What would the Christmas season be without music? It’s the soundtrack for trimming the tree, wrapping presents and cooking Christmas dinner. While those aforementioned activities are fun for a lot of folks and Martina McBride’s White Christmas is must-have musical accompaniment, I created this playlist to listen to during my favorite holiday activity: sipping spiked eggnog around an outdoor bonfire.
Without further ado, here we go.
10. “Santa Claus and Popcorn”
Most people will tell you that Merle Haggard’s finest holiday tune is “If We Make It Through December,” and it’s hard to argue against that. But for my Merle money, it doesn’t get any better than when the Okie sings “Santa Claus and Popcorn,” a warm, upbeat track that’s full of sleigh bells, mistletoe and reindeer horns.
9. “Christmas in Prison”
You probably won’t hear “Christmas in Prison” on a conventional holiday playlist, but then again, John Prine is anything but conventional. What you will hear if you take the time to listen to this song are lyrics as rich as figgy pudding and an accordion that’s sweeter than wassail.
8. “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’”
Bill Monroe first recorded the tune in 1951 and a slew of other artists have covered it—including Johnny Cash and Sammy Kershaw—but Jerry Reed lays the hammer down on this bluegrass ditty like only the Snowman can. That’s a big 10-4, good buddy.
7. “Christmas Cookies”
Not only is George Strait’s Texas two-step the greatest song about Christmas confections, it’s also quite simply the best cookie song of all-time, topping the Cookie Monter’s stellar “C Is for Cookie.” With George’s signature vocal swagger and some dynamite chicken-pickin’, “Christmas Cookies” is a sweet ditty from the first chomp to the last bite.
6. “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy”
With the backing of his Buckaroos, Buck Owens adds a little West Coast warmth to the holiday season with his Bakersfield-infused tune. Everyone’s Christmas needs equal doses of honky and tonky, and Buck happily supplies it with “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.”
5. “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
Many country singers have tried to top Gene Autry’s version of “Rudolph”—including Alan Jackson, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton—but the Singing Cowboy’s classic interpretation of “Rudolph” is the like a spiked glass of eggnog: the perfect holiday concoction.
4. “Come On Christmas”
The holidays aren’t always as warm and fuzzy as a pair of Frosty the Snowman footie pajamas—for many people, it’s a sad, lonely time of year. Dwight captures those forlorn sentiments with his haunting, melodic voice in “Come on Christmas,” a tune that beckons the season to conclude so his loneliness will end.
3. “Blue Christmas”
Ernest Tubb took “Blue Christmas” to No. 1 on Billboard’s Country & Western chart in 1950, but Elvis Presley cemented the tune as a perennial holiday must-hear when he put his aching croon on it in 1957, and later featured it on his 1968 television special. Bing Crosby can keep dreaming of a “White Christmas”—I’ll take a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas every year.
2. “Pretty Paper”
With both a whisper and a roar, Willie delivers a melancholy ballad about a disabled street vendor trying to sell pretty paper, ribbons and pencils to busy holiday passersby. Much like a medieval minstrel going from town to town to sing his story-songs, Willie’s tender rendition of “Pretty Paper” is the perfect parable to prompt us to slow down during the holidays, help those in need and be thankful for what we have.
1. “Merry Christmas From the Family”
Robert Earl Keen
Robert Earl puts the “fun” in dysfunctional with his twisted Texas anthem of Christmas cheer. In keeping with the spirit of the season, REK reminds us that the holidays are about spending time with family—in this case, a motley crew that likes to drink champagne punch, smoke Marlboro Lights and eat bean dip while singing “Silent Night” and making runs to the local Stop ’N Go for “some celery and a can of fake snow.” That’s my kind of crowd.
Listen to Our Playlist
Willie Nelson by Jim Herrington/UMG; Dwight Yoakam courtesy Warner Bros. Records; Gene Autry courtesy Buena Vista Home Video; Merle Haggard from If We Make It Through December album art;