1. August Darnell, "Christmas On Riverside Drive"
August Darnell, best known as Kid Creole of Kid Creole and the Coconuts and a core member of Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, recorded this glorious disco ode to uptown Manhattan during the holiday season for Ze Records' A Christmas Record in 1981. That album, a one-of-a-kind classic of post-punk/disco holiday cheer, also features the wonderful "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses, which went on to become a very well-known Christmas staple. [MP]
2. Debbie & The Darnels, "Santa, Teach Me To Dance"
The perfect song for your christmas cocktails party, one of those girl group jams that immediately makes you feel like flipping the ends of your hair, donning a pretty dress, and doing a twisty dance with your wrist all askance and your mouth all pouty. All. night. long. [SB]
3. Augie Rios, "Donde Esta Santa Claus?"
Augie Rios was born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents and was just 12-years-old in 1958, when "Donde Esta Santa Claus" became a minor hit. In the song, a spanish-speaking child addresses his "mamacita" on Christmas Eve, wondering, as all kids do, when Santa Claus might arrive and whether he'll be able catch a peek. The song is so adorably and earnestly delivered – in the sub-genre of Christmas music sung irritatingly by children, this song is the least annoying and the most genuinely adorable. Before you're even done listening to it for the first time, you will no doubt find yourself singing along. ¡Olé!' ¡Olé!' ¡Olé!' [SB]
4. The Weather Girls, "Dear Santa (Bring Me A Man This Christmas)"
The gals who brought you "It's Raining Men" continue to be gloriously man-crazy on this Christmas jam buried on their 1983 album Success. This song is just dirty and perfect and, damn, I mean, someone bring this woman a man, STAT. [SB]
5. Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers, "Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn"
The next three songs are all included on Where Will You Be Christmas Day?, a remarkable compilation of Christmas songs recorded between 1917 and 1959. This jaunty number celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ was recorded in 1929, and features a charming lead vocal by Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon. Even compared to other Christmas songs, this is uncommonly joyful, particularly when Jaxon sings "Born in a manger, humble and low / That is why we love him so!" [MP]
6. Bessie Smith, "At the Christmas Ball"
Bessie Smith was one of the greatest singers of the 1920s, and was commonly known as the "Empress of the Blues." This track, recorded in 1925, is an ode to getting wasted and messing around at Christmas parties. "Christmas comes but once a year / and to me it brings good cheer / and to everyone who likes wine and beer," she sings, sounding just a bit melancholy. [MP]
7. Leroy Carr, "Christmas In Jail – Ain't That A Pain"
Leroy Carr cut this Christmas blues number in Chicago in 1929. It's a song about being stuck in prison on the holidays, and while the tune captures the sadness of that situation, the lyrics were intended to be something of a satire of standard blues tropes. Here's the line that gives it all away: "This food here, Santa, it ain't fit to eat / Won't you come and bring me a plate of turkey meat?" [MP]
8. Adam Faith, "Lonely Pup"
British teen idol Adam Faith crooned this love song for a "lonely pup in a Christmas shop" with as a sweetness that was normally reserved for girls turning 16. "Soft brown eyes that seem to say / Stay a while, I want to play" – how can you say no to that?! [SB]
9. The Andrews Sisters, "Christmas Island"
The swinging trie of LaVerne, Patty, and Maxene Andrews had countless hits from the late '30s through 1951. This song was released during the peak of their fame and success, and although it charted at #7, it is largely forgotten today. Which is too bad, because it is a total burst of sunshine of a "Christmas" beach song, complete with an immediate perfect mental picture of pretty girls in coconut shell bras and pool boys carrying frosty cocktails. Best Christmas ever? Best Christmas ever. [SB]
10. The Drifters, "I Remember Christmas"
The Drifters went through dozens of incarnations since they were formed, eventually going through 60 different singers for a 4 or 5 man group. During 1964, when this song was released as the b-side to "The Christmas Song," the group was fronted by Johnny Moore. But none of the group's inner turmoil is apparent on "I Remember Christmas," a poignant but pleasant song about that nostalgic December feeling we're all experiencing around now. It's sort of like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," but for the happy and well-adjusted set. [SB]
11. Pearl Bailey, "Five Pound Box of Money"
Pearl Bailey was a truly awesome person who won a Tony and a Daytime Emmy, posed for gorgeous nudes for photographer Carl Van Vechten, voiced Big Mama in "The Fox and the Hound," wrote several books, graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelor's degree in theology – at age 67, and was once appointed by President Richard Nixon as America's "Ambassador of Love." This woman was the coolest ever, and her Christmas song is no exception. It lays out the hard truth that everyone else is afraid to say: money is a way better gift than whatever lame thing you were thinking of... Santa, let ol' Pearl sit you down and explain why she really needs that five pound box of money. [SB]
12. Akim and the Teddy Vann Production Company, "Santa Claus Is A Black Man"
This charming tune was written by Brooklyn songwriter Teddy Vann and sung by his daughter Akim back around 1973. It's basically a funky Afrocentric rewrite of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," but with a big shout out to Kwanza at the end. [MP]
13. Brenda Lee, "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus"
Miss Lee was just 11-years-old when this was recorded, but she's already sassing her way into the nickname "Little Miss Dynamite." This song was released a few years after some obnoxious kid "saw mommy kissing Santa Claus," but Lee has approximately 100 times more personality than that brat. The reason she's going to lasso Santa and pop-pop him with her water pistol gun? She's noticed that not all the kids get toys on Christmas and she's pissed about it. "Then I'll take his bags of toys and run and bring to all the kids who don't have none." Oh, Brenda, we love you so! [SB]
14. Rotary Connection, "Christmas Love"
The highly experimental, racially-mixed psychedelic chamber soul band Rotary Connection was formed in Chicago and never really found their audience outside the Chicago area despite their transcendant covers of popular songs (if you're asking, their version of "Respect" trumps Otis's, Aretha's and Cat Power's) and trippy originals. Rotary Connection's third album, "Peace," was Christmas-themed, featuring a couple classics, but mostly soulful and strange originals such as "Christmas Love." This song is one part Rolling Stones, one part Stevie Wonder, one part drugs, a dash of winter snow, and a generous handful of "sweet love." [SB]
15. Pledge Drive, "Christmas Rhapsody"
This is a remarkably faithful adaptation of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" with Christmas-themed lyrics, like "Is this the Yuletide? / It's such a mystery," and "Christmas really matters, anyone can see, Christmas really matters to me." The degree to which these people commit to this idea is sort of astonishing, and it's really too bad that Freddie Mercury didn't getting around to singing this himself. [MP]
Here's a playlist featuring all but two of the songs in this post.