[Note: This is an archived post from the 2020 holiday season. I’m putting together my 2021 end-of-year issue now — subscribe here for great songs, playlists, and artists in your inbox!]
Longtime readers and friends know that I am a certified cornball, so it’s no surprise that I genuinely like holiday music. Obviously, I have plenty of pet peeves (hearing Xmas tunes before Thanksgiving), hot takes (“Wonderful Christmastime” is McCartney’s worst song), and theories (does being Jewish make me love Christmas music more?) but overall I’m just a sucker for sipping hot chocolate under string lights, listening to Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, The Ronettes and the Jackson 5.
My gift to you: A carefully curated set of top-notch holiday playlists for your December rotation. Happy streaming!
A dreamy December diner jukebox. Brooklyn’s beloved MeMe’s Diner, which sadly closed last month, used this lovely collection of cozy seasonal tunes to soundtrack holiday seasons past. (Including the best versions of “Frosty The Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from The Ronettes and The Crystals, respectively.)
Have Yourself A Funky Little Christmas, from expert curator Matthew Perpetua, is a “collection of 20th century funk/R&B/reggae holiday classics” ft. James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Staples Singers, The Supremes and more. (Side note: Perpetua’s new podcast, Fluxpod, features conversations with an all-star lineup of music writers and influencers including Rob Sheffield and Brittany Spanos from Rolling Stone, and Melanie McClain from Secretly Group Publishing.)
christmas grooves, from Natalie Weiner, is indeed a groovy playlist ft. Earth Wind & Fire, Michael McDonald, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, “meant to be played on shuffle.” (Side note: Weiner recently launched a fantastic country music newsletter called Don’t Rock The Inbox, alongside Marissa R. Moss — subscribe if you want to keep up with what’s happening in the genre!)
Roséwave: Poolside Yuletide. Back in 2018, the NPR Music team coined a genre/lifestyle called Roséwave — essentially, basic summer bops for living your best life. Turns out, the concept can still be applied to winter — through a playlist of upbeat holiday jams featuring all-stars of the genre like Carly Rae, John Legend, Ariana Grande, and Phoenix.
Trim That Tree, Deck Those Halls comes from writer Courtney E. Smith, who is unfortunately a fan of “Wonderful Christmastime.” That mistake aside, this playlist is full of gems from The Waitresses, The Kinks, The Regrettes, Sabrina Claudio, and more. (Side note: This week, Smith shared an interesting mix of “2020 songs you may have missed” in her newsletter, including a great cover from orion sun that, indeed, I missed.)
have a holly jolly playlist is my personal take on the art form, even if it’s a bit more cliché than the above mixes. And when I say cliché, I’m talking original-Burl-Ives-version-of-“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” cliché. Plus, it’s got plenty of Vince Guaraldi Trio and Frank Sinatra to keep you warm. That said, you’ll still find some surprises mixed in there — including covers from Rostam and Nellie McKay, and originals from Kishi Bashi and The Killers. And yes, that’s Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights” in the tracklist. (I told you, I’m a cornball.)
Music To Work To
Still, the holiday break isn’t here just yet — and if you need ambient focus music for the workday, have I got the album for you. Appropriately titled Music To Work To, the debut album from Corntuth has a vibey, synthy flow for while you’re grinding away, staring at the screen. It was released by the newsletter Flow State, which sends excellent recs for “music to work to” every workday, regardless of album title.
Have a Holly Jolly Playlist is my go to classic holiday listening!