12 songs for 12 days: your ultimate Christmas playlist

Avoid the family skirmishes over the season's soundtrack with this festive playlist

10 December 2017 - 00:00 By The Daily Telegraph
No festive playlist would be complete without Boney M's track 'Mary's Boy Child'.
No festive playlist would be complete without Boney M's track 'Mary's Boy Child'.
Image: 123RF/khamidulin

MERRY CHRISTMAS, BABY (1968) 

Otis Redding

Redding's husky caramel tenor can make almost anything sound like a joyous celebration, so he's perfectly poised to sing this warming Christmas number originally popularised by Elvis Presley. Parping horns and rustling bells add a bit of festive pizzazz to the standard R&B shuffle.

LISTEN | Otis Redding's Merry Christmas Baby

SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN (1970)

Jackson 5

The 1934 classic has been a hit for a handful of musicians, from Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys. The Jacksons' version is all energy: a lot of hi-hat and, notably, a bold soprano from 12-year-old Michael. There's such vitality from the first note, it sounds like it starts in the middle of a chorus.

LISTEN | Jackson 5's Santa Claus is Coming To Town

ANOTHER LONELY CHRISTMAS (1984)

Prince

You don't know whether to laugh or cry as Prince goes into full soul man mode for a Christmas weepie that ladles on the corn and syrup. Baby you promised you'd never leave / Then you died on the 25th day of December ... Every Christmas night for seven years / I drink banana daiquiris 'til I'm blind.

RIVER (1971)

Joni Mitchell

A jolly festive ditty this is not, but it manages to sum up the longing to escape that can descend along with the annual Christmas paraphernalia - especially when there is nobody waiting under the mistletoe. It's worth listening to for the interpretation of Jingle Bells alone.

LISTEN | Joni Mitchell's River

IT MUST BE SANTA (2009)

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan and his fantastic Americana band concocted a rambunctious evocation of holiday spirit that sounds a bit like the Pogues after a drunken session on Highway 61. Dylan sounds like he's gargling snow and for no particular reason, he adds the names of American presidents to his list of Santa's reindeer. Tremendous fun.

WATCH | The music video for It Must Be Santa

EVERY YEAR, EVERY CHRISTMAS (1995)

Luther Vandross

With its lush orchestration and smooth vocals, this Christmas ballad is as rich as brandy butter. It is a little difficult to believe that a heartbroken man would return to the same corner he first met his former lover every year, every Christmas, but it is certainly romantic.

LISTEN | Luther Vandross's Every Year, Every Christmas

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU (1994)

Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey's single, released in 1994 alongside the album Merry Christmas - a bestseller in the US - is everything you'd want from a warming festive pop tune: light, fun, upbeat, romantic, instantly recognisable and impossibly catchy. It's a song that shows off Carey's effortless vocal range without being an over-the-top ballad. In fact, the melodies are so easy you might even think you can sing it yourself.

WATCH | The music video for All I Want for Christmas is You 

SANTA BABY (1963)

Eartha Kitt

Christmas gets sexy as the feline Ms Kitt gets down to the real business of Christmas: what's in it for me? Her voice purrs with temptation, luring Santa down her chimney, promising all kinds of unspoken treasures in exchange for filling her stocking with glittering goodies. "Next year I could be oh so good," she promises.

LISTEN | Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt

SANTA CLAUS, GO STRAIGHT TO THE GHETTO (1968)

James Brown

Attempting to be groovy at Christmastime is a risky business, unless, of course, you happen to be the Godfather of Soul, who manages to sound effortlessly cool on this looping, jazz-infused track as he implores Santa Claus to "Hitch up your reindeer, uh!" And if Santa isn't welcome in the ghetto, "Tell 'em James Brown sent you."

LISTEN | Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto by James Brown

MARY'S BOY CHILD (1978)

Boney M

Disco takes on steel drums and the Nativity in a hit that dominated the Christmas charts the year it was released. In comparison to other pop stars' attempts to retell the Bible story, Boney M's retains a sense of cool from their strong, often a cappella vocals, and an infectious gospel beat.

WATCH | The music video for Mary's Boy Child

CHRISTMAS CARD FROM A HOOKER IN MINNEAPOLIS (1978)

Tom Waits

Growling over a woozy, bluesy late night piano, Waits vividly conjures up a prostitute lying about her dream life in a letter to an old boyfriend. A bleary, heartbreaking reminder that for some, Christmas is the loneliest time of year.

WATCH | Tom Waits perform Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

LAST CHRISTMAS (1984)

Wham!

A companion piece to the vibes of Club Tropicana, a fuzzy blur of bubble perm bobs and lowlights in wide shoulder pads frolicking in the snow. George loses the girl to Andrew but he makes the most of the heartache with one of his best melodramatic deliveries over a swirl of snowy synthesizers and sleigh bells.

WATCH | The music video for Last Christmas