I unabashedly and unironically love Christmas songs, but for what seems like decades, we’ve been stuck with the same old standards year after year. Even if new albums release, they are almost always full of covers. How many goddamn variations of “Here Comes Santa Claus” can you write?
So, I’ve picked out 12 recent holiday songs that I think are a blast to listen to. Some are jokey and sarcastic, but none are straight-up parodies — no “Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire” here. Some are just great modern holiday tunes. Listen, enjoy, and have a happy holiday!
“Elf’s Lament” — Barenaked Ladies featuring Michael BublÉ
I was a fairly big fan of Barenaked Ladies well before the success of “One Week”, and I’m honestly kind of annoyed it took them til 2004 to release a holiday album. Barenaked for The Holidays has a few decent covers and some solid originals, but the highlight is easily “Elf’s Lament,” a wonderfully cheery tune about overworked elves in Santa’s workshop. Frank Sinatra wannabe Michael Bublé adds a lot to the track with his smooth vocals, and the line “We know that we’ve got leverage, so we’ll hand the fat man a beverage” makes me laugh every time.
“Who Spiked The Eggnog” — Straight No Chaser
A capella groups almost always make fantastic Christmas music, and while Straight No Chaser is best known for covers of pop tunes, I think their Christmas albums (specifically their original holiday tunes) are where they shine. Honestly, if I could do a whole list just about Straight No Chaser Christmas songs, I probably would. “Who Spiked The Eggnog?” is a fun, fast, jazzy tune that helps set the holiday mood.
“All I Need Is Love” — CeeLo Green featuring The Muppets
CeeLo is basically a human Muppet, so why not team him with the actual Muppets? I’m not that big a fan of CeeLo, but you have to be dead inside to not be a fan of Jim Henson’s work. “All I Need Is Love” is a great pop tune that definitely captures the spirit of The Muppets themselves while delivering a simple message of what really matters during the holidays.
“Text Me Merry Christmas” — Straight No Chaser featuring Kristen Bell
Straight No Chaser Makes another appearance on this list, but it’s really a Kristen Bell performance with them as backup singers. Some might see this a sad ode to millennials or something (a song about texting, really?), but it’s actually a sweet song about being apart at Christmas and how easy it is (or should be) to let someone know you care about them. I could do without the actual reading of a text conversations, but the lyrics are sweet and funny.
“Mistletoe” — Justin Bieber
Haters gonna hate (wait, wrong artist). Before he became an embarrassment to the entire continent of North America, Justin Bieber was a harmless little pop star, and that’s the perfect kind of artist for great Christmas songs. I own a litany of holiday albums by artists I wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead listening to, and “Mistletoe” certainly fits into that category. Drop the tabloid baggage, and it’s just a great pop holiday tune.
“California Winter” — Bonnie McKee
“Who the hell is Bonnie McKee and why does she basically sound like Katy Perry?” Well, the voice is hers, but Bonnie McKee is indeed a longtime collaborator of Perry, co-writing most of her biggest hits (“Roar,” “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” etc.). And while Katy Perry hasn’t released an original Holiday song yet, this is easily the next best thing. Sounding classic yet modern, Bonnie McKee creates a holiday pop tune that really should be getting regular rotations in just about everybody’s playlist.
“Underneath The Tree” — Kelly Clarkson
Hey, it’s one of the few people to win American Idol and still have an actual career afterwards! Kelly Clarkson has an incredible voice, and she puts it to great use in this jazzy tune. It’s the common theme of “all you really need for Christmas is the one you love,” but the music along with Clarkson’s voice brings the idea to another level:
“Cold December Night” — Michael BublÉ
I poked a little fun at Michael Bublé earlier (he really seems to be on a constant quest to become the one-man Rat Pack), but I actually really love his classic crooner voice. Michael Bublé clearly loves Christmas: the dude has not only a holiday album, but several Christmas specials under his belt. His voice is, of course, decidedly old school, but that makes it perfect for a new Christmas song that still sounds like an older classic.
“Present Face” — Garfunkel & Oates
It’s the thought that counts, right? Sure, but sometimes that thought is an incredibly crappy, poorly planned gift. And while some might make a scene, most of us just make “present face” while trying to contain our “joy” and express gratitude for something we hate and will never use. This is perfectly captured here.
“Christmas Can-Can” — Straight No Chaser
I wasn’t joking when I said I could make an entire list of Straight No Chaser Christmas songs (I swear this is the last one). This is probably my favorite funny Christmas song that isn’t a straight-up parody. The lyrics perfectly capture the joy and annoyance of the holiday season and are genuinely hilarious, along with a few random bits that catch you off guard. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the video.
“I’ll Be Home” — Meghan Trainor
This is probably the closest thing on the list to a cover. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has been covered dozens of times, but “I’ll Be Home” by Meghan Trainor is more of a re-imagining. It’s the same basic song in spirit, but with very different lyrics and music. It evokes the original Christmas tune it’s obviously inspired by, but manages to stand on its own as a modern pop song.
“Just Another Christmas Song” — Stephen Colbert
Equal parts celebration and mocking of the holidays (and Christmas songs in general), “Just Another Christmas Song” is the perfect mix of snark without being overly mean or depressing. Stephen Colbert has a surprisingly fantastic voice, and while this claims to be “just another Christmas song”, it really doesn’t really sound like any other Christmas song out there. That helps it stand out in a crowded field of holiday tunes.
There you have it, 12 songs that will hopefully make your holidays a little fresher. Got any more modern tunes you’d like to call out? Let me know in the comments!
Article by contributor Eric Chrisman. Eric loves Christmas songs, so follow him on Twitter for more holiday talk!