Christmas music is as intrinsic to the season of goodwill as decorating the tree, enjoying dinner with family on the 25th or wrapping gifts hurriedly on Christmas Eve. And while there are thousands of Christmas songs to choose from, there are understandably some that we keep returning to as soon as December arrives. Perhaps the most popular of these are the chestnuts from the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's that have been with us since those special childhood Christmases. Of course assembling a list of Christmas chestnuts is the easy part so rather than sweating over ranking them from one to ten we've instead decided they appear on the player below in no particular order. With the newest song on this list recorded in 1963 this is the true sound of a vintage Christmas!
For many Bing's 'White Christmas' is the greatest Christmas song of all time and while you could argue otherwise it remains the biggest selling song of all time (50 million and counting). Released at the height of World War II Bing's classic rendition of Irving Berlin's composition first appealed to the troops far away from home over the holidays. It has since become symbolic of the classic Christmas experience as extolled by Bing's gentle croon and that magical, if slightly minimalist, orchestral backdrop. There's no doubting that 'White Christmas' sounds of its time but we wouldn't change it for the world.
Nat King Cole loved the Mel Torme and Bobs Wells' 'The Christmas Song' as much we do, so much so that he recorded 4 times over his career. What didn't change on each of these sessions was the warmth Nat poured into his performance of those famous lines 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost biting at your nose'. Much like Bing's most famous Christmas song 'The Christmas Song' is synonymous with Nat King Cole despite being recorded hundreds of times by different artists throughout the years. No yuletide fireside scene would seem would seem complete without 'The Christmas Song' on the stereo.
In an album stuffed full of Christmas crackers (1963's 'A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector') it is Darlene Love's 'Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)' that is probably the most celebrated number. With Phil Spector's famed wall of sound production techniques bolstering the big sound it is Love's grandiose vocal performance that resonates most. And Love's attachment to the song remains undimmed to the present day as she has been performing it live each year just before Christmas on the David Letterman TV talk show.
Hard to believe nowadays but Eartha Kitt's 'Santa Baby' was viewed as the height of risqué on its release in the early fifties. For all that Kitt undeniably gave a smouldering performance that could tempt any prospective Santa from his perch on the roof. Like many of the chestnuts listed here 'Santa Baby' has been covered on multiple occasions but not even the combined musical endeavour of Kylie Minogue, Madonna or even Miss Piggy could outshine Eartha's magical turn.
The Ronettes 'Sleigh Ride' is also taken from the aforementioned Phil Spector Christmas album with the main man's wife Ronnie on lead vocals. Leroy Anderson's wonderful orchestral piece has been done many times but rarely has it sounded this exuberant. And the Ronettes surely epitomised the archetypal sixties girl group with their distinctive hairstyles and effervescent harmonies. 'Sleigh Ride' is flush with the sound of Christmas as the trio belt out the words which few Christmas songs can match for pre unadulterated seasonal joy.
Brenda Lee was a mere child when she recorded 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' but even at 13 she had the voice a veteran of the music scene. And it is her rendition of the Johnny Marks composition that you'll hear most during the holidays. The lyrics are a gas too and perhaps of their time with mentions of 'the Christmas hop' and 'pumpkin pie', the latter of which you'd expect to be associated with Halloween rather than Christmas.
'Elvis' Christmas Album' remains the bestselling Christmas album of all time yet Elvis has become synonymous with one Christmas song in particular. His version of 'Blue Christmas' may not have been the first recorded version (that honour went to Doye O'Dell in 1948) but his reading of the melancholy tale of loneliness over the holidays is one he was born to sing. Over a soundtrack of old style rhythm and blues the King poured his heart and soul into this little weepie. Elvis was paired with country star Martina McBride (posthumously of course) for a duet of 'Blue Christmas' in 2008 which worked surprisingly well despite the oddness of the concept.
The singing cowboy might have been more familiar with horses and dusty trails but he also showed an unquenchable appetite for the sounds of the season. His 1957 album 'Gene Autry Sings Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & Other Christmas Favorites' gathered all his Christmas singles in one place with each song having a spoken word introduction from the great man. The version of 'Frosty The Snowman' that you hear here is a gorgeous novelty that he recorded in 1950 with the Cass County Boys on backing vocals. It was the first and probably the best of many recordings of the Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson penned classic.
Despite only extending for a little beyond a minute Frank Sinatra still managed to get to the kernel of the matter on 'Winter Wonderland'. With a voice that could paint a colourful picture on the dullest of days and the backing orchestration offering the lushest of backdrops Sinatra gave us a winter wonderland we could only dream of. 'Winter Wonderland' is one of the most covered Christmas songs ever yet Sinatra's version instantly has you thinking of mistletoe and holly.
Dino is one of several crooners that are inextricably linked with Christmas and his convivial approach to the standards meant his festive releases were always enjoyable. Perhaps his most famous Christmas song arrived on his 1959 album 'A Winter Romance' (he also recorded a version for his 1966 album 'The Dean Martin Christmas Album'). 'Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!' is what the season is all about and with Martin singing it in his playful style he created the definitive version of a song that was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in the blazing heat of a Californian summers day.