The 10 greatest Christmas songs of all time
Nothing raises the festive spirits like hearing your favourite seasonal tunes. Here’s our selection of the best-ever Christmas records…
here are three things every inventive/creative type would love to come up with. A cure for the common cold. A better mousetrap. And a great Christmas song – it’s often said that if you can write one great Christmas song, you’re set for life. But while the first two have thus far alluded mankind’s best collective efforts, when it comes to great Christmas songs, there are loads. So many, in fact, that it took us quite a while to agree on our All–Time Top 10. Here at last though, in no particular order, is the ultimate Christmas playlist that we finally came up with…
Wham! – Last Christmas (1984)
Released in the same year as Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, this failed to hit No 1 but became Britain’s all-time best-selling single NOT to be No 1 in the process. It’s since charted in the UK a further five times (1985, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011), while in Germany it’s the most successful Christmas single of all time.
Slade – Merry Christmas Everybody (1973)
Written by Jim Lea and Noddy Holder, who told the Daily Mail in 2007 how the No 1 hit came into being as a result of the UK’s economic troubles at the time. “We’d decided to write a Christmas song and I wanted to make it reflect a British family Christmas,” he said. “I think people wanted something to cheer them up – and so did I. That’s why I came up with the line ‘Look to the future now, it’s only just begun’.”
The Pogues feat Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale Of New York (1987)
After Cait O’Riordan left The Pogues, producer Steve Lillywhite drafted in his then-wife Kirsty MacColl to sing her part in the Irish drinking band’s forthcoming Christmas record. The single only went to No 2 the year it was released, but has proved an evergreen favourite.
Jona Lewie – Stop The Cavalry (1980)
A No 3 hit in the UK, this was never actually intended as a Christmas record, according to Jona Lewie. He penned it as an anti-war protest song, but the brass band part, the line “wish I was at home for Christmas” and a video in which snow is falling have linked it irrevocably with the Yuletide season in the public consciousness.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)
First released as a single by John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band in 1971 in the US and 1972 in the UK, it was only after Lennon’s death in 1980 (in which year it went to No 2) that this really became the Christmas standard it is now. The record features backing vocals by the Harlem Community Choir and was produced by Phil Spector.
Paul McCartney – Wonderful Christmastime (1979)
Despite featuring members of Wings in the video, this track was actually written, perfomed and produced entirely by Macca on his own. The main riff is played on a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, one of the first polyphonic synthesizers. It only went to No 6 when first released, but has proved to have serious longevity – McCartney is said to earn $400,000 a year in royalties from this song alone, including monies earned from the many cover versions.
Dean Martin – Let It Snow (1959)
Martin was by neither the first nor by any means the last to record this song, which was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in 1945, and which was first a hit for Vaugh Moore that same year. Woody Herman and Frank Sinatra also had hits with it before him, while artists as diverse as Smokey Robinson, Doris Day, Andy Williams, Aaron Neville, Rod Stewart, Kylie Minogue, Michael Bublé and (we kid you not) Twisted Sister have all had a pop since. But it’s Dino’s version that we remember from our childhood Christmasses.
Greg Lake – I Believe In Father Christmas (1975)
Emerson, Lake and Palmer co-founder Greg Lake co-wrote this song with fellow King Crimson alumnus Peter Sinfield in 1974. It went to No 2 when released the following year and remains one of the most poignant of all Christmas standards. Also, if anyone ever asks you “What have Toyah Wilcox, Joe McElderry and Elaine Paige got in common?” then the answer is they’ve all recorded versions of this song.
Brenda Lee – Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (1958)
Written by the legendary Johnny Marks, who also came up with Run, Rudolph, Run and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, this was recorded by Brenda Lee at the tender age of 13. It was released twice (in 1958 and 1959) before finally charting in 1960; even then it only went to No 14 on the Billboard chart. But time has revealed its merit as a surefire Christmas party-starter.
Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas (Is You) (1994)
It’s testament to this song’s anthemic status that today, many assume it must have been a cover. But no… while sounding not a little like something from Phil Spector’s legendary A Christmas Gift For You album, it was actually penned by Carey herself, along with her long-term writing partner Walter Afanasieff.
Five stocking fillers…
That’s the end of our Top 10, but here are five more that proved to be a bit ‘Marmite’ – loved and loathed by different Songwriting team members in equal measure. To save arguing, we figured we’d chuck ’em in anyway…
The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping (1981)
Wizzard – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday (1973)
Bing Crosby – White Christmas (1942)
Mud – Lonely This Christmas (1974)
Michael Jackson – Rockin’ Robin (1972)
Please do email us and let us know YOUR favourite Yuletide choices… we’re sure there are loads of Christmas classics we’ve overlooked and we can always do this again in 365 days’ time! In the meantime, all of us at Songwriting wish all our readers
A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS, AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Words: Russell Deeks