Bublé, carols and cheese: the ultimate Christmas playlist
November 30 2021, by Millie Cooper
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), the time has come to start thinking about Christmas. Carol services are beginning to pop up all over, with our own on Sunday and the following Friday, and high streets are turning on their Christmas lights. But it wouldn’t be Christmas without music. For me, Christmas music falls into three categories without much overlap:
- Michael Bublé & Friends
- Cheesy Christmas Party
And the perfect Christmas playlist contains a healthy mix of all three. If I were to explain every last song and why it is on my list, we would be here until the next coming of the Messiah, so I have laid out the 12 Christmas songs that make an appearance on my Christmas playlists without fail – one for each day of Christmas.
When we think of Christmas, an immediate thought is carols and hymns sung by a beautiful choir in a cathedral somewhere holding candles. In my house, there is no lack of these renditions (we really like being in choir in my family), and it is a necessity to go to at least one Carol Service over the Advent period, and over the years I have come up with 5 essential traditional Christmas carols. Note, the descant is the deciding factor for most of these. I’m a soprano – descants are sort of my thing when it comes to Christmas carols.
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Trinity College Choir, Cambridge
This is what my mind goes to when I think of a quintessential carol. This version is the example I use when trying to explain to my family that “with th’angelic hosts proclaim” is in crotchets and not a dotted crotchet and minim. The Willcocks descant in Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is possibly one of the best descants of all time and is why this takes the number one spot on my playlist.
- O Holy Night – Bach Choir, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & John Rutter
I remember doing this in choir when I was 12 and then again last Christmas and that top A never gets old (the key can vary based on the choir and arrangement, but don’t be surprised if the sopranos are singing a top C. For the sake of my throat, let’s stick with an A). It sort of demonstrates how crazy Christmas can get at school if you’re a musician.
It is the perfect amount of enchanting Christmas with a bit of extremely dramatic and I will happily sing that top A all Christmas long.
- God Rest You Merry Gentlemen – Harry Christophers & The Sixteen
Personally, I think this carol is a little underrated. It is just so much fun for what seems like no reason. I can’t explain the feeling that comes with singing this each year, but it has similar vibes to mulled wine and Grandads in their Christmas best.
- Oh Come, All Ye Faithful – Trinity College Choir, Cambridge
This Christmas classic cannot be skipped. It’s probably criminal to omit it from a carol service. I have heard many versions over the years, but this one has got it nailed down. The serotonin one gets from the descant, holding “Gloria” until your lungs collapse and the little “oh come!” in the chorus, *chef’s kiss. This always makes me think of Christmas when I was younger as it would be sung without a doubt at every carol service I went to.
- O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – Clare College Choir, Cambridge
I judge a choir on their descants, which has always been my favourite part about Christmas carols and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel has by far my favourite descant. It’s not too over the top and it fits in nicely with the general feel of the carol. There have been some variations in descants and I am yet to find the perfect one to add to my playlist on my phone, however, praise be to Clare College, Cambridge, for this recording from 2011 for their recording of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
Michael Bublé & Friends
If you believe that Michael Bublé should be released from whatever cage we keep him in before November 25th, you are wrong. I don’t believe he has any music that is not Christmas – it’s physically impossible. There are a few other musicians that, yes, have nice, normal music (according to my mother), but their Christmas stuff is probably why you’ve heard of them. They all sing the same 12 songs, each pretty much the same but some I have deemed to be near-perfection.
- It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – Michael Bublé
You cannot convince me that Micheal Bublé’s voice in this song is the spirit of Christmas. When this song starts playing every November, I know that I have a limited time to buy Christmas presents for all my siblings. It is just Christmas wrapped up in a song with a little bow on top.
- Do You Hear What I Hear? – Idina Menzel
From her 2014 “Christmas Wishes” album, Idina Menzel’s rendition of Do You Hear What I Hear has quickly become a staple in my Christmas playlists. It is so magical and I kid you not I get shivers every time, even though I’ve heard it probably 100 times. Also, Idina Menzel was the original Elphaba in Wicked, which is one of my favourite musicals, so I’m possibly a little biased. Only a little.
- Mary, Did You Know? – Pentatonix
I wait all year to ask Mary one question – Mary, Did You Know? – and clearly so do Pentatonix. Out of their four a capella Christmas albums (all of which are Christmas essentials), Mary, Did You Know takes the number one spot in my books. It is, quite literally, music to my ears.
- Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Michael Bublé
Yet again, Michael Bublé gives us a quintessentially Christmas Christmas song. His voice is what makes Christmas real, especially for everyone’s mother – you cannot convince me that your mum does not say “who doesn’t love a little bit of Bublé” every year when putting on Christmas music. Michael Bublé is to Christmas what John Rutter and Eric Whitacre are to any choir anywhere.
Cheesy Christmas Party
Now that we’ve gone through the nice, polite Christmas playlist, let’s get onto the good stuff. When I say other, I really mean other. Of course, Mariah Carey and George Michael are here. I’m not a psychopath. But there are some Christmas carols that are….obscure. Even by Chapel Choir standards. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a little crazy, though. Whilst my honourable mentions for this include ‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas’ (Gayla Peevey); “Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey” (Lou Monte); and Justin Beiber’s ‘Mistletoe’, there are three Christmas songs that are quite different to each other, especially the last one, but I could listen to these all year if I want to (okay, maybe from November 1st).
- Last Christmas – Wham!
Do I even need to explain? If you are not aggressively whispering “Merry Christmas” in the second verse, what are you doing with your life? Last Christmas has captured the hearts and souls of everyone everywhere and it never tires. George Michael, thank you.
- All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
It is time to give our dear Mariah Carey her yearly salary. This has always been a staple in my Christmas playlists and I will often neglect all musical teachings and sing incredibly out of tune trying to do every last note in the riffs. And if you don’t ignore the melody to sing “and I” each time, I hope you get coal for Christmas.
- Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer – Elmo & Patsy
If you have never heard this song, I urge you to do so right now. The story told in this song is bittersweet and moving, but also hilarious and bound to make you forget all the bad Christmases past. Grandma died on Christmas Eve as she was run over by Santa and his reindeers. You may say there’s no such thing as Santa, but as for me and Grandpa, we believe.
So, whatever is on your Christmas playlist, or if you don’t make one until the 24th at the very earliest, I hope these have given you some inspiration for this year’s musical selection.
Millie Cooper, L6
- The 50 best Christmas songs of all time (Time Out)
- The ultimate Christmas playlist (The Times)
- 70 best Christmas songs to create the ultimate holiday playlist (Country Living)
- The 100 best Christmas songs of all time (The Telegraph)