Building Christmas Music Playlists That Don’t Suck

I used to vehemently hate Christmas music.

That animosity came from my time in retail. For nine holiday seasons, my store played the exact same set of Christmas songs. They didn’t even have enough tracks to fill out the full day. Many of the tracks were different renditions of the same handful of songs. I was sick of them after my first week. By year nine, I had ground my teeth down to the gums as the abomination that is “Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney assaulted my ears far too many times to count. I’m sure if I went back to that store now, they’re still playing those same songs from that woefully-inadequate setlist.

A few years ago, with the help of my wife Steff, I found an activity that makes Christmas music more enjoyable. It’s grown into a holiday tradition for us. Maybe it would be something you would enjoy too!

Right after Halloween, we begin the process of building the ultimate list of modern Christmas music. With the power of Spotify, we have access to a whole host of Christmas music while also having the ability to avoid disasters like “Wonderful Christmas Time”. Sorry, there are very few things in life I hate more than that song, and I will kick it every chance I get.

[Still love your work with the Beatles though, Paul! Too many Paul McCartney written Beatles bangers to list, but I will say that “Yesterday” is still as beautiful, heartbreaking, and haunting today as it was back then. Ahem. Back on topic!]

Instead of simply culling the bad apples from the standard mix of Christmas music we regularly hear on the radio, we focus on new material. Around the end of October, artists from across all genres drop their new holiday albums to capitalize on the rush. While we’re in the car, we throw on a new album with an eye on tracks to fill out our best-of holiday music list for the year. By the time Christmas rolls around, we’ve got a list of pre-approved bops to enjoy. With each passing year, we have an ever-growing list of fresh Christmas music to set the mood while also impressing our family and friends with great tracks they haven’t heard before.

This process doesn’t completely avoid the prospect of listening to bad Christmas music. In fact, we might actually listen to more bad Christmas music due to our thorough screening process. However, the recordings are always fresh, which takes the repetitive strain out of the equation. Also, we get full control over what we hear. If a song stinks, we can nix it before it even finishes.

As of now, the all-time standout winner of this review process is Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. In 2015, she released the soul-infused Christmas album It’s a Holiday Soul Party and it slaps. Highly recommend listening to this one front-to-back. However, if you just want to sample a few tracks to start, I recommend “Just Another Christmas Song“, “Big Bulbs“, and the instrumental head-bobber “God Rest Ye Merry Gents“. Rest in paradise, Sharon Jones.

Right now, our top cut from the 2019 crop is “Sugar & Booze” by Ana Gasteyer. Despite the fact that I don’t drink at all, this one definitely hits in the #relatable for many adults around this time of year. Definitely not one for when the kids are present!

The most unusual album we’ve heard as part of this quest? Christmas Party by RuPaul. Best known as the host of RuPaul’s Drag Race, this album is a better fit for the club than Christmas dinner at grandma’s house. Even so, if you really want to spice up your Christmas music list, you can say, “Shantae, you stay” to RuPaul’s holiday effort.

Christmas music shouldn’t make you miserable, though it’s often presented and repeated in such a way that really makes it awful. Going through this process has given my wife and I a fun and festive activity to do in the car while also using the music to get us into the Christmas spirit. As a follow-up to this post, I’ll share a few more bangers from our modern Christmas playlist in the near future. However you spend your time during this part of the year, I hope it’s joyous and free of “Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney.

Sorry, had to sneak one more in there before closing out this post. Happy holidays!

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