robert Wells, he was not satisfied with how it came out and opted to re-record it in August of the same year. That second version became a hit. He then re-recorded it 1953 and 1961, both times with a full orchestra. The last version is considered the definitive one. In 2022, the Library of Congress placed the 1961 version on the National Recording Registry as being significant historically and culturally. It hit the top ten charts for the first time ever this year.
5. “Holly Jolly Christmas,” Burl Ives
One of the 25 most performed Christmas songs ever, it has versions by many singers, including a well-liked one by Michael Bublé, but it is the version by Burl Ives that endures. It was written in 1962 for a group called the Quinto Sisters, but it became a hit when Ives sang it in the Christmas movie, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” He re-recorded it in a slower version that has become the one heard on the radio today. In 2020, it hit number four on the charts.
6. “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Something about the pulsing beat gets you with the first note and pulls you into the song. And while the radio version is vibrant, the live version is an orchestration of light and sound that is uplifting and an audience favorite. It is an instrumental rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Shchedryk (Carol of the Bells).“ It was first released by Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 1996. According to Nielsen SoundScan, it is number three on the list of all-time best-selling Christmas digital singles to date.
7. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside, “ Michael Bublé and Idina Menzel
Although not written as a Christmas song, it has been adopted as one over time. Frank Leosser wrote it in 1945 for a movie called “Neptune’s Daughter.” The song is best known for being sung by Dean Martin and Marilyn Maxwell in 1959, but the original version was done by Ricardo Montalbán and Ester Williams for the movie. The Michael Bublé and Idina Menzel duet is a softer version of the Martin/Maxwell take on the song. The suggestive nature of the song has had its detractors, and there have been those who have done versions that suggest sexual consent under pressure, but this version is sweet and innocent. The song also has several Nashville connections, including Vince Gill and Amy Grant having a version on their “Tennessee Christmas” album.
8. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Bruce Springsteen
This song first became a hit in 1934 when a singer named Eddie Cantor performed it on his radio show — before TV, folks. It has since been performed by more than 200 different artists, but it hit classic status when rocker Bruce Springsteen put his mark on the song in 1975. It has been a favorite on the airwaves during the holidays ever since, including knocking out versions by Mariah Carey, Jackson 5, Pentatonix, the Pointer Sisters and the cast of Glee.
9. “Blue Christmas,” Elvis Presley
Listed as the number one Christmas song in Tennessee in 2023 by Finance Buzz, it has to be on this list just for that reason. And then there are new technology created versions with the Elvis and Martin McBride and Elvis and Kane Brown. First recorded in 1948 by a singer named Doye O’Dell, Presley cemented its status as a holiday hit by recording it in 1957. While not quite as popular as the other songs on this list, since it is a very melancholy song and the rest are upbeat, it will always be a part of a Tennessee Christmas, at least at Graceland.
10. “Wonderful Christmas Time,” Paul McCartney
There are so many more wonderful Christmas songs, but this one sticks in your mind, and that of local DJs. Turn on the radio and about half the time this song seems to be on. It’s the perpetually upbeat tempo and the sense of cheeky delight that it suggests. It was first released in 1979. It was from the recordings for McCartney’s second solo album, “McCartney II.” Although considered one of his weaker creations, it is a perennial Christmas favorite and since it first came out it is estimated that it has produced $15 million, as of 2011, in royalties for him according to Forbes magazine. A lot more since then.