Top picks for holiday songs

Tom Petty performing 'Christmas All Over Again.'


Many years ago in a galaxy far, far away, (well, I guess it was only two years ago), I came up with a list of oddball holiday songs that no one may have heard of.

This season, I’m going to throw down a list of songs that we would actually want to hear.

Truth be told, the list of performers that have not done a holiday album or song would be shorter than the list of those who have. And, before anyone says “What??” that’s right, the Boss didn’t make the list. Just have never been a big fan of Bruce Springsteen other than the third album, “Born to Run” from back in ’75. No hating now, ‘tis the season. Some of the winners are entire albums, as the choices were just too many, others just landed a song.

So, On Dancer, on... never mind, here’s the list, in no particular order.

Frank Sinatra

Actually, you could substitute Judy Garland, Bing Crosby or Nat King Cole to this slot and be just as satisfied, but if you want to check out all the holiday classics, as traditional as that old 33 rpm record mom and dad had, then these are a must. “Jingle Bells,” “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” “Silent Night” and on and on.

Vince Guaraldi

Just reading his name will make you start humming one of the songs from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” “Christmas Time is Here,” “Greensleeves” but the song you are thinking of is called “Linus and Lucy.” I don’t care how old you are, this album will bring more than one emotion out of you.

Tom Petty

Yep, even the late Tom Petty jumped into the holiday song pool, back in ’95 with a tune called “Christmas All Over Again.” Released on a six-disc box set with 91 other tracks called “Playback” which contained mainly B-Sides, unreleased tracks, some of the hits to date and even some Mudcrutch, Petty’s pre-Heartbreakers act. The package was rolled up tight with an all-star band that included Petty and all of the Heartbreakers, Jeff Lynne, Robbie Blunt, Kevin Dukes, Jimmy Rip, Tim Pierce, Scott Humphrey, Mitchell Froom; inspiration for the song is said to have come from George Harrison after he taught Petty some chords on the ukulele. Not a bad lineup.

Vince Gil

A bit more contemporary than the Sinatra or Crosby holiday albums, but with many of the same songs and Gil’s hauntingly smooth crooner-like vocals giving you the idea that the title of the disc, “Let There be Peace on Earth,” could actually happen.

Chuck Berry

“Run Run Rudolph, Santa’s gotta make it to town” — maybe he’ll take the freeway. Released initially in ‘58, the song was actually the B-side of “Merry Christmas Baby” and, surprisingly to us, the song never got higher than number 69 on the Billboard Hot 100, but got to number 36 on the UK singles chart. If you are still mastering playing “Johnny B. Goode” on guitar and the holidays roll around, you start to learn this one. I believe it’s now a law. All the cool kids did, and released versions of it, like L.A. Guns, Mojo Nixon, Emily Osment, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sister Hazel, Dave Edmunds, Lulu, the Grateful Dead, Keith Richards and on and on.

James Brown

Are you kidding? It’s James Brown. Pick a song, any song, but pick the right one or James will fine you $5. Brown could sing a lullaby and get you up dancing. From 1966 to ’70, Brown released three holiday albums, and a compilation called “Funky Christmas” released in ’95 was a collection of the best of the three. Although there are some traditional songs on the disc, the late ’60s were a turbulent time for our nation, and Brown had some social statements mixed in with his holiday jingles as well, with songs like “Santa Claus go Straight to the Ghetto,” “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year” and “Hey America.” Play this for your kids and show them there was soul music long before they only made hits with laptops. Take me to the bridge.

Gary Hoey

What would the holidays be without some sweeping arpeggios? Hoey does his best to cover and shred all over many holiday classics on what is called “Ho Ho Hoey.” Who is this guy anyway? Hoey hung around the outside of the Berklee School of Music offering the actual students money to teach him how to play, which eventually led to an audition for Ozzy Osbourne’s band for the slot awarded to Zakk Wylde. But in the early ‘90s, a cover of “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, the Dutch act from the ‘70s with a one-hit wonder – you know, the song with the guy yodeling – is the one that got Hoey the attention he had been seeking. Hoey has made numerous albums since and become a cult hero among rock guitarists.

Elmo and Patsy

I get it, you hate this song, but if you didn’t hear “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” at least once during the holiday season, you’d feel like all you got was a lump of coal. Originally written by Randy Brooks, it was Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire who made it famous, after hearing Brooks play it at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe in ’78. After several years of re-recording – at Oink Records in Windsor, if you want a local angle; Elmo is a veterinarian by trade, and lives in Novato – and re-releasing the song, it finally broke in ’84 and well, the rest is history.