Balk: ‘Tis the season for the best 25 holiday songs

Tim Balk, Assistant Opinion Editor

Holiday Guide

Northwestern looks spectacular in the snow. Frost clings to the spires of University Hall, Seabury Hall and Garrett Theological Seminary. Deering Meadow is layered in powder and white-blue lights hug the trees along Sheridan. And nothing is more magical than traipsing across campus with earbuds playing holiday tunes nestled beneath your winter hat. Here’s a definitive ranking of songs for just those situations, or for blasting from speakers in your dorm room as you put up decorations, or for any situation that requires seasonal musical classics. I’m a traditionalist at heart, so I’ve mixed classic caroling hymns with some more contemporary tunes. Also included are the artists who recorded the best version of each song.

  1. “Silent Night” — Nat King Cole

Nat’s feathery voice gives the best Christmas carol a certain timeless resonance. It might not be the best choice to blast at your holiday party, but it should give a quiet night in the sorority or frat quad an air of pure holiday magic.

  1. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” — John Lennon

John Lennon’s hopeful, sweet, sincere melody captures the spirit of the holiday season better than just about any other tune. Powerful but catchy and unpretentious, this is a classic.

  1. “Silver Bells” — Dean Martin

Martin’s sleepy, smooth rendition is a genuine masterpiece. Sure, it’s hard to shake the sense that this one’s about New York, but it works on a stroll down Sherman or Orrington too.

  1. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” — Mariah Carey

This thing is a tour de force, a near-perfect Christmas anthem for the modern holiday party. Carey’s soaring vocals and an upbeat holiday melody make it more than easy to get beyond the hackneyed holiday romance lyrics.

  1. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — Frank Sinatra

This timeless classic cuts to the core of holiday season: those special moments with loved ones.

  1. “Feliz Navidad” — Jose Feliciano

It’s catchy as heck and more fun than just about any other song on this list. Is it a little annoying and repetitive? Maybe. Do I care? Nah.

  1. “The Little Drummer Boy” — Bing Crosby

Bing’s version is the best, and a must-have on any holiday playlist if only for Crosby’s “par-rum-pum-pum-pums.”

  1. “The Chanukah Song” — Adam Sandler

“Big Daddy,” “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” are all great, but this song is really Adam Sandler’s magnum opus. Go ahead, drink your gin and tonicah.

  1. “Adeste Fideles” — Nat King Cole

Again, Cole is the master, and his version of this Christmas hallmark is tremendous.

  1. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” — Andy Williams

Williams’ stentorian bellow confirms what we already know: The best season of all is upon us.

  1. “Someday At Christmas” — Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder crushes this song calling for peace.

  1. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” — Ella Fitzgerald

All of Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas efforts are spectacular, and her splendid version of Hark! is mandatory listening.

  1. “Winter Wonderland” — Rod Stewart and Michael Buble

Simply a classic, and a nice little love song to boot.

  1. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” — Johnny Mathis

It’s true! Look out your dorm window!

  1. “Sleigh Ride” — Johnny Mathis

Mathis goes back-to-back. This is the ultimate winter tune, and as long as there’s snow on the ground it works. Coupled with a warm cup of hot chocolate, this song should brighten even the coldest winter day.

  1. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” — Band Aid

The classic got a revamp last year, and I recommend it over the original. It’s less tediously monotonous, and some of the ill-conceived, condescending-sounding lyrics from the original have been scrubbed.

  1. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” — Elmo and Patsy

Sure, it’s a kid’s song, but college students should be able to relate nonetheless. After all, grandma had been drinking too much eggnog.

  1. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” — Bing Crosby

This is prime Christmas Eve listening. Also — replace Bethlehem with Evanston and it still works, kind of.

  1. “Snoopy’s Christmas” — Royal Guardsmen

Somewhere buried here, mixed in with a catchy tune and a kid-friendly storyline, is a nice holiday message.

  1. “One Little Christmas Tree” — Stevie Wonder

This is another Stevie Wonder gem, and a soulful one at that.

  1. “Jingle Bell Rock” — Bobby Helms

When I was quite young, my older brother told me that this song is the best ever written and, at the time, I took that seriously. I now realize that it’s bad, it’s not rock and that “dancing and prancing in jingle bell square” does not constitute quality lyricism. Whatever. I still love it.

  1. “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays” — Perry Como

Sources confirm that there is, in fact, no place like home for the holiday.

  1. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” — Carrie Underwood

Honestly, all I hear is drunk students wandering back to their dorms from a late-night visit to Burger King. But for real, Underwood brings this carol to life.

  1. “Last Christmas” — Wham!

I’ll freely admit that this song is a disaster. I don’t care. It brings back those warm holiday memories.

  1. “What Child Is This” — Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett’s version of this classic Christmas carol is slow, meandering and powerful. It won’t get a ton of radio play, but it’s absolutely worth a listen.

  1. “Ludacrismas” — Ludacris

Ludacris always delivers. Always.

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