It seems safe to say that the next new Christmas song to become a holiday standard will not fall into the category of cardigan-and-cocoa lullabies like Silver Bells or Home For the Holidays.
Back in 1994, Mariah Carey threw the wall of sound at All I Want For Christmas Is You, and it stuck: glockenspiel, sleigh bells, timpani, church bells, piano, thumping bass, pounding drums and wailing backup vocalists. It also had a hugely catchy melody.
Of the 2018 Christmas releases, nothing approaches that level of can’t-miss brilliance, but there are a few worthy attempts. A few are quirky, approaching novelty-tune status, a few sound familiar already. Will you be rockin’ round the Christmas tree? Take a listen.
Start with the Mavericks, one of America’s best all-purpose bands for two-plus decades. Their new album Hey! Merry Christmas! is as joyful as their live performances, and contains eight originals out of the 10 selections.
I Have Wanted You For Christmas is the most Mavericks-like smile-inducer, but the pick for possible immortality—which also means most likely to be covered by other artists in the future—would be Santa Does (“Who knows when you’ve been nice or naughty? Who knows when you’ve been sad and lonely? Santa does.”)
Neo-rockabilly JD McPherson has loaded his Socks album with off-beat, beat-heavy tunes fit for rockin’ around the Christmas tree, but the best of the bunch is Bad Kid (“I can’t help it, I was born like this, a permanent spot on the naughty list”). It deserves – but is unlikely to get – a permanent spot on Christmas radio playlists.
Another welcome novelty song is country stalwart Rodney Crowell’s Christmas Everywhere (“Mama wants a kitchen sink and daddy wants a stiffer drink, Grandma wants us to cut the crap, Grandpa wants a nice long nap”) but it’s hard to see programmers slotting that one next to Away In a Manger.
The Monkees are back with a fun album called Christmas Party, and there are two new songs – What Would Santa Do written by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, and Unwrap You At Christmas written by XTC’s Andy Partridge – that would probably get heavy airplay if this were 1967.
Another blast from the past, the Beach Boys’ Mike Love, delivers a near-miss with Alone On Christmas Day, featuring a Phil Spector-style arrangement and trademark California backing vocals.