Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Christmas Edition

Nobody does Christmas better than Country Universe’s Leeann Ward.  Enjoy this classic countdown of her favorite Christmas songs, then check out her Favorite Christmas Albums!  Merry Christmas to all of our readers who celebrate! – KJC

One of my favorite features to write for Country Universe is Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists. So, since I love Christmas music, it seems natural that I change the format a bit to accommodate a list of my favorite Christmas songs.

Narrowing my favorite Christmas songs down to twenty-five choices proved to be a nearly impossible challenge. In order to accomplish this feat, I had to do two things: (1) disqualify all quintessential versions of classics, i.e., Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or any songs by Gene Autry. Instead, I’ve stuck to modern country versions of any classics that may appear on this list. (2) Limit the number of classics included on this list so that there can be room for as many original Christmas songs as possible.

Merry Christmas!

#25

Asleep At The Wheel, “Christmas in Jail”

Merry Texas Christmas, Y’All, 1997

Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have a fun time with “Christmas In Jail.” The lesson he learns?: “Ain’t going to drink and drive no more.” Good!

#24

Roger Miller, “Old Toy Trains”

King Of The Road: The Genius of Roger Miller, 1995

I first heard this song as a little girl on a Raffi Christmas album, long before I had any idea of who Roger Miller was. So, after I discovered country music and Roger Miller, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this familiar song was actually written by Roger Miller for his son Dean. In this sweet and irresistible ditty, Miller is trying to coax his little boy to go to bed despite the excitement of Christmas.

#23

Clint Black, “Til’ Santa’s Gone (Milk and Cookies)”

Looking For Christmas, 1995

This is sung from the perspective of a five-year-old who is getting ready for Santa’s impending visit. He knows what brings Santa back every year. Milk and cookies, of course!

#22

Trisha Yearwood, “Take a Walk Through Bethlehem”

The Sweetest Gift, 1994

With her signature soulfulness, Yearwood reminds us that amidst all of the hustle and bustle that accompanies Christmas, we can close our eyes and “take a walk through Bethlehem” in order to remember the reason for the season.

#21

Garth Brooks, “Unto You This Night”

Beyond The Season, 1992

This is a nice adaptation of Luke 2:14-18, which is when an angel joyfully announced the good news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds watching their flock of sheep in the field. Garth Brooks sings of the story with reverence and Trisha Yearwood adds heavenly harmony vocals to an angelic backing choir.

#20

Randy Travis, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

An Old Time Christmas, 1987

Randy Travis’ low baritone is well suited for this song that seems to call for some strong low notes. Travis provides a decisive vocal performance that makes this song especially powerful.

#19

Pam Tillis, “Light of The World”

Just In Time For Christmas, 2005

From one of my favorite Christmas albums, this gorgeous song is the story of the wise men visiting the baby Jesus, the light of the world.

#18

The Judds, “The Sweetest Gift”

Heartland, 1990

This is a song of a mother who visits her son while he’s in prison. She can’t give him any physical gifts, but she gives him “the sweetest gift, a mother’s love.” I especially like The Judds’ version because of the wonderful mother-daughter harmony that is obviously appropriate for the premise of the song.

#17

Toby Keith, “Little Drummer Boy”

Classic Christmas, 2007

I typically find this song to be boring, but Toby Keith manages to do a version that impresses me. The rootsy , fresh production and Keith’s strong vocals, somehow, livens up this otherwise dull song.

#16

Alan Jackson, “Let It Be Christmas”

Let It Be Christmas, 2002

This original Christmas song penned by Jackson calls for the peaceful feeling of Christmas to be everywhere. Along with all of the tangible elements of Christmas, he also decrees: “Let it be Christmas everywhere/Let heavenly music fill the air/Let every heart sing/Let every bell ring/The story of hope and joy and peace/And let it be Christmas everywhere/Let heavenly music fill the air/Let anger and fear and hate disappear/Let there be love that lasts through the year/And let it be Christmas/Christmas everywhere.”

#15

The Tractors, “The Shelter”

Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas, 1995

The Tractors are an almost forgotten group from the ‘90s who were dismissed as a novelty act thanks to the quirky “Baby Likes To Rock It.” They, however, cranked out a pretty dang good Christmas album. One of its gems is “The Shelter.” It’s a sweet rendering of the love between Joseph and Mary. The melody is simple, the production is sparse and Steve Ripley’s rough voice happens to also be tender in this song.

#14

Vince Gill, “’Til The Season Comes Around Again”

Let There Be Peace On Earth, 1993

This song has a sad quality to it. It captures the typical anticlimactic feeling that we tend to experience on Christmas day after the weeks of excitement leading up to Christmas. It’s bittersweet. We celebrate, but we also know that the season is almost over and it could be awhile before we’re together again.

#13

Pam Tillis, “Beautiful Night”

Just In Time For Christmas, 2005

It’s a pretty song that describes a beautiful Christmas night.

#12

Martina McBride, “O Holy Night”

White Christmas, 1998

I’m not one who is usually impressed by bombastic vocals. I tend to prefer understated and restraint whenever possible. I, however, am only impressed when my favorite Christmas song, “O Holy Night” is sung with power. If it’s too understated, I feel as though something is missing. McBride’s version manages to do both. She starts out singing with beautiful restraint, but comes through with the powerhouse vocals that are needed in order to properly sell this song.

#11

Toby Keith, “Santa I’m Right Here”

Christmas To Christmas, 1995

This song is heartbreaking. The song’s narrator finds a note on the sidewalk from a little homeless boy who’s asking Santa to bring his family essentials for Christmas. Instead of asking for toys, he asks for a warm coat for his mama and a job for his dad.

#10

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Bells are Ringing”

Come Darkness, Come Light : Twelve Songs of Christmas, 2008

Leave it to Mary Chapin Carpenter to record a somber Christmas album that makes us stop and think. “Bells Are Ringing” reminds us that Christmas is not a joyful occasion for everyone. There is, however, a glimmer of hope to be found at the end of the song.

#9

Rosie  O’Donnell & Dixie Chicks, “Merry Christmas From The Family”

Another Rosie Christmas, 2000

While the talking intro to this song is annoying, this redneck Christmas song is hilarious. The Chicks and O’Donnell understand the ridiculousness of the song and are playful throughout, which only helps to make the song even more amusing. It’s especially fun to hear Natalie try to sing badly.

#8

Dolly Parton, “Hard Candy Christmas”

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, 1982

This has always been one of my favorite Dolly Parton songs. She’s feeling depressed at Christmas time, but is trying to convince herself that sorrow won’t get the best of her. She assures herself “I’ll be fine/Oh, I’ll be fine.” I hope so.

#7

Cherryholmes, “The King as a Babe Comes Down”

Cherryholmes III: Don’t Believe, 2008

While it isn’t on an actual Christmas album, I count it as a Christmas song. With a rootsy Celtic flavor, it explores the hope and peace that is a part of the birth of the Christ Child. It’s one of my new favorite Christmas songs.

#6

Vince Gill, “It Won’t Be the Same This Year”

Let There Be Peace On Earth, 1993

Vince wrote this incredibly sad song after the death of his brother, Bob, whose favorite time of year was Christmas. Because of the meaning that Christmas had for Bob and the fact that it was the Gill’s first Christmas without him, Vince proclaims that even after all of the Christmas rituals are performed, “it won’t be the same this year.” You can hear the emotion in his voice.

#5

Kathy Mattea, “Unto Us a Child Is Born”

Joy For Christmas Day, 2003

This is just one of the coolest Christmas songs. Mattea sings this unshakably catchy song with joy and power. Furthermore, the production has so much going on in it that it’s riveting.

#4

Alan Jackson, “If We Make it Through December”

Honky Tonk Christmas, 1993

I hope it’s okay to admit that while I am fond of Merle Haggard’s original version of this song, I still prefer Alan Jackson’s version in the end. It’s probably the banjo addition that does it for me.

#3

Clint Black, “The Coolest Pair”

Looking For Christmas, 1995

In his excellent Christmas album, Clint Black is really able to capture the exuberance of Christmas through the eyes of a child. Like “Milk And Cookies”, this is just another example. This bluegrass number is simply oozing with charm.

#2

John Berry, “O Come Emmanuel”

O Holy Night, 1995

I never really appreciated this song until I heard John Berry’s version. He sings it with appropriate reverence and vocal strength. The production is simple, which allows Berry’s voice to carry the song to the necessary heights in order to make it soar.

#1

Alan Jackson & Alison Krauss, “The Angels Cried”

Honky Tonk Christmas, 1993

Alan Jackson and Alison Krauss’ Voice blend together so perfectly that it makes me long for a duets project from them someday. While the song is already written beautifully by Jackson, the combination of their smooth easy vocals elevate it to one of the most gorgeous Christmas songs that exists.

The song tells a story of the majesty and joy that was brought by Jesus Christ’s birth. While the creatures of the earth didn’t know why the event was so special, they knew that it was all the same. So, they came from all around to see the Baby while the angels looked upon the scene and cried with joy. As Alan Jackson is so capable of doing, he paints a beautiful picture with his lyrics in a simple but captivating melody.

32 Comments

  1. Great list, even though I think I like the Montgomery Gentry Version of Marry Christmas from the Family a lot better.

  2. Good list! I love that Alan Jackson and Alison Krauss song! It’s my favorite song from his Christmas cd…beautiful! I had a feeling it’d be number 1! haha

  3. My favorite country Christmas song is “Christmas Time’s a-comin'” by Emmylou — also partial to “Silver Bells” by Loretta.

  4. Good list. I love “The Angels Cried”. I also have Clint Black’s and Martina’s songs.

    I think my favorite Christmas album has gotta be Loveless’s Bluegrass, White Snow. Surprisingly, I finally bought it like last week, online.

    Some of my other favs are: Lee Ann Womack’s “The Man With the Bag”, George Strait’s “Christmas Cookies”, Little Big Town’s “Go Tell It On the Mountain”, Brooks & Dunn’s, and “It Won’t Be Christmas Without You”.

  5. Robert Keen “Merry Christmas from the Family”. I think it’s still the best version, as it should be, it’s Robert Earl!

    “Frosty the Snowman” by Willy and “Santa Looked a lot like Daddy” by Garth and Buck

  6. I just got a free mp3s offer from Amazon (UK, sorry!), so I went and bought The Angels Cried on your recommendation. It better be good ;)

  7. This is not intended to be an exaustive list, but I’ll just name a few artists and my favorite christmas thing from them

    Alabama–“Christmas in Dixie”
    Montgomery Gentry–“Merry christmas From the Family”
    the Statler Brothers–“Christmas to Me”
    Sugarland–“Nuttin for Christmas”
    Colin Raye “It could Happen Again”
    Joe Diffie– “Leroy the Redneck Reindeer”

  8. My wireless where I am is very slow, but we’ll see if ths goes through.

    I don’t like MG’s “Merry Christmas From the Family”, because i think it’s too tame. They don’t really seem to get the ridiculousness of the lyrics and they even change some of the lyrics, which makes the whole thing boring in the end. The Robert Earl Keen version is much better, but I still prefer the one on this list the most.

    As for the Alabama song, Brian, I used to love that Christmas album when I was a kid, but it just hasn’t stuck with me over the years.

    Again, this list has many glaring ommissions, but I wanted to keep the list at 25. Maybe I’ll have a whole new list next year.:)

  9. Now hold on there Blake, just one minute…….you KNOW that even if Patty isn’t mentioned on a particular list, that she will be mentioned quite favorably in the comments! (as long as I’m around anyway..)But I think I am the broken record implicated in your statement, lol.

    Actually, it’s good to see CF and I on the same page about Patty’s “Blue Grass and White Snow, A Mountain Christmas” being our favorite Christmas album. ‘Tis a rare GEM. And I’m a little surprised more folks here haven’t been joining in the chorus on various threads.

    But believe it or not, I do appreciate the difference between someone giving a list of their favorites, versus someone compiling a list and asserting the selections are the BEST. Each type of list has it’s place, but the latter invites debate, commentary and even second guessing sometimes.

    Which brings us to the list of favorites at hand..

    Leeann,

    Very interesting choices and write ups…many of these originals I had no idea even existed. Always a pleasure to read your stuff, even if we don’t always agree. I do think our tastes often overlap quite a bit, however.

    I really appreciate your take on Martina’s “O Holy Night”…this is one place where I too welcome a Diva’s powerhouse vocals. Usually I prefer the understated artist who communicates deep emotion with subtle nuance, as opposed to those who try to dazzle with bombast and ostentatious vocal gymnastics. But Martina gives this song the drama that is called for.

    And your listing and commentary has me wanting to pick up a copy of Clint Black’s “Looking for Christmas” Clint and Bluegrass? Sounds like a must hear!

    Thanks so much for sharing your favorites with us!

  10. “But believe it or not, I do appreciate the difference between someone giving a list of their favorites, versus someone compiling a list and asserting the
    selections are the BEST. Each type of list has it’s place, but the latter invites debate, commentary and even second guessing sometimes.”

    Steve,
    Perfect description of my intention/vision of this Favorite Songs feature.
    For the record, while I didn’t include songs from the Patty album on this list, I love the album. It’s one of my favorite Christmas albums, in fact. Maybe you’ll see it on a certain list next year.:)

  11. All right then, heh heh…as long as I’m not getting predictable or anything.

    Hey it could be worse, I could be obsessed about someone with a lot less talent, right?!

    Seriously, kudos indeed to Leeann…and all who compile these lists..and then stand by them to answer our questions, address our objections and in general just have a good time talking up a storm with us.

    Looking forward to that certain list, Leeann…and Blake, I enjoyed your year-end lists and topics as well.

  12. It’s not exactly a Christmas song, but Lorie Morgan’s recording of “My Favorite Things” was on her excellent Christmas CD

    Also “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy” by Buck Owens and Ernest Tubb’s classic 1948 recording of “Blue Christmas” are among my favorites

  13. Paul, I love that Morgan track and CD too. The song really almost made my list, but it was bumped off when I decided to stick to 25.

    Steve, It’s always fun engaging with those of you who take the time to comment here. You’re right, at least we’re talking about an artist with this much talent.:)

  14. Great list Leeann! I have a few of these songs, but I think a mixed CD for next year of your favorites would be extremely awesome. Merry belated Xmas everyone!

  15. That’s a nice list. Some of my favorites include:
    -Clint Black – Christmas For Every Boy & Girl
    -Lorrie Morgan – My Favorite Things and Sleigh Ride
    -Alan Jackson – Let It Be Christmas
    -Lonestar – Reason For The Season and Christmas Lights
    -George Strait – Noel Leon
    -Reba McEntire – This Christmas and The Angels Sang
    -Billy Dean – The Christ
    -Tanya Tucker – What Child Is This
    -Gary Allan – It Must’ve Been Ol’ Santa Claus and Let’s Be Naughty (And Save Santa The Trip)
    -Patty Loveless & Jon Randall – Joy To The World
    -Raul Malo – Not So Merry Christmas
    -Pam Tillis – Beautiful Night
    -Kathy Mattea – Mary Did You Know
    -Lynn Anderson – Soon It Will Be Christmas Day
    -Ty Herndon – A Not So Silent Night
    -Alan Jackson & Alison Kraus – The Angels Cried
    -Martina McBride – Do You Hear What I Hear
    -Wynonna – O Come O Come Emmanuel
    -Dolly Parton – Hard Candy Christmas
    -Dolly & Kenny – With Bells On
    -Kenny Chesney – Just A Kid
    -Faith Hill – Where Are You Christmas
    -Sammy Kershaw – Winter Wonderland
    -Collin Raye – The Gift
    -Clay Walker – Feliz Navidad
    -Tracy Byrd – No Room

  16. Good call on Martina and John Berry. A couple to seek out, listen to and consider for Part II next year:
    Kenny Rogers & Wynonna – Mary, Did You Know?
    Alison Krauss – Shimmy Down the Chimney
    Vince Vance & the Valiants – All I Want For Christmas Is You

  17. Michael, welcome to Country Universe. Hope you’ll be a regular visitor. Thanks for all of your comments today. I know those Christmas songs and the Krauss song is a definite contender for next year’s possible Christmas feature, whatever that ends up being.

  18. Thanks, Leeann. I’ve visited the site a handful of times over the last few months and have left sporadic comments. I also take Dan’s quiz every Wednesday but this is the first time I actually started to explore the site. And once I started surfing, I couldn’t stop! I look forward to reading more of your features. You’re an excellent writer. Keep up the great work!

  19. I really enjoy Merry Christmas Strait to You by George Strait and All I Want For Christmas is You by Vince Vance & the Valiants with Lisa Layne doing vocals. All I Want For Christmas is You is as simple, sweet, charming as you can get out of a Christmas song. Add onto that it has a great 50’s doo-wop meets country beat behind it. I think that song should have made the list for certain. George Strait’s maybe not as much though.

  20. Apart from a number of tracks on Linda Ronstadt’s 2000 album A Merry Little Christmas (“I Wonder As I Wander”; “Away In A Manger”), here are some of my other favorites:

    “Christmas In California”–America
    “Please Come Home For Christmas”–The Eagles
    “Snowflakes”–The Ventures
    “Merry Christmas Baby”–Elvis Presley
    “Christmas Wrapping”–The Waitresses
    “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”–Thurl Ravenscroft
    “Little Saint Nick”–The Beach Boys
    “I Believe In Father Christmas”–Greg Lake
    “O Holy Night”–Josh Groban
    “Carol Of The Bells”–Mannheim Steamroller

  21. 1. John Berry – My Heart is Bethlehem (solely written by 90’s country singer Michael Peterson)
    2. Suzy Bogguss – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Lyrics by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow & music by Johnny Marks)
    3. Trisha Yearwood – It Wasn’t His Child (solely written by Skip Ewing)
    4. Billy Gilman – Angels We Have Heard on High
    5. The Western Swing Authority – Christmas Bonus
    6. Anne Murray – Joy to the World
    7. Kenny & Dolly – A Christmas to Remember (solely written by Dolly)
    8. Martina McBride – O Holy Night
    9. Brett Eldredge – the First Noel
    10. Garth Brooks – Belleau Woods (written by Garth & Joe Henry – known for his songwriting with John Denver)

    Merry Christmas to all.

  22. Encompassing several genres, here’s the playlist for a Christmas CD I made several years back. The challenge was getting 25 songs to fit on an 80-minute CD-R. These 25 did the trick with precisely one second to spare. I’m real proud of it. Since this mix is perfect in every way, I don’t see any reason to ever tweak it

    FAMILY HOLIDAY: THE 25 SONGS OF CHRISTMAS
    1. Please Come Home for Christmas – Charles Brown (1960)
    2. Dancing in the Snow – The Leopards (1977)
    3. Merry Christmas Will Do – Material Issue (1991)
    4. Run Rudolph Run – Chuck Berry (1958)
    5. On Christmas I Got Nothing – Chuck Brodsky (1998)
    6. White Christmas – Charlie Parker Quintet (1948)
    7. I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm – Billie Holiday (1937)
    8. It’s Cliched to Be Cynical at Christmas – Half Man Half Biscuit (2000)
    9. Christmas Time’s A-Coming – Bill Monroe (1951)
    10. Good King Wenceslas – The Brothers Figaro Orchestra (2003)
    11. Jesus Christ the Baby – Maggie Ingram (1961)
    12. Jesus Christ – Big Star (1975)
    13. Balsam Fir – Cam Penner (2008)
    14. Let’s Unite the Whole World at Christmas – James Brown (1968)
    15. Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas) – Greg Trooper (2003)
    16. All I Want for Christmas is You – Carla Thomas (1963)
    17. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – Art Carney (1954)
    18. Christmas on Ward #7 – Chris Flew (2008)
    19. Houses on the Hill – Whiskeytown (1997)
    20. Merry Christmas Baby – Otis Redding (1968)
    21. Merry Christmas from the Family – Robert Earl Keen (1994)
    22. The Christians and the Pagans – Dar Williams (1996)
    23. Merry Xmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight) – The Ramones (1989)
    24. Fairytale of New York – The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl (1987)
    25. Better Things – The Kinks (1981)

  23. Love me some country Christmas tunes, and here’s some of my favorites that I must hear at least once every holiday season:

    “I Only Want You For Christmas” – Alan Jackson – This has been one of my all time favorites since I was a little girl. I still have it on a cassette tape I recorded off the radio when it came out in 1991. I’m back to being a kid in the early 90’s every time I hear it.

    “A Holly Jolly Christmas” – Alan Jackson – This one also brings back great childhood memories for me from when it came out the following holiday season in 1992. To this day, it’s still my favorite version of this song, and it always brightens my mood.

    “Hard Candy Christmas” – Dolly Parton – Another one that instantly takes me back to my childhood, as I also had this one recorded to a tape in 1991. Unfortunately, this is one that’s more relatable for me these past few Christmases, especially. Still, this song never gets old, and it’s one that sounds great all year round. Love Dolly’s emotional performance here.

    “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” – Eddy Arnold – Takes me back to Christmas season of 1992 every time, as that’s when I first heard it.

    “A Christmas Letter” – Keith Whitley – Also first heard this one in ’92. Beautiful song, and it’s one of the more underrated Christmas songs in country, imo. Wish it was on Spotify.

    “Merry Christmas Mary” – Paul Overstreet – Can never hear this one without tearing up a bit.

    “Two Step ‘Round The Christmas Tree” – Suzy Bogguss – Never fails to get me in a good mood and in the holiday spirit!

    “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy” – Garth Brooks – Also like the original by Buck Owens and Travis Tritt’s version.

    “It Wasn’t His Child” – Trisha Yearwood – Simply beautiful, and my favorite version of this song.

    “Winter Wonderland” – George Strait – My all time favorite version of this song! Again, my happy childhood memories come flooding back every time I hear the intro of this version, alone. And yep, you guessed it: I also had this recorded on to a tape in 1991.

    “Old Time Christmas” – George Strait – This is one I’ve discovered a little more recently, as I didn’t pick up his Merry Christmas Wherever You Are album until much later. It’s simply beautiful, and sadly it’s another I can relate to more lately.

    Other honorable mentions:

    “Til Santa’s Gone (Milk And Cookies)” – Clint Black
    “Cabin In The Valley” – Brooks & Dunn
    “Cowboy Christmas Ball” – Michael Martin Murphey
    “Do You Hear What I Hear” – Vince Gill
    “Mississippi Christmas Eve” – Charlie Daniels
    “Country Christmas” – Loretta Lynn
    “Santa And The Kids” – Charley Pride
    “A Carpenter, A Mother, And A King” – Forester Sisters
    “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and “Christmas In My Hometown” by Travis Tritt
    “Christmas In Dixie” and “Christmas In Your Arms” by Alabama
    “Leroy The Redneck Reindeer” and “Wrap Me In Your Love” by Joe Diffie
    “New Star Shining” – Mark Wills
    “364 Days To Go” – Brad Paisley
    “Please Come Home For Christmas” – Gary Allan
    “All I Want For Christmas” – Toby Keith
    “Christmas Will Never Be The Same” – Doug Supernaw
    “On This Day” and “White Christmas” by Reba
    “Sleigh Ride” and “My Favorite Things” by Lorrie Morgan
    Anything off of Randy Travis’ Old Time Christmas album
    Anything off of Ricky Van Shelton’s first Christmas album

    Merry Christmas, everybody!!

  24. Great suggestions and I’ll have to update my playlist before next Christmas rolls around. One I haven’t seen mentioned – Kacey Musgrave’s Ribbon and Bows. Fun song and the best off her Christmas album I think.

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