The 2012 Christmas Playlist

By Turner Walston | 3 Comment(s) | Posted

I used to write a Tar Heels Today feature called 'One More Question,' which consisted of me asking an off-the-wall question to Carolina student-athletes. It was a way to get to know the Tar Heels a bit away from the field of play. I found out that Brooks Foster's favorite cartoon was Rocko's Modern Life, and that Ryan Houston is "sweet at soccer."

'One More Question' kind of ran its course, but I still like to throw in an oddball question every now and then. Last weekend, I asked three men's basketball players to name their favorite Christmas song, and I thought I'd share this exchange with you.

Turner Walston: "Do you I have a favorite Christmas song?"

Reggie Bullock: "Um . . . favorite Christmas song . . . I don't have a favorite one, but I guess just the regular Christmas song. I don't know how it goes, actually. I've heard it before, but I don't know exactly how it goes."

TW: "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? That one?"

RB: "How does it go?"

TW: (singing) "Chestnuts roasting on an open . . . "

RB: "No! Not that one, no. It's like, the twelve days. I think it's twelve days. Twelve Days of Christmas? Yeah. That one."

Every year I like to come up with a Christmas playlist. It used to be a Christmas CD, but with the advent (no pun intended) of iTunes and Spotify, it's no longer necessary to burn a CD. Because you're not committed to a disc, I think you lose some of the permanence of the playlist if you can just switch songs out at will. With Pandora and other Internet services, you don't have to hear the same song twice if you don't want to. Still, there's something about having a Christmas playlist, a regular rotation of songs that brighten your season.

Before I share my 2012 playlist, I present three songs that will not be contenders this year, or any year.

'Christmas Shoes' - NewSong

The terribleness of this song has been well-documented many times, most eloquently by comedian Patton Oswalt. It's just too depressing for what's supposed  to be a joyful season. A little boy is scraping together pennies to buy shoes for his dying mother? Sweet story, but it doesn't fit between 'Winter Wonderland' and 'Frosty the Snowman.' For a more hopeful song in this vein, check out 'The Gift' by Aselin Debison.

'Christmas Through Your Eyes' - Gloria Estefan

Yech. What happened here? The Miami Sound Machine diva just kind of stays within the same handful of notes, and the song never really sounds like Christmas.

'Wonderful Christmastime' - Paul McCartney

Look, I love The Beatles. I like Wings. I'm OK with some of Paul's solo stuff, but this song just sounds like a fill-in-the-blank exercise. 'Mad Libs' for the Holidays, if you will. The verse is basically four five-word somewhat Christmasy phrases, plus the refrain. Over and over. Let's say your kid was out of school for the holidays, and you sent them to a one-day songwriting camp at your local community center. There, all the kids work on a song together, and the instructor, a guy who normally busks at the strip mall, stands up front with a marker and a large piece of paper, writing down all the kids' suggestions, and attempting to work them into something singable. "OK, how about 'ding dong ding dong ding?'" At the end of the day, 'Wonderful Christmastime' is what your child would come home with. You don't want that, do you?

What do you look for in a Christmas playlist? Do you go all the way sacred and ignore the secular tracks? Do you stick with the PC and go all the way secular? Or do you balance the two? Here now I present my 2012 Christmas playlist.

You can listen on Spotify here, or click on the song titles to go one by one on YouTube.

We'll kick it off with a new one.

'Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past' - Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan has put out ten(!) Christmas albums and collected them in two box sets. This song is a highlight of this year's release, Silver & Gold. It's got a nice Christmasy violin, and it's danceable. Plus, it includes a somewhat ominous coda, a Sufjan staple.

'Christmas Must Be Tonight' - The Band

I had never heard this one before this year. It's unmistakably a Band song, but it's also a Christmas song, and Rick Danko's sincere vocal puts it over the top.

'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / We Three Kings' - Barenaked Ladies featuring Sarah McLachlan

BNL's 2004* album Barenaked for the Holidays has several good tracks, but this is the standout, featuring a reverential yet swinging take on 'God Rest Ye . . . ' blended with McLachlan's 'We Three Kings.' It's a keeper.

*As Twitter follower Celeste points out, the song was released in 1997; the album followed in 2004.

'In The Bleak Midwinter' - James Taylor

Simply one of my favorite carols sung by one of my favorite singers.

'Merry Christmas, Here's to Many More' - Relient K

It's hard to write a new Christmas song. Many have tried, and they all seem to re-write Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You.' I go back and forth between two Relient K songs, this, and 'I Celebrate the Day.' This song is about reflecting on the events of the year and being with the ones you love at Christmas.

'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' - John Denver and The Muppets

This whole album, A Christmas Together, is worth checking out. Here, it's just Denver, Rowlf and a piano. It's beautiful. There's something sweet about the way John Denver approaches this album. He's having fun and he doesn't look down on the Muppets.

'Christmas Tonight' - Dave Barnes with Hillary Scott

Our contributor Michael Melvin suggested this track, which I hadn't heard previously. It's fun. An updated 'Baby It's Cold Outside,' the Barnes and Scott really sound like they're having fun. I dig it.

'Baby It's Cold Outside' - Norah Jones and Willie Nelson

Speaking of, here's my favorite rendition of this Frank Loesser classic. Normally, I can take or leave Norah Jones, but her voice with a great piano accompaniment, Willie Nelson's unmistakable sound and guitar make this a can't miss.

'All I Want For Christmas Is You' - Vince Vance and the Valiants

No, this is not the Mariah song. This AIWFCIY predates Mariah Carey by five years, and Lisa Layne's vocal is simply outstanding.

'Twistin' Bells' - Santo & Johnny

Surf rock 'Jingle Bells.' Enough said.

'Run Rudolph Run' - Chuck Berry

Can't you just see the McAllister family sprinting through O'Hare? You have to understand that Home Alone is my favorite film of all time, and in many years the soundtrack would suffice as an entire Christmas playlist unto itself. Alas, I limited myself to just one of the movie's songs this year.

'White Christmas' - Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters

OK, two Home Alone songs. Bill Pinkney down low, Clyde McPhatter up high.

'This Christmas' - Donny Hathaway

Twitter follower John Xavier Diehl recommended this one, and said to stick with the original. He's right.

'I Wish It Was Christmas Today' - Julian Casablancas

The Strokes lead singer took a beloved Saturday Night Live sketch and made it a full song. It rocks.

'O Come O Come Emmanuel' - Sufjan Stevens

I couldn't resist. I'd tried to limit myself to a single Sufjan song, but the same man responsible for Illinois has released 100(!) Christmas songs. Here we go back to the sacred and a simply-orchestrated hymn that is just beautiful.

That closes the 2012 Christmas playlist. Again, if you've got Spotify and would like to hear it, click here. Obviously, these aren't the only songs I'll be listening to this season, but they're a good sampling. What would you add? What did I miss? Let me know in the comments below or tweet at me.

Finally, if you've made it all the way here, you can hear the audio of my exchange with Reggie from Saturday.






  1. Amy Hoots's avatar
    Amy Hoots
    | Permalink
    You should have included "Dominick the Donkey" on your "not" list. This happens to be Bobby Frasor's favorite Christmas song of all time. If you've never heard the song, consider yourself lucky.
  2. Carol's avatar
    | Permalink
    Love your list! Two great holiday tunes you might like by The Moody Blues: their version of In the Bleak Midwinter and A Winters Tale ...enjoy!
  3. Turner Walston's avatar
    Turner Walston
    | Permalink
    I know Dominick! That's by Lou Monte, the Lazy Mary guy. It's pretty bad.

    Another one I really don't like is 'Grown-Up Christmas List.' Shlocky.

    Carol, thanks for the suggestions. I'll check them out.

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