The 45 Greatest Christmas Songs of All Time

We’re approaching Christmas Day, so it’s only fitting for djrobblog to end the year with a countdown of the “45 Greatest Christmas Songs of All Time.”

I’ve spent some time researching and coming up with this list, including perusing various other lists on the Internet.  I used several sources containing separate compilations of rock, soul, and other segregated genres of holiday fare – often covering the same songs in various versions.  I’m fully aware that music is defined in genres and some people consider mixing and comparing songs from different styles of music to be like apples and oranges.  But this is Christmas, a time for us to come together in the spirit of the holiday.

So I thought it would be interesting, in the spirit of Christmas of course, to compile a list of all-time holiday greats, regardless of genre, and have them all right here in one place.  Coming up with this list wasn’t easy considering the hundreds of songs (and thousands of different versions of various Christmas standards) from which to choose.  Some readers will likely disagree with some or all the songs on this list, as it was largely influenced by personal research and even more personal opinion (mine and others).  And while opinion is indeed a factor, I also considered other factors like longevity, publishing company reports of most-performed songs, annual Billboard chart performance, Internet buzz and the many other lists I researched as I mentioned earlier.

But that’s the beauty of blogging, opinions matter.  And you get to share your opinions with me and others in the comment section below (or by retweeting or posting your views on the djrobblog Facebook page).

So here they are, the songs I consider to be the 45 Greatest Christmas Songs (of all genres) of All Time…presented in countdown fashion as all djroblists are.  You can access my special Spotify playlist of these songs both here and at the end of the countdown, along with the honorable mentions below it.

45. “Let It Snow” – Boyz II Men ft. Brian McKnight (1993).

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Not to be confused with the standard “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!,” this slow holiday gem is a perennial R&B staple.  If McKnight and Boyz II Men are teaming up on a song, you know that romance is on the horizon when you play it.

44. “My Favorite Things” – Julie Andrews; various others (1959).

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This song was popularized in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music in 1959 (on Broadway) and again in 1965 (the movie).  It has since been adopted as a Christmas standard with its many vivid wintry lyrical references.  I’ve included The Supremes’ version on the Spotify playlist and in this video…

43. “Christmas Wrapping” – The Waitresses (1981).

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This should be #1 on every alternative rock Christmas list.  The lyrics are about something everyone has gone through at least once during the holidays: frustration with all the annual tradition of shopping and the prospect of spending Christmas alone, but this one has a happy ending.  One of my favorites!

42. “Christmas Rappin'” – Kurtis Blow (1979).

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Not only is this one of the first Christmas rap songs, but it’s one of the first rap songs, period.  There are no jingle bells in this one, just straight up funk with  rhythm guitar, bass, drums and a memorable piano riff to boot.  It’s the song that put Kurtis Blow on the map and is a classic in the hip-hop community.  Check out Blow’s performance on Top of the Pops in January 1980…

41. “Merry Christmas, Baby” – Otis Redding (1968).

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Soul music is represented well on this list, thanks in most part to the Memphis soul sound brought by people like Booker T. & the M.G.’s and Otis Redding.  Redding’s Christmas contribution has all the trademark, soul-stirring vocals that his other hits did.  And it’s still an R&B radio staple to this day.

40. “What Christmas Means to Me” – Stevie Wonder (1967).

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Stevie Wonder released a Christmas album for Motown Records (almost all their major artists did).  This single has stood the test of time and regularly gets the most play of any of Wonder’s holiday tunes.

39. “Merry Christmas, Darling” – Carpenters (1970).

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This song was released during the Carpenters’ first year of popularity (A&M Records struck while the iron was hot!).  Karen Carpenter’s is still one of the most beautifully soothing voices ever heard and this gem is a great way to warm up any cold wintry night with that special someone.  Watch this video of the late songstress’ performance…

38. “Last Christmas” – Wham! (1984).

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This classic was released during the peak of  Wham!’s career in late-1984.  The song settled for a #2 peak in the U.K. behind Band-Aid’s big charity hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” but has regularly charted since (on both sides of the pond).  Check out this time capsule in the video below…

37. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” – Bing Crosby (1943).

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This is the first of many songs on this list by the King of Christmas Songs, Bing Crosby.  This one was released during the height of World War II from the perspective of troops longing to be home with their loved ones.  That would be a recurring theme during later wars and similar holiday tunes (like Marvin Gaye’s “I Want to Come Home for Christmas”).

36. “Back Door Santa” – Clarence Carter (1968).

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This is about as soulful as it gets on this list.  If the real Santa were giving gifts to all the “other” Santas out there, this bad boy would clearly be on his “naughty” list.  But, at least this Santa “makes all the little girls happy.”  The title says it all.

35. “Step Into Christmas” – Elton John (1973).

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Elton John released this in 1973 near the peak of his early career, and it topped Billboard’s annual Christmas Songs chart that season.  It was written by John and his long-time songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, and inspired by Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound production technique.  Check out the video below…

34. “Little Saint Nick” – Beach Boys (1963).

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Another Phil Spector-inspired song, the Beach Boys recorded this in 1963 during their surfing and hot-rod sports car days.  Imagine Santa’s sleigh as a sporty red hot-rod racer and you’ll get the picture.  Spector’s influence on the Boys would later surface again with their classic Pet Sounds album (in ’66).

33. “Winter Wonderland” – Various (1934).

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First published in 1934, this song is a holiday standard, even though there is no reference to Christmas or New Year’s Day in the lyrics.  That didn’t stop it from becoming the fourth-most played ASCAP holiday song of all time, according to that music publishing company’s listing.  The version by Eurythmics is the one that gets played most today.

32. “Christmas in Hollis” – Run-DMC (1987).

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That’s Hollis, Queens, NYC, for the unenlightened.  As with many rap tunes, this one relies on a prominent sample.  The tune of choice here is Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa,” although elements of “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World” are also included.  The trio of Run-DMC maintained enough of a street edge in this performance to make it a hip-hop holiday staple, as you can see below…

31. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – Darlene Love (1963).

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Darlene Love may be best known for this holiday tradition after having performed it on the Dave Letterman show for 27 years.  It’s Phil Spector (again!) at his production best!  U2 does a nice version also.  Check out this video compilation of Love’s Letterman performances over the years…

30. “Sleigh Ride” – Ronettes (1963); (original by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops – 1949).

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This is one of my personal favorite Christmas songs.  Its melody is among the most uplifting of all holiday tunes.  Arthur Fiedler’s version is a classic, but so is the Ronettes’, thanks again to their producer, Phil Spector (his influence is all over this list!).  Check out this video of the classic Boston Pops Orchestra version below…

29. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” – Various; Idina Menzel ft. Michael Bublé (2014)

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This may be the second-sexiest Christmas tune on this list (behind “Santa Baby,” which is coming up later).  There are many recorded versions of this interplay between a reluctant woman and a man trying to convince her to spend a warm romantic evening.  The one charting the highest on the Billboard Holiday 100 this season is by Menzel and Bublé.

28. “Please Come Home for Christmas” – Charles Brown (1960)/ Eagles (1978).

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R&B star Charles Brown (not to be confused with Charlie) introduced this classic, but the Eagles charted highest with it when they reached #18 in January 1979.  Their version was still charting into February that year… long after the holiday season had ended.

27. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Band Aid (1984).

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One of the biggest charity singles of all time, this mid-eighties gem featured the hottest (mostly) British recording stars from that time.  Bob Geldof helmed it, but all of those singers, including Boy George, Duran Duran and Wham!, among many others, brought it home!  See it for yourself…

26. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” – Perry Como (1951).

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This song should always be the first song radio stations play at the beginning of the Christmas holiday season, which unofficially begins the day after Thanksgiving, when just about every store in America has put up the decorations and we’re reminded once again of the frenzy that’s about to consume the next four weeks.

25. “Silver Bells” – Bing Crosby & Carol Richards (1950); Booker T. & the M.G.’s (1966).

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Bing Crosby is the most represented artist on this list as he has turned many holiday tunes into standards that are among the biggest selling songs of all time (Christmas tunes or not).  Despite Crosby’s fingerprints being all over this one, it’s the soulful 1966 instrumental by Booker T. Jones that gets my vote as the better version.

24. “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” – Dean Martin (1959).

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First recorded by Vaughn Monroe in 1945, popular 20th-century singer Martin made it his own standard fourteen years later.  It capitalizes on our fascination with the white stuff falling on Christmas Eve/Day, since we’ve “no place to go” anyway.

23. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Various.

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This classic was introduced by Judy Garland in the movie “Meet Me in St. Louis,” but covered by many artists since, including Sam Smith in 2014.  His is actually  the only version to reach the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  The Jackson 5 did a memorable medley of it with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in 1970.  See Smith’s newest hit version below…

22. “Joy to the World” – Various (since 1719); Whitney Houston (1997).

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This nearly 300-year-old standard has appeared in church hymnals since its original penning in 1719, making it the oldest song on this list by far!  There are many versions of this hymn about the second coming of Jesus Christ out there, but Houston’s rousing gospel rendition, which she re-popularized for the movie “The Preacher’s Wife” in 1997, gets the nod here.

21. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” – Harry Simeone Chorale (1962)/Bing Crosby (1963)/Robert Goulet (1968).

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In researching this one, I found that – like so many other Christmas classics – there are too many versions from which to choose for this list.  So I’ve chosen the one that the songwriter (Noël Regney) reportedly said was his favorite…no, not the Bing Crosby hit version, but the more captivating version by the late actor/singer Robert Goulet.

20. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – Jimmy Boyd (1952)/ Jackson 5 (1970).

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This kiddy tune skews slightly younger than the target audience of another Santa classic (“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”), but it was still a number one song for Boyd in ’52; he was only 13 when he recorded it.  The Motown boy band Jackson 5 (before we were calling them boy bands) included a version on their 1970 Christmas album when lead singer Michael was only 11.

19. “O’ Holy Night” – Various (1847).

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Yes that’s EIGHTEEN…forty-seven!  This song likely captures the spirit and true meaning of the Christmas holiday like no other.  It’s one of the few on this list that make direct reference to the first coming of Jesus Christ.  It’s also the second oldest song on the list, behind the 300-year-old hymn “Joy to the World.”  Celine Dion’s version is especially captivating, so I’ve included it here and in the special playlist linked to this article…

18. “Blue Christmas” – Elvis Presley (1957).

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No one was more popular in 1957 than Elvis Presley, so it was only fitting that he cater to his largely female fan base by recording this bluesy classic about unrequited love during the lonely holiday season.  Although a proper single wasn’t released until seven years later, that didn’t stop the song from becoming an annual fave of many, especially Elvis fans and country music fans.

17. “Jingle Bell Rock” – Bobby Helms (1957).

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“Jingle Bells” is one of the most well-known Christmas carols of all time, but it didn’t make this list.  Instead, this well-intended rock-and-roll parody is listed here at #17.  It’s been covered by many, but Helms’ original version is still the most popular.

16. “Wonderful Christmastime” – Paul McCartney (1979).

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Paul did it all: he wrote, sang and played all the instruments on this truly solo hit.  But in the spirit of Christmas sharing, he allowed his band mates from Wings to appear in the video (below)…

15. “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” – Alvin & the Chipmunks (1958).

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This novelty tune is one of the first songs to ever top the Billboard Hot 100, which came into existence in 1958.  Alvin, Simon and Theodore owe their high-pitched chipmunk voices to a man named Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., who was better known as David Seville.  The song in recent years has become one of the best-selling downloaded Christmas songs of the digital era.

14. “The Little Drummer Boy” – Harry Simeone Choir (1958)/ Bing Crosby & David Bowie (1977).

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There are certainly more versions of this classic than the two I’ve mentioned.  Wikipedia claims over 220 versions in many languages and music genres including a now eerie version (2002) by the late Whitney Houston and her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown, which takes on new meaning since the latter’s death earlier this year.  Check out this video of David Bowie and Bing Crosby performing their classic 1977 version, a duet of “Peace on Earth”/”The Little Drummer Boy”…

13. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – Andy Williams (1963).

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This standard has become one of the most played Christmas tunes ever.  It ranks at #16 on the all-time ASCAP publisher’s list.  It’s also been featured in TV commercials – even some not associated with the holiday.  But there’s no mistaking what time of the year this classic is referring to.

12. “Santa Baby” – Eartha Kitt (1953).

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Can’t you just see the late Eartha Kitt slyly purring her way through this one as her “Santa Claus” makes his way down her chimney?  The lyrics are innocent enough, but it’s still the sexiest Christmas standard of all time, thanks to the famous Cat Lady’s trademark cooing.

11. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” – Brenda Lee (1958).

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Recorded in 1958, but not a hit until Lee became a star in the ’60s, this is now a standard that regularly places at #2 on the Billboard weekly Holiday 100 singles chart each season (behind Mariah Carey’s newer standard, which is coming up later).  As a result, this rock-and-roll classic’s status looms larger each year.

10. “A Holly Jolly Christmas” – Burl Ives (1964).

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First featured in the 1964 Christmas holiday TV special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Ives re-recorded it for his own holiday album the following year.  The TV special has aired annually since its debut, and this happy tune has since become one of the most played holiday songs of all time.

9. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – Gene Autry (1949).

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This song was first a hit during the Christmas season of 1949 and was listed at #1 on the Billboard chart dated January 7, 1950, officially making it the first #1 song of the 1950s.  Including covers, it’s the second-largest selling Christmas song of all time, behind “White Christmas.” Like several songs on this list, the song was adapted into a TV movie (the most famous being narrated by Burl Ives, who voiced Sam the Snowman and whose own song, which was also in the movie, is right behind this one at #10).  Got all that?

8. “Feliz Navidad” – José Feliciano (1970).

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Like many Americans, I feign my ability to speak fluent Spanish by wishing people Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in that language, thanks to this bilingual classic by Feliciano!  See him perform it live below…

7. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” – John Lennon (1971).

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This song was recorded by Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono (as the Plastic Ono Band) with the Harlem Community Choir.  It’s an anti-Vietnam war classic that also asks us to take a hard look in the mirror and question what is it we’re doing to make the world better.  It’s as timely today as it was 45 years ago.  It’s also one of Lennon’s best, and another Phil Spector classic!  Check it out…

6. “This Christmas” – Donny Hathaway (1970).

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Hathaway wrote and originally recorded this now-classic holiday standard.  It’s the second highest-ranked tune written by an African-American and is Donny’s signature song.  It has inspired tributes to the late singer (most notably the Whispers’ remake and a song they recorded about Hathaway using the song’s melody) as well as countless remakes by others.  It ranks among ASCAP’s 30 most performed Christmas songs of all time.

5. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” – Mariah Carey (1994).

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If this were a list of songs composed after 1970, Carey’s tune would be ranked #1, hands down.  It’s the newest classic on this entire list and it regularly ranks at #1 on the Billboard Holiday 100 list each season.  It’s also Carey’s biggest international hit, which is saying an awful lot considering the artist’s repertoire of hits.  You won’t go a day without hearing this if your radio is on during the holidays.  See her video of the classic below…

4. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” – Jackson 5 (1970)/ Bruce Springsteen (1975).

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Is there anyone over the age of three who doesn’t know the words to this 1934-penned classic?  It has charted several times by different artists since its first release, including when sheet music sales (instead of record sales) were used to measure song popularity.  Perry Como made a hit version in 1951, but the ones you’re most likely familiar with now are the hit renditions by the Jackson 5 and Bruce Springsteen.  Their arrangements have been the two most-played ones almost since their original releases.  Springsteen reprised it just last week on an episode of SNL (with a little help from Paul McCartney), as shown here…

3. “Silent Night” – Bing Crosby (1935); Temptations (1968).

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Crosby’s 1935 version is the 3rd-best selling single of all time at 30 million copies sold worldwide.  But the Temps’ more soulful version is an R&B classic, regularly considered a favorite among those I polled.  Eddie Kendrick’s soaring falsetto lead vocal is him at his absolute best, while Melvin Franklin’s bass vocal in the second verse is likely the lowest octave I’ve ever heard an entire verse sung in.  There’s been nothing like it since, which is kinda sad considering the nearly 50 years that have passed since its release.

2. “White Christmas” – Bing Crosby (1942).

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This is one single on the list that has topped both the pop and R&B charts, back when the R&B chart was known as the Harlem Hit Parade and it rarely differentiated between songs by white and black musicians.  It’s the best-selling single of all time according to the Guinness Book of World Records.  It is also the highest of five songs on this list that are largely associated with Crosby, although he’s clearly recorded versions of other tunes as well.  He’s simply Mr. Christmas when it comes to all-time great holiday songs and this classic is a major reason.

1. “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You/Chestnuts Roasting…)” – Nat King Cole (1946).

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How fitting is it that a song titled “The Christmas Song” tops this list?  You’re forgiven, of course, if you’ve called this song “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” or “Merry Christmas to You,” over the years, since it has often been subtitled with those very prominent lyrics (and the actual title is never sung verbatim).

Despite the lack of precision in recalling its official title, almost everyone I polled (informally of course) had Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and Crosby’s “White Christmas” as their top two holiday songs of all time.  It was below the top two where the variations started to occur.  It was also the order of these two that was in dispute for many.  I was initially torn and considered both worthy of #1.  I could have gone with sales and awarded Bing’s song the #1 spot.  But when it came down to it, more people I asked named this one as their favorite, and quite frankly, it’s mine too.  Simply put, nothing sets the scene and captures that feeling you get on Christmas Eve or morning like this holiday nugget.

Like many of the songs on this list, “The Christmas Song” has been covered by many musicians over the past 70 years.  But the recording by King Cole (he actually recorded several versions over the years) stands as the most beloved version of all time.

And now for the honorable mentions:

1. “Christmas Time is Here”; “Linus & Lucy” – Vince Guaraldi Trio (both from A Charlie Brown Christmas).  An annual tradition.  Check out this video to “Linus & Lucy”…

2. “Christmas Ain’t Christmas, New Year’s Ain’t New Year’s” – O’Jays.  A soul classic!

3. “Gee Whiz (It’s Christmas)” – Carla Thomas.  A retake on an old hit by Thomas.

4. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” – Elmo & Patsy.  Perhaps the best known novelty holiday tune outside of the Chipmunks.

5. “What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?” – Emotions.  Answer: they listen to this soul classic and hope for a better one next year.

6. “Same Old Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg.  This song about a brief Christmas Eve reunion between former lovers will bring tears…so be ready.

7. Mary, Did You Know? – Various.  Two versions of this (by Jordan Smith and by the acapella group Pentatonix) are in the top ten of this week’s Holiday 100 chart.

8. “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” – James Brown.  And tell ’em James Brown sent ya!

9. “Run Rudolph Run” – Chuck Berry.  Rock and roll at its best!  

10. “Carol of the Bells” – Mannheim Steamroller.  Great song, great version!

And there you have it, djrobblog’s 45 Greatest Christmas Songs of All Time, along with ten honorable mentions.  You can hear all these songs by accessing my special playlist here.  Also, feel free to comment below with your own opinions.

As always, thanks for all the love and support of djrobblog.  And have a very happy holiday season!

DJRob

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