Underrated holiday hits
The Spectrum's playlist of the best neglected Christmas cuts
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, unless your family insists on forcing “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song” down your throat.
We at The Spectrum believe that holiday music is a sacred art that shouldn’t be soiled by repetition or unavoidable air-play. Here are our picks for the season’s best underrated classics.
Brent: *NSYNC - “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”
The noodle hair, the choreography and the pop-goodness; it’s all there, but we don’t hear enough about it this time of year.
Back in the late ’90s and early ’00s, *NSYNC was on top of the charts. The boyband released an entire Christmas album, “Home for Christmas,” in 1998, to commemorate their almost immediate success. The leading single of that record may just be the corniest yet most beautiful Christmas track to grace the holiday season.
With some pretty vocal runs from Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez, “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” encompasses holiday cheer while still incorporating some of the pop perfection that made *NSYNC the biggest group in the world.
It’s catchy, delightful and it brings the family together. Chasez, the band’s underrated king, says it best in the song –– singing that no matter what holiday you celebrate, it’s “the time to celebrate.”
Well JC, you can always celebrate with us here at The Spectrum.
Brent: Boyz II Men - “Let it Snow (feat. Brian McKnight)”
In 1993, Boyz II Men released “Let it Snow,” arguably the greatest R&B Christmas song in existence. It features some of the hottest and jazziest keyboard chords on a Christmas song, and is completed by the group’s vocal excellency.
But Boyz II Men isn’t alone in this holiday classic. One of the greatest living male vocalists, Buffalonian Brian McKnight, who clearly knows a lot about snow, joins the guys on the track’s second verse.
Imagine playing a pickup basketball game with Lebron and Kobe, and suddenly Michael Jordan joins your team. Brian McKnight is the Michael Jordan of R&B voices, and makes this classic so much more memorable.
Some of us are too young to experience Christmas in the ’90s, but one listening to this classic is the next best thing.
Tom: Paul McCartney - “Wonderful Christmastime”
This song is a treasure simply for whatever effect McCartney used on the keyboard. It sounds like different octaves of the same laser beam and it works surprisingly well for a Christmas song.
Lyrically, the song is just about the Christmas season. McCartney spends the song listing all his favorite season activities –– from ringing bells to choirs –– he seemed to been having a grand time in December of 1980. The song is rather straightforward with the only line in the chorus being, “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time.”
But simplicity is king in and with an added bell jingle in the background, the song works as a catchy whimsical tune. It does a great job of capturing the best parts of the season with not a single word on the shopping that comes with it.
Compared to songs that get far more play like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” this Christmas tune is far more enjoyable and doesn’t get old after the first listen. The song remains a must for the season and a highlight of McCartney’s solo work.
Tom: John Lennon - “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”
Unlike most Christmas songs, Lennon barely discusses the holiday spirit. Instead, he focuses on the suffering in the world around him and how it will continue after the day is over. He creates an appreciation for the holiday by showing how just a specific day in the year can bring joy into a world that seems full of suffering.
The song doesn’t sound like the usual Christmas song even with a children’s choir in the chorus. Lennon himself makes the song sound more like a plea then a celebration with the desperate tone in his voice. It is a rare Christmas song that has nothing to do with Santa, snow, gifts, love or Jesus but fits the season beautifully.
I am stunned with how many people don’t know either this song’s name or who made it.
I have spent many holiday seasons talking to a friend or family member and they were surprised to learn it was made by the famed musician. The important part is that the song has become a cornerstone of many holiday CDs and radio stations. If only college students stilled listened to those.
Ben: Jim Jones - "Dipset Xmas Time (feat. Mel Matrix and Stack Bundles)”
If McCartney’s classic is underrated, this cover version is criminally so.
The song, by Harlemite rapper Jim Jones, is to the tune of “Wonderful Christmastime.” On “Dipset Xmas Time,” all the pleasures of living life in the fast lane are aired out over a bop of East Coast 808s.
In the song, the holiday trio of rappers are very blunt in their street dealings. Jones raps on the record, inferring that late December isn’t as heavenly for him as it is on a London block for McCartney.
Max: Bruce Springsteen - “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”
Springsteen and the E Street Band’s energetic twist on this classic earns a spot as one of my all-time favorite holiday songs.
Growing up in a Jewish household, I didn’t listen to a lot of Christmas music. But the combination of Clarence Clemons’ Santa imitation and intense sax solo, Springsteen’s Jersey-boy voice and the band’s swingin’ rhythm section are the perfect musical mix.
Springsteen’s energetic approach to the song gives it some extra “oomph” that older versions lacked. With every recording, the Boss has a genuinely fun time singing the song and can always be heard laughing in the middle of the band’s performance. His genuine love for the track has won me over as a long lasting fan.
Anyone looking to rock this holiday season needs this song on their playlist
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