Here, we’ve compiled an album’s worth of Christmas songs that are free of sanctimony. A mix by musician William Ferguson:
“Winter Wonderland,” Dean Martin. That was a great take, Mr. Martin! Freshen up your eggnog and take it from the top? For all the woozy sophisticates who just cannot bear the twelve-step jazz of Diana Krall or Harry Connick Jr. “Mele Kalikimaka,” Bing Crosby. Seeing as Bing Crosby is responsible for 1.3 million Christmas recordings, it’s hard to pick just one, but this has jingle bells, the Andrews Sisters, a catchy nonsensical chorus, and slack-key guitars. “Mambo Santa Mambo,” the Enchanters. The lyrics put Santa in Mexico, not Cuba (the birthplace of the mambo), but never mind: Congas and sleigh bells are an unbeatable combo. “White Christmas,” Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters. God’s own doo-wop, from the most profound basso to the most glorious falsetto. “Santa Baby,” Eartha Kitt. A song about trying to get Kris Kringle into the sack. Sung directly after Ms. Kitt had her teeth sharpened, apparently to aid in enunciation.“Winter Wonderland (Rise Ashen’s Brazilian Beach Mix),” Johnny Mercer. A delirious, dreamy remix that even traditionalists can love. It sounds like a Victrola playing a Caribbean steel band during a snowstorm. Or something. “Let It Snow,”Leon Redbone. Leon Redbone looks like a cartoon, and he sings like a tuba. His ragtime version of this classic dispenses with phony cheer. “Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy),” Duke Ellington. Careful with that Christmas punch—much stronger and more decadent than it seems at first. “Sleigh Ride,” Leroy Anderson. About as corny and brassy and unswinging as a number from The Music Man—and just about as infectious. “Christmas Is Going to the Dogs,” the Eels. Sleigh-bell power pop for the slouching adolescent forced to attend the holiday party. See also “I Want an Alien for Christmas,” by Fountains of Wayne. (These songs are all available on iTunes; search for “New York Magazine Xmix.”)
Bonus Tracks (not on iTunes, but equally great):“Sleigh Ride,” the Ventures. Nothing says “holiday cheer” like amped-up surf music. “Jingle Bells,” Gene Krupa. While Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong made nice from the bandstand, Krupa simmered behind his drums. The only swing Christmas song with a mean streak.“Merry Christmas, Baby,” Otis Redding. No one in pop-music history has yearned for you more pleadingly, more desperately, to have a merry, merry Christmas.