by Jim Casey | @TheJimCasey | December 13, 2017
Holiday Playlist: 10 Songs That Will Put a Little Country in Your Christmas
What would the Christmas season be without music? It’s the soundtrack for trimming the tree, wrapping presents and cooking Christmas dinner.
While those aforementioned activities are fun for a lot of folks and Martina McBride’s White Christmas is must-have musical accompaniment, I created this playlist to listen to during my favorite holiday activity: sipping spiked eggnog around an outdoor bonfire.
Without further ado, here we go.
1. «Merry Christmas From the Family»
Robert Earl Keen 1994
Robert Earl puts the “fun” in dysfunctional with his twisted Texas anthem of Christmas cheer. In keeping with the spirit of the season, REK reminds us that the holidays are about spending time with family—in this case, a motley crew that likes to drink champagne punch, smoke Marlboro Lights and eat bean dip while singing “Silent Night” and making runs to the local Stop ’N Go for “some celery and a can of fake snow.” That’s my kind of crowd.
2. «Pretty Paper»
Willie Nelson 1964
With both a whisper and a roar, Willie delivers a melancholy ballad about a disabled street vendor trying to sell pretty paper, ribbons and pencils to busy holiday passersby. Much like a medieval minstrel going from town to town to sing his story-songs, Willie’s tender rendition of “Pretty Paper” is the perfect parable to prompt us to slow down during the holidays, help those in need and be thankful for what we have.
3. «Blue Christmas»
Elvis Presley 1957
Ernest Tubb took “Blue Christmas” to No. 1 on Billboard’s Country & Western chart in 1950, but Elvis Presley cemented the tune as a perennial holiday must-hear when he put his aching croon on it in 1957, and later featured it on his 1968 television special. Bing Crosby can keep dreaming of a “White Christmas”—I’ll take a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas every year.
4. «Come On Christmas»
Dwight Yoakam 1997
The holidays aren’t always as warm and fuzzy as a pair of Frosty the Snowman footie pajamas—for many people, it’s a sad, lonely time of year. Dwight captures those forlorn sentiments with his haunting, melodic voice in “Come on Christmas,” a tune that beckons the season to conclude so his loneliness will end
5. «Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer»
Gene Autry 1949
Many country singers have tried to top Gene Autry’s version of “Rudolph”— including Alan Jackson, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton—but the Singing Cowboy’s classic interpretation of “Rudolph” is the like a spiked glass of eggnog: the perfect holiday concoction.
6. «Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy»
Buck Owens 1965
With the backing of his Buckaroos, Buck Owens adds a little West Coast warmth to the holiday season with his Bakersfield-infused tune. Everyone’s Christmas needs equal doses of honky and tonky, and Buck happily supplies it with “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.”
7. «Christmas Cookies»
George Strait 1999
Not only is George Strait’s Texas two-step the greatest song about Christmas confections, it’s also quite simply the best cookie song of all-time, topping the Cookie Monter’s stellar “C Is for Cookie.” With George’s signature vocal swagger and some dynamite chicken-pickin’, “Christmas Cookies” is a sweet ditty from the first chomp to the last bite.
8. «Christmas Time’s A-Comin’»
Jerry Reed 1983
Bill Monroe first recorded the tune in 1951 and a slew of other artists have covered it—including Johnny Cash and Sammy Kershaw—but Jerry Reed lays the hammer down on this bluegrass ditty like only the Snowman can. That’s a big 10-4, good buddy.
9. «Christmas in Prison»
John Prine 1973
You probably won’t hear “Christmas in Prison” on a conventional holiday playlist, but then again, John Prine is anything but conventional. What you will hear if you take the time to listen to this song are lyrics as rich as figgy pudding and an accordion that’s sweeter than wassail.
10. «Santa Claus and Popcorn»
Merle Haggard 1973
Most people will tell you that Merle Haggard’s finest holiday tune is “If We Make It Through December,” and it’s hard to argue against that. But for my Merle money, it doesn’t get any better than when the Okie sings “Santa Claus and Popcorn,” a warm, upbeat track that’s full of sleigh bells, mistletoe and reindeer horns.
Release Date: Oct. 28 What You Need to Know: Recorded at Avatar Studios in New York City, you can hear the big-city soul and swing as Brett croons like his heroes Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra on classic songs such as “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland.” Track Listing
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood
Album: Christmas Together
Release Date: Nov. 11 What You Need to Know: This duets album is the fitting soundtrack to listen to while decorating the tree with your significant other. In Garth’s own words: “The Queen [Trisha] is unbelievable— when you’re the weak link in the chain, that’s a pretty cool thing. The Queen just owns this thing.” Track Listing
Album: White Christmas Blue
Release Date: Oct. 7 What You Need to Know: Recorded at Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tenn., White Christmas Blue has a little something for everyone: soulful interpretations of traditional carols like “Away in the Manger” and “Silent Night,” pop standards such as “Frosty the Snowman” and her recital of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” is the perfect bedtime story for the kiddies.
Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers
Album: We Say Merry Christmas
Release Date: Nov. 25 What You Need to Know: The Gatlins have teamed up for the biggest album of the holiday season—a two-disc, 19- song offering that features the brothers’ sweet harmonies on standards like “What Child Is This” and “Silent Night” as well as original tunes penned by Larry.
Album: It Must Be Christmas
Release Date: Oct. 14 What You Need to Know: If you’re looking for added star power, It Must Be Christmas features Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Boyz II Men, but Chris’ velvety vocals are smooth enough without any help on tunes like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Track Listing
Album: To Celebrate Christmas
Release Date: Oct. 28 What You Need to Know: Jennifer’s country twang and vibrant energy (seriously, look at the album art) will spice up your holiday season with traditional standards like “The First Noel” and “O Holy Night,” and the cross-genre cameos from Andra Day and Idina Menzel give the album a little extra pop
Album: The Greatest Gift of All
Release Date: Oct. 21 What You Need to Know: The guys from Rascal Flatts put their own nontraditional spin on 10 festive fanfavorites, including a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas.”
Robert Earl Keene
Album: Wrapped Up in Your Arms for Christmas Release Date: Oct. 21 What You Need to Know: After 50 years together, Exile has uncorked some Christmas cheer for the first time on tunes like the self-penned title track and classics such as “Silent Night” and “Little Drummer Boy” that seamlessly meld the sounds of country, soul and gospel. Track Listing
Album: A Very Kacey Christmas
Release Date: Oct. 28 What You Need to Know: With “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” Kacey’s whimsical throwback record is the perfect holiday soundtrack for your Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. Track Listing
Album: My Kind of Christmas
Release Date: Sept. 2 What You Need to Know: This is Reba’s first holiday album in 17 years and features her vocals with simple piano accompaniment by Catherine Marx—no bells and whistles, unless you count the “Jingle” in tracks 7 and 10.
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