Christmas is of course (or at least should be) a state of mind more than a festival or a religious holiday or a societally-enforced shopping spree. I like to spend about three weeks sunk deep into the funk of the thing, whatever it is, call it yuletide or jul or nog or clog. Whatever it is, I hope this list brings you a little bit of it. Here goes…
1. Kicking this off with the immortal Charles Brown — “Please Come Home for Christmas.”
2. This is one I’d never heard before I started putting this list together. Etta James, “This Time of Year (When Christmas is Near). A little wistful for a list like this, but sometimes you need to take a moment.
3. Okay, bringing it up just a little bit from the last one. I’ve always loved Chris Rea’s voice. He is unquestionably yet another great British vocalist, but I was surprised to learn he has sold over 30 million albums.
4. Tip of the hat to my dad, his all-time favorite, Mahalia Jackson:
5. Nothing against Minnesota’s own band by this same name, but here’s the British rockabilly band The Jets with the Fifth Song of Christmas, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
6. The immortal Nick Lowe, with “Christmas at the Airport.” (Highly recommend his Christmas record, “Quality Street.”)
7. I’m not the hugest Elton John fan, but the bass line on this song is great, and he really was in prime in this video.
8. And now for something completely different. Southern Rock and Christmas songs kind of go together like whiskey and yoga, but I was taken by surprise with this one. Has a nice groove and you can’t go too wrong with Charlie Daniels singing about Santa Claus.
9. Here’s something a little less rough-hewn, but still guitar oriented. B.B. King’s awesome tone is in full force on this one.
10. You probably thought I was going to leave Minneapolis’ The Jets off this list, but this song is worth it just for the 80s perfection of the video itself.
11. Conner Oberst can get under your skin, but I’ve always been a reluctant fan. I think his nasal drone fits this song perfectly.
12. It’s hard to just stop at 12, but if you’re going to stop, there is no one better to end with than James Brown. And “The Christmas Song” is (everybody knows) the greatest Christmas song of all time. Made most famous by Nat King Cole, but I like this version, too.