hmv.com presents... The 100 Greatest Christmas Songs: #50 - #41
Over the next 10 days, hmv.com is going to be counting down the 100 greatest songs ever released. Today, we've reached the half way mark and we're counting down from #50 to #41...
Country singer Bobby Helms isn't exactly a household name, but you won't find too many people who haven't heard his biggest hit. Originally released in 1957, Helms' rockabilly take on the festive season has become a firm Christmas favourite and has been covered by everyone from Hall & Oates to Kylie Minogue, but the original is still the best-known and, arguably, the best of the bunch.
Bringing a very 90s slant to a well-established Christmas favourite, R&B / hip-hop three-piece TLC released their version of Sleigh Ride in 1993, first appearing on a seasonal compilation from the LaFace Records imprint that also included label mates Outkast, Usher and Toni Braxton. Featuring some Christmas rapping from the late Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopez, the song also made an appearance on the soundtrack to Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
The Kinks were enjoying something of a resurgence in 1977, despite the punk movement happening around them, and in 1977 they released this 'Father Christmas', a song whose narrative finds a department store Santa getting beaten up by a bunch of kids who want money instead of the toys on offer, saying he can give them to 'the little rich boys'. Musically it's as festive as they come, albeit with some heavily distorted guitar riffs thrown in, but the lyrics prove that Ray Davies had lost none of his observational wit as a songwriter.
Not his first appearance on this list as Elvis recorded heaps of Christmas songs over his career, but 'Blue Christmas' was the one he called his favourite. It's another that's been covered numerous times, with The Misfits and Patti LaBelle being two of the best attempts, but nobody does it like the king...
Some of you will more clearly remember the cover version by the unlikely duo of Kim Wilde and comedian Mel Smith, but Brenda Lee's original just shades it thanks in large part to Hank Garland's brilliant guitar work and that saxophone solo courtesy of Boots Randolph (better known to many as the guy behind that Benny Hill theme tune). Let's not discount the contribution of Lee herself though, who was given the nickname Little Miss Dynamite thanks to her short stature – she may only have been 4ft 9in, but she sure could belt out a tune.
The only festive single he ever released, Roy Orbison's contribution to the Christmas song canon was actually written by Willie Nelson, whose career was yet to take flight, but the country star was employed as a songwriter in the early days and managed to get Roy to No.15 in the U.S. with this track in 1963. Nelson later re-recorded is own version and included on his 1979 Christmas album of the same name.
Originally written by Robert Meredith Wilson, the man behind a number of film scores including the one for Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, Perry Como and The Fontaine Sisters scored a hit with the track in 1951. It's since been covered by Johnny Mathis, whose version was another track included on the Home Alone 2 soundtrack.
You can't help but feel a bit sorry for Gene Autry – here was a guy that had been inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, owned a television station and several radio stations, co-owned a major league baseball team and is widely credited with being the first person to bring country music to national audiences thanks to his 'singing cowboy' movies. They even named a town after him in Oklahoma, and he is still the only person to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But despite all of this, he's still remembered as the guy who did 'Frosty the Snowman'. It is a classic, to be fair...
Joni Mitchell's 1971 album Blue features one of the more thoughtful attempts at a Christmas song in the form of 'River'. The Canadian singer-songwriter cleverly repurposes the melody from 'Jingle Bells' in the song's piano-led introduction, and the result is about as far removed from your classic cheesy festive number as it's possible to get. Mitchell adds a much-needed touch of class here, penning a stripped-back little ditty and proving you don't need the obligatory sleigh bells for a truly great Christmas song.
Andy Williams recorded an incredible 44 albums during a long career that saw the singer host his own primetime show and have huge hits like 'Music to Watch Girls By', and in 1963 he released his first Christmas album, which included his renditions of festive standards like 'The Little Drummer Boy' and 'Silent Night'. Perhaps the best-known cut from the record though is this, despite the fact it wasn't initially released as a single. Office-supplies retailer Staples used it for years at the end of the summer for their annual 'back to school' adverts, infuriating children everywhere and embedding the song into the public's conciousness.