The Christmas music I generally listen to is pretty old-school—Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Burl Ives. But this year, I’m putting aside myholiday puritanism to bring you a playlist of recent reinterpretations and new additions to the holiday canon.
She & Him revisit the classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” on their Christmas album, A Very She & Him Christmas. But instead of simply reproducing the version she sang on the Elf soundtrack, Zoe Deschanel takes on the traditionally male “wolf” role, coaxing virtuously innocent M. Ward to stick around and snuggle up on a chilly winter’s night.
Wham’s “Last Christmas” ranks with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” as modern Christmas classics. But while we can’t imagine anyone else doing Carey’s holiday mega hit justice, The xx gave “Last Christmas” a fantastic neo-new wave twist this year.
Annie Lennox shakes up a traditional carol with her soul-rattling rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on 2010’s A Christmas Cornucopia. It’s a reinvention as thrilling as a midnight flight with The Ghost of Christmas Past.
Most of the tracks on Tori Amos’ Midwinter Graces have an eye towards the ancient pagan roots of the Yuletide season, but on “Pink and Glitter” she goes distinctly secular. With just about everyone else celebrating the birth of the Son, Amos’ sexy, holiday concoction is a big-band shout out to all the little girls out there.
When I tell you that Stone Temple Pilots front man Scott Weiland channels Bing Crosby at his croony holiday best on his 2011 holiday album, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, you’re just gonna have to believe me. Actually, don’t just believe me—feast your ears on Weiland’s faithfully festive “Winter Wonderland.”
Lady Gaga took on the Irving Berlin gem “White Christmas” on A Very Gaga Holiday last year, and it holds up pretty well against more familiar versions. Mother Monster ups the tempo a bit, but she sticks with a jazzy, supper-club sound that suits this standard. Even her original second verse feels authentic.
“The Christmas Song,” another instant classic from Swedish rockers The Raveonettes, is the slow dance you once all the egg nog is finished and your guests have passed out around the Christmas tree.
Somehow, Joni Mitchell’s “River” has become the bluer-than-“Blue Christmas” anthem for the lonely hearts club at the holidays. And while Sarah McLachlan’s version doesn’t stray far from the original, there’s just something slightly more gentle in her voice providing a bit of comfort, if not joy.