A Christmas Music Playlist that Doesn’t Suck (Finally)

Let’s face it: A lot of holiday music is insufferably loathsome. And the act of putting on a hazmat suit to sift through the overwhelming junkyard of cheesy, toxic tunes in the hopes of discovering some that don’t drive you seasonal-affective-disorder-esque crazy is ridiculously daunting. Fear not! For we here at The Manual’s Beat Laboratory have donned the required radio(un)active waste-resisting apparel and performed the heavy sorting to bring you a bountiful harvest of holiday/Christmas/wintertime tracks that will get you through even the most challenging aspects of the year-ending madness that is “The Holiday Season.” Where tired, over-played versions of these songs might typically send you running to finish off the eggnog bowl, we hope these hand-selected, free-range, artisanal variations on the theme will give you the strength and stamina to combat cabin fever, family gatherings, dark isolation, and lingering global apocalyptic concerns.

Here’s our curated Spotify playlist. We’ve highlighted some of our favorite songs below.

Of course, there’s no better way to get things started (and confront the impending Armageddon) than by harking the herald LCD Soundsystem sing. James Murphy tried to get away from his phenomenal band a few years back and end it all but — spoiler alert — they got back together and are better than ever. And in so doing, their rock-solid American Dream album and supporting tour have reignited the passions of wayward hipsters and esoteric music freaks everywhere. “Christmas Will Break Your Heart” was the first song released as LCD 2.0 and is damn near a perfect holiday torch tune, complete with heartache, stagnant longing, and the crescendo-building desire to come home to a loved one.

santa claus boombox
Royalty Free/E+/Getty Images

The Raveonettes, Pretenders. and Mike Mains round out our opening, user-friendly rock section, giving way to the drum machine/synth soaked musings of Chicago’s Andrew Belle as he ponders a confusing circle of what a former lover would think if he came back home for Christmas, while simultaneously informing us that he hasn’t thought of them at all. Sounds like someone needs some help at playing hard to get.

DRAM (aka Does. Real. Ass. Music.) and his mom, BigBabyMom, kick off the soul/funk/hip-hop section with a rousing, eclectic, stripped-down take on the often over dramatized ode to the ring-a-linging “Silver Bells” of Christmas. Interwoven within the outstanding instrumental funk iterations of classic tunes to follow are a few hip-hop tracks exploring night shifts, gift-giving, and the veritable decathlon of unique, funky ways in which to express holiday cheer via Ronkat The Funklectik’s truly “Funky Christmas.”

The fresh breathy air of the bird and the bee’s “Carol Of The Bells” whispers its way around the snow globe in your mind’s eye as you prepare for the subsequent scaled back section of contemplative, jazzy, downtempo Christmas jams. This, of course, culminates with the always peculiar pairing of Bing & Bowie bah-rump-a-bah-bumping their way through “The Little Drummer Boy” (and “Peace On Earth”, written expressly for Bowie mere hours before performing on the Crosby TV Christmas Special, as he’s said to have hated “The Little Drummer Boy” and refused to do a duet of it with Bing).

It’s hard to dislike Rogue Wave (of San Francisco) and its dreamy slowed down rendition of the Bobby Helms-popularized “Jingle Bell Rock” as we gear up for the ever more raucous rock ‘n roll tunes to come. From the Christmas cornerstone of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” through She & Him’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” we find ourselves scratching our heads as we stumble upon the slightly funky-electro version of Paul McCartney’s happy-go-lucky homage to simply having a wonderful Christmastime (and yes, Tuxedo, I feel that ’80s hand-clap, disco-infused love you’re passing around).

Now shake it out and loosen up while doing the Peanuts kids dance from Charlie Brown’s Christmas as we get into the ear-to-ear-smile-inducing “Linus And Lucy” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. With a spring in our step, we then plunge into the dark December 25th based themes that Paul Simon encourages us to consider on his newer track, “Getting Ready For Christmas Day,” from his album So Beautiful or So What. From there, we rock out with our collective stockings out at the hands of the lesser known It Hugs Back, the deeply missed Tom Petty, the sibling-rivaled Kinks, the punk-pioneering Ramones, and the lo-fidelified Julian Casablancas before “Christmas Wrapping” it up with The Waitresses and their timeless ode to chasing a boy through a myriad of holiday scenarios before bumping into him in line at an all-night grocery in New York.

Across town, Run-DMC‘s “Christmas In Hollis” gets us back into the hip-hop zone and the high octane “Sleigh Ride” by Earth, Wind & Fire nicely transitions us over to some proper funk with which to get down with ourselves (rest in peace, Sharon Jones, as we drink deeply from the funkity funk well of wonder you create in delivering a soul enlightening version of “Funky Little Drummer Boy”). And further posthumous respect is paid to George Michael, as we get down with an R&B/Soul version of “Last Christmas” by Lynn & Burney and Soul Made. The often maligned Carpenters give us a Beach Boys-esque, harmony-laced “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” to help us pick up the pace coming out of Seal’s “Let It Snow” and the unique soft beat-based “Santa Baby” by Crystal Theory.

And then it’s off to the races as we alt/indie rock ourselves further along with Bright Eyes, Phoenix (featuring Bill Murray), Jimmy Eat World (power popping through our 2nd tribute version of George Michael’s “Last Christmas”), Low, and D.I.D. before we downshift into Fiona Apple’s warbling and heartwarming “Frosty The Snowman.” From there, each track gets softer and softer, slower and slower, like an office party carouser slowly nodding off at his desk following all the fun and festivities.

May these songs help you and yours attain a zen-like level of holiday music consciousness, which, in turn, allows you to actually enjoy yourself and your time with friends and family. Happy holidays!

P.S. If you’re cooking up a storm for the holidays, you might want to check out our mouthwatering cooking playlist.


How Bose Sleepbuds ‘Non-headphones’ Promise a Better Night’s Sleep

Replace snoring partners or screaming babies with soothing sounds to help you fall (and stay) asleep.
Fashion & Style

The Best Men’s Watches Under $500, From Stylish to Smart

You don't have to break the bank to own an awesome timepiece. Here are some of the best men's watches under $500, including a variety of styles and mechanisms.

12 Best Travel Backpacks to Take With You on the Road

No matter where you're going or for how long, travel backpacks are the single most versatile type of luggage available.
Food & Drink

Elysian Brewing Celebrates Moon Landing Anniversary with Special Labels

Plenty of brands are celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of humankind’s biggest achievements, but these new labels are out of this world.

The Best Camping Coffee Makers for an Off-Grid Cup of Joe

The point of camping is to disconnect with work and screens. However, no one should endure such hardships as not having a cup of coffee.

The Best Funk Songs for Getting Down

From roller rinks to velvet lounges, funk is the grout between the tiles of life that keeps our bathtub all sparkly, scrubba-dub-dub fun.

Ever Heard of a Cigar Box Guitar? This Book Teaches You How to Build One.

Known as the "poor man's guitar," these DIY instruments are low on cost but big on sound, according to author and musician Shane Speal.

New Music Preview: Blood Orange, Ohmme, and Wild Nothing

August has plenty of new album releases in store, but there are three particular records coming out this month that we can’t wait to hear.

New Music Preview: Bob Moses, The Chills, and Cypress Hill

September has plenty of new album releases in store, but there are three particular records coming out this month that we can’t wait to hear.

Workout Playlist: The Best Songs for Getting Pumped About Pumping Iron

Our workout playlist on Spotify has been audio-engineered to get you started on — and help you stick to — your new fitness routine.

The Perfect Party Playlist for When It’s Time to Dim the Lights

Once everyone's eaten and the booze-infused blood of your crowd starts pumping, it's time to dim those lights way down and put on some good tunes.
Fashion & Style

Casio Announces New G-Shock X Gorillaz Watch Collection

In honor of Casio G-Shock's 35th anniversary, the timepiece specialists have released a tantalizing collaboration with one of the world’s most successful virtual acts.

A New Year’s Eve Party Playlist to Ring in 2019

This Spotify playlist has been marinating in some extra zesty subsonic sauce to help you cook up a very tasty pregame or a full-blown party.

5 Unforgettable Super Bowl Halftime Performances

Because who could forget Prince performing "Purple Rain" in the rain? Or Justin and Janet's little "accident?"