Busted Halo® is giving you an early Christmas present this year: a bracket contest where you get to listen to, decide and vote on which Christmas song you think is best. It was hard narrowing it down to just 32 selections since there are so many songs out there, not to mention honing them down to some of our favorite versions from some of our favorite artists. What we ended up with is a great mix of classics, religious, more modern, and a miscellaneous category that we just ended up calling “zany”. So take some time to listen and compare, and then cast your vote in this first round to begin decorating the Christmas tree with the best Christmas songs.
(Note: Many of these songs require you to sign up for a free Spotify account in order to listen to them.)
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing as performed in It’s a Wonderful Life
Deck the Halls by Mannheim Steamroller
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing was written in 1739 by Charles Wesley, and was originally performed with a slow and somber tone, unlike the joyful and upbeat way it is often heard today, like in this iconic last scene from the 1946 classic It’s A Wonderful Life.
Mannheim Steamroller’s Deck the Halls is a popular choice for modern Christmas light displays, though the original tune can be traced as far back as the sixteenth century, from a Welsh winter carol called “Nos Gallan.”
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas was performed by Judy Garland in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Though the song often follows the altered lyrics from Frank Sinatra’s cover (“Hang a shining star upon the highest bough”), James Taylor’s version restored the original line (“Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow”), giving the song a more melancholy tone.
In addition to being a rocking mix of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Carol of the Bells, Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 tells the tale of cellist Vedran Smailovic, who reportedly played Christmas carols in the ruined town square of Sarajevo at the height of the Bosnian War, to show that there was still hope and good human spirit alive in such a war-torn place.
The origins of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas are unclear, but one version of the story places Berlin in La Quinta, California in 1940, where he handed his secretary 48 measures of the song and said “I want you to take down a song I wrote over the weekend. Not only is it the best song I ever wrote, it’s the best song anybody ever wrote!”
Michael Buble’s version of I’ll Be Home for Christmas is a cover of Bing Crosby’s 1943 hit.
Frosty the Snowman by Gene Autry
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Gene Autry
Frosty the Snowman was recorded in 1950 by Gene Autry as a follow-up to his popular song, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer…
The first #1 song of the 1950s, Gene Autry’s recording of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the most popular rendition of the song as well as the second best selling Christmas song of all time, falling in just behind Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.
Singing Glory Be to Jesus performed by the St. Augustine Choir from Washington, DC
Adeste Fideles is better known by its English translation, O Come All Ye Faithful. In the Christmas season of 1994, Andrea Bocelli sang “Adeste Fideles” for Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Singing Glory Be to Jesus is not only a famous gospel song that’s often heard during the holidays, it also happens to be the favorite Christmas song of Busted Halo’s® Fr. Steve, who performs it here as part of St. Augustine’s choir.
Holy, Holy, Holy is a Christian hymn written in 1861 for use on Trinity Sunday. The song borrows from the Book of Isaiah, and was featured in the 1953 film Titanic.
The First Noel is a traditional English carol from the 18th century. The word Noel comes from the French word Noël meaning Christmas, which derives from the Latin word natalis that translates as “birthday.”
Away In a Manger performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
First published in 1719, Joy to the World was written by Isaac Watts, and based on Psalm 98. Mariah Carey’s version, recorded in 1994, is notable for Carey’s mashup of the classic tune and the 1971 Three Dog Night song of the same name.
Away in a Manger, a traditional Christmas carol from the 19th century, contains a verse that some nitpickers out there consider to be theologically ambiguous. It’s argued that “no crying he makes” implies that by not crying, Jesus could not have been fully human as is taught by orthodox Christian doctrine.
In 2011, UNESCO declared Silent Night an intangible cultural heritage of Austria, homeland of its composer Franz Gruber (most likely the inspiration for the name Hanz Gruber, the villain in the classic Christmas film, Die Hard). In 1989, Enya recorded Oíche Chiúin, this Irish language version of the song.
O Holy Night, a well-known traditional carol of the season, was composed in 1847 and happens to be the second piece of music ever broadcast on the radio in 1906.
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) was originally written by John Lennon as a protest song about the Vietnam War, although it has since become a Christmas classic.
Since 1965 Christmas Time is Here has been a perennial hit just like the television special it was written for, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) was initially released by Darlene Love in 1963. She has performed the song every year since 1986 on the last episode of Late Night with David Letterman before Christmas.
First recorded in 1948 by Doye O’Dell, Blue Christmas attained its greatest popularity in 1957 when it was covered by the King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. The song is getting some special attention this year due to a new cover by 16-year old David Thibault on CKOI Quebec.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Ella Fitzgerald
Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt
Baby It’s Cold Outside was originally written and performed by Frank Loesser (of Guys and Dolls fame,) and his wife at their 1944 Christmas party. The song has since been covered by many artists through the years, though perhaps the most popular recording is that of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan (one of 8 recordings in 1949 alone!)
Well known for her distinctive vocals and her role as Catwoman in the final season of the 1960’s Batman series, Eartha Kitt was also the talent behind the original recording of Santa Baby.
I Saw Three Ships by Sting
An offshoot of the popular tune Greensleeves (though less direct than What Child is This), I Saw Three Ships originated in the 17th century. Sting’s cover of the song was released in 1997.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town dates back to 1934, but this popular Bruce Springsteen recording comes from a Long Island concert in 1975, (however, it wasn’t released until ten years later).
With lyrics written by Dr. Seuss, You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch debuted as part of the 1966 animated special How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Paul McCartney recorded Wonderful Christmastime completely on his own during the sessions for his 1980 solo album McCartney II. Though the Christmas staple is often regarded as one of McCartney’s worse songs, it nonetheless has earned perennial airplay, and continues to make the former Beatle about $400,000 annually.
Jingle Bells by Esquivel!
This recording of Jingle Bells comes to us from Mexican band leader, pianist, and composer Juan Garcia Esquivel, better known simply as “Esquivel!”
Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy was filmed in 1977 for Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas special. The pair never recorded the song in a recording studio, and Bowie’s half of the lyrics (the “Peace on Earth” section of the song) was written as a separate song because the pop star didn’t want to sing Little Drummer Boy.
The Twelve Days of Christmas by John Denver & The Muppets
Dominick the Donkey by Lou Monte
John Denver collaborated with The Muppets for a full album featuring songs from their 1979 Christmas special, John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.
Dominic the Donkey, recorded in 1960 by Lou Monte, is a classic Christmas song in Italian households, as well as a beloved and fun tune for all. The studio production for the original recording is rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family of the New York Mafia.
Fairy Tale of New York by The Pogues
Released in 1987 by the Celtic punk group The Pogues, Fairytale of New York was named after a novel by J.P. Donleavy. It has been called the greatest Christmas song of all time in various TV, radio and magazine polls and ranked #1 in VH1’s greatest Christmas song chart three years running.
Christmas in Hollis was released in 1987 by American hip-hop group RUN-DMC. It has been featured in such pop culture staples as Die Hard, The Simpsons, The Office, and most recently, Orange is the New Black.