Christmas music playlist: The Roots & Paul McCartney to Gwen Stefani and Joe Scarborough
A 25-song holiday playlist to get over the same old, same old Christmas music doldrums.
Everybody is already tired of hearing the same old Christmas songs, it seems, sometime before Thanksgiving has even rolled around. No more Mariah Carey, thanks very much. Take "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" away, please!
Here, then, is your solution: This 25-song playlist annotated below (complete with a Spotify widget to play it on) consists of newly recorded holiday music released in 2017.
Some songs are newly written for the season, and many are cherished chestnuts given a fresh spin. "Baby It's Cold Outside," currently under investigation for being "rapey," will not be found on this list.
Brand-name artists like Gwen Stefani, Fantasia, Miley Cyrus, Cheap Trick, and Herb Alpert will be, as will a fair share of lesser-known indie acts worthy of discovery and lots of Philadelphia-connected talent. Happy holidays!
The Roots, Jimmy Fallon & Paul McCartney, "Wonderful Christmastime." Recorded last December in the run-up to Christmas, this a cappella remake of Macca's 1979 perennial, which, according to Forbes, earns him about $400,000 a year in royalties, also features members of the cast of the anthropomorphic computer-animated musical Sing, which is why you see an elephant and Matthew McConaughey in the Hollywood Squares-style video, along with Macca, Questlove, and Black Thought. On the Holidays Rule, Vol. 2 compilation.
Miley Cyrus, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." The holiday staple written by Johnny Marks was recorded in 1958 by Brenda Lee when she was a remarkably mature-sounding 13-year-old. Former Nickelodeon star Cyrus continues her 2017 career move of seeming innocent all over again by cutting a straightforward version for the star-studded Spotify Singles: Holiday playlist.
The Mavericks, "Christmas Time Is (Coming Around Again)." An original holiday tune by the Nashville band fronted by swoon-inducing Cuban American crooner Raul Malo, a convivial band suited for Christmas music-making if there ever was one. The group also released a new version of the Darlene Love standard "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."
Gwen Stefani with Blake Shelton, "You Make It Feel Like Christmas." The title cut of what is no doubt (see what I did there) one of the most prominent single-artist Christmas albums of the season bops along on a Motown groove and swills eggnog with Stefani's said-to-be the sexiest man alive boyfriend. The album is effective enough, with an old reliable horns-and-strings approach and few surprises.
Reba McEntire with Darius Rucker, "O Little Town of Bethlehem." The Christmas carol based on a poem written in 1865 by Phillips Brooks, the Episcopal priest who was rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square. On the Oklahoma country vet's My Kind of Christmas, with the country convert whose name isn't actually Hootie as her guest.
Murder by Death, "O Holy Night." Indiana band offers a cello-kissed rendering of the 19th-century carol written by Adolphe Adam. On 13 Days of Xmas, the excellent compilation from the Chicago "insurgent country" label Bloodshot Records.
Slowey & the Boats, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." Sweetly swinging instrumental take on the traditional English carol by the Philly band featuring Isaac Stanford of Mount Airy on console steel guitar, from Merry Christmas from Slowey & the Boats.
Sia, "Snowflake." The Australian songwriter known for penning tunes for Beyonce, Rihanna, and many others dives in with an entire album of all-original new holiday tunes called Everyday Is Christmas that includes this celebration of nonconformity.
Phoebe Bridgers, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Maybe the best melancholy Christmas song ever, originally sung by Judy Garland in 1944's Meet Me in St. Louis. Seriously talented songwriter Bridgers sounds barely able to "muddle through somehow" in this tender version.
Scarborough, "Drumpf." It's a Christmas playlist. Can't we keep politics out of it? That wouldn't be keeping in the spirit of 2017, now would it? Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough has musical aspirations, and this Grinch-inspired stomp is the centerpiece of the three-song A Very Drumpf Christmas EP, in which the MSNBC host mocks a mythical beast "with tiny little hands."
Fantasia, "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto." American Idol alum Fantasia Barrino takes a page out of James Brown's Christmas book on this funky wish that the most generosity should be bestowed on the neediest. A highlight of her album Christmas After Midnight.
The Minus 5, feat. Mike Mills, "Festival of Lights (Hannukah Song)." A Jewish holiday song from Dear December, my favorite Christmas album of the year, by the Minus 5, the fabulous indie band fronted by songwriter-guitarist Scott McCaughey, a touring member of R.E.M., whose bassist joins him here. The sentiments contained within are all the more deeply felt because McCaughey is recovering from a stroke he suffered last month.
Cheap Trick, "Father Christmas," The Kinks classic, given a roaring treatment by the veteran '70s rockers, on their top-notch Christmas Christmas.
Kelly Clarkson, "Christmas Eve." Powerfully belted out celebration of Yuletide expectancy from the original American Idol winner, which also works as a soundtrack to her children's book River Rose and the Magical Lullaby.
Hanson, "All I Want for Christmas." This list is otherwise a no Mariah zone, but the Tulsa, Okla., brother trio of Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson cover the Christmas queen's ubiquitous hit on their second holiday album, Finally It's Christmas.
Lindsey Stirling, feat. Trombone Shorty, "Warmer in the Winter." The reality TV star and violinist teams with the boisterous New Orleans bandleader on the title track to her light and lively holiday album.
The Ronettes, "Sleigh Ride." The jingly Wall of Sound from 1963's A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, the girl-group classic has been reissued this year on Mr. Santa Claus (Bring Me My Baby): Classic Soul R&B Christmas Cuts, 1961-63, one of a series of terrific vintage R&B, jazz, and country releases on the Contrast label. None are available streaming, but all can be had on Amazon.
Roland Kirk Quartet, "We Free Kings." A second exception to the all-new recordings rule: The title cut from Contrasts' We Free Kings: Classic Jazz Christmas Cuts, 1948-63.
Yo Gotti, Fabolous, DJ Khaled, "3 Kings." From A Very ROC Christmas, a hip-hop holiday mix in which Yo Gotti wishes for "a white Lambo with a bow on it, or a trap house with the mistletoe on it."
DMX, "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer." The New York rapper born Earl Simmons, full of of holiday cheer. Burl Ives never growled like this. On the Spotify Singles: Holiday playlist.
Joey Sweeney & the Neon Grease, "Don't Kill Yourself This Christmas." Philadelphia songwriter and Philebrity scribe drops reindeer names and urges self-restraint so as to not ruin everyone's holiday. Released through nonprofit label the Giving Groove, with all proceeds going to Rock to the Future, which provides music education to underserved Philadelphia youth.
Ron Gallo, "White Christmas." Former Philadelphia rocker casts a ghostly spell with Irving Berlin's time-honored chestnut. From 13 Days of Xmas.
Jon Langford & His Men of Gwent, "Christmas Carol, Christmas Ray." Lovely rumination from the Mekons and Waco Brother founder and country-punk renaissance man. Also from 13 Days of Xmas.
Leslie Odom Jr., "Merry Christmas, Darling." There's a new deluxe version of Philly native, Hamilton vet, and Nationwide salesman Odom's 2016 Simply Christmas that has been expanded to include this well-sung take on a Carpenters song.
Herb Alpert, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." The 82-year-old trumpeter and record exec came back with two albums this year, including The Christmas Wish. He brings this playlist to a close with blessedly beautiful Bach.