Christmas music sells, and not only in the sense that hearing Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" or Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" for the trillionth time allegedly puts one in the mood to whip out a credit card and participate in the seasonal shopping frenzy.
It also sells in the sense that Christmas albums are reliable gift-giving options that still move physical product. Holiday releases take up five of the top 20 spots on the current Billboard album charts, including two by Christmas music rulers Pentatonix, the Texas a cappella quintet.
The 25-song playlist below gathers holiday tunes released in 2016, many by artists who have put out Christmas albums before: Once holiday music becomes your calling card, it's tempting to ring that jingle bell over and over.
The Spotify playlist that accompanies this story differs slightly from the annotated list because not all songs are available on Spotify. Battling streaming services are not above holding Christmas playlists hostage with exclusive deals. If the song in question is not available on Spotify, it's noted.
Kacey Musgraves, "Ribbons and Bows." Girl-group handclaps and honking saxophones on an original tune from the clever country-pop singer's A Very Kacey Christmas, the standout holiday release of the season that expertly walks the fine line between kitsch and classicism.
Kylie Minogue, "At Christmas." Keeping up the girl-group vibe with the Australian pop star's Phil Spectorish bopping tune that's one of the freshly added tracks on the Snow Queen Edition of her repackaged Kylie Christmas.
Neil Diamond, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" We do. It's the Jewish Elvis putting his stamp on the Robert Goulet standard. From his folkie, Don Was-produced Acoustic Christmas.
Jennifer Nettles, "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep." Sugarland singer's solid To Celebrate Christmas includes this Irving Berlin gem that Bing Crosby used to woo Rosemary Clooney in Michael Curtiz's 1954 White Christmas.
Andra Day with Stevie Wonder, "Someday at Christmas." "Someday at Christmas men won't be boys / Playing with bombs like kids play with toys." Good luck with that. The title cut of Wonder's 1967 album, reprised as a duet on the nuevo soul singer's EP Merry Christmas from Andra Day.
Work Drugs, "All Alone on Christmas Day." Smooth grooving from Philadelphia bandmates who make music "specifically for sexting and yachting" and who are no strangers to the Christmas music game. Headlining their sixth annual holiday spectacular at Boot & Saddle on Dec. 17.
Fiona Apple, "The Christmas Song." Can Christmas music provide a refuge from 2016 political rancor? Nope. Apple lets it be known what she thinks of President-elect Donald Trump, with reworked lyrics to the Mel Torme standard: "Everybody knows some money and entitlement can help to make the season white." Found at fionaapplerocks.tumblr.com.
Jackie Evancho, "Little Drummer Boy." Speaking of Trump, the classical crossover singer is set to sing the national anthem at the inauguration in January. Her Someday at Christmas - named after the Wonder song - is her second Christmas album, and she's only 16.
Stephen Colbert & Norah Jones, "Christmas Is Now." Colbert's attempt to write a Christmas song more insipid than McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." Did he succeed? Try as he might, no.
She & Him, "Must Be Santa." Hal Moore and Bill Fredericks' 1960 beer-hall rouser was a polka centerpiece of Bob Dylan's 2009 Christmas in the Heart. From Christmas Party, Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward's second holiday album.
Jimmy Buffett, "Mele Kalikimaka." With an assist from ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro, Buffett does his Hawaiian-shirt holiday routine, from his nautically themed 'Tis the SeaSon.
Son Little, "What Child Is This." Philadelphia soul-folk troubadour digs into William Chatterton Dix's 1865 carol. Streaming and downloadable as one of many exclusives on Amazon Music's worthy Acoustic Christmas playlist, available free to Prime subscribers. It also features G. Love, Inara George, Hayes Carll, and Anais Mitchell.
Kelsea Ballerini with Joey Alexander, "My Favorite Things." Grammy-nominated country star paired with 13-year-old Indonesian jazz prodigy on the Rodgers and Hamerstein Sound of Music classic.
R. Kelly, "Christmas Lovin'." Kris Kringle leaves the elves to tend to the reindeer and focuses on Mrs. Claus. From Kelly's frequently pervy 12 Nights of Christmas.
Leslie Odom Jr., "Merry Christmas Darling." The East Oak Lane-raised Hamilton star moves comfortably into a folkish direction on his eight-song Simply Christmas release, following up his jazz-crooning, self-titled debut.
Kurt Elling, "Christmas Children." An understated celebration of a holiday that's "a wonder to behold" by the former divinity student jazz singer on the ambitious and smart holiday album The Beautiful Day.
Pentatonix, "Coldest Winter." Kanye West, purveyor of mistletoe-and-holly good cheer? Not exactly, but the rapper-producer's bummed-out ballad is a highlight of A Pentatonix Christmas, their second holiday collection.
Michael Angelakos, "Stained Glass Windows." Gifted Passion Pit singer Angelakos' first single from his Merry Christmas, Mr. Fields album that's the sound track to a World War II-era musical.
Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, "If We Make It Through December." The transcontinental tandem who teamed up on Shine a Light, this year's collection of train songs, cover of one of the late, great Merle Haggard's most heart-rending tunes.
Amy Grant and Vince Gill, "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The seasonal debate is on: Is Frank Loesser's 1944 holiday standard a date-rape anthem, or a secretly protofeminist text in which the female vocalist takes charge of her own sexuality?
A rewritten version by Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski that takes the former point of view has gone viral ("You reserve the right to say no," he sings). This duet by wife-and-husband team of Grant and Gill on her Tennessee Christmas album is tops among new, more traditional versions this year, which include Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood's on their Amazon-exclusive album Christmas Together. (Do yourself a favor and instead of any of these, seek out Ray Charles and Betty Carter's 1961 version.)
Sarah McLachlan, "O Holy Night." Wonderland is the Canadian singer-songwriter's second holiday album, following 2006's Wintersong. Her take on the carol known as "Cantique de Noel" in the original French could hardly be more lovely.
Brett Eldredge, "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" Effectively swinging sleigh ride though the Sammy Cahn-Jule Styne chestnut. From the confident country crooner's Glow.
Natalie Prass, "Everybody's Having Fun (It's Christmas Time)." Playfully chilly indie synth pop from Richmond, Va., songwriter, with proceeds benefiting a school in her hometown. At NataliePrass2.bandcamp.com.
Major Lazer, "Christmas Trees." From the electronic compilation A Very Decent Christmas 4, on the Philadelphia-founded Mad Decent label, with Diplo and crew joined by Jamaican rapper Protoje for a stoner's holiday.
Kacey Musgraves and Willie Nelson, "A Willie Nice Christmas." A Hawaiian country send-off from Musgraves, in which she and the Red Headed Stranger wish that we all spend the holiday "higher than the angel at the top of the tree."