When the holidays roll around, it sometimes seems like the same 15 holiday songs are played over and over, and each year, a classic song is sometimes rehashed by an artist who cares more about her mascara than the meaning of the song.
But, like little Christmas miracles, there is occasionally an artist who writes a memorable holiday song so heartfelt that it just might become a classic in 20 or so years.
In no particular order, and in my humble but sometimes snobbish opinion, here are the three best holiday songs written in the past 30 years.
1. “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey
Carey released this song in 1994 for her holiday album Merry Christmas and it is quickly becoming a classic. I love the contrasting holiday spirit the song evokes – one of jolly jingling cheer and also longing to be with someone.
2. “Christmas Eve” by Tatsuro Yamashita
I first heard this song last year after reading an essay about it by About.com’s Namiko Abe. Per her translation, “the song is about a man thinking of a girl on Christmas Eve, which in Japanese tradition, is a time for a couple to spend a romantic evening together.” Below is a clip of the song as it appeared in a cute 1988 JR Shinkansen commercial.
Last year, as I walked through the first snowfall of the year in Toyama on Christmas Eve, I wrapped my scarf tight around my neck and played this song on my iPod. Even though I missed my family, something about the song made me smile. Yamashita also recorded an English version of this song, but I think it sounds better in Japanese. You can hear the full-length version here.
3. “2000 Miles” by The Pretenders
If I could only listen to one person sing holiday songs for the rest of my life, I would probably choose Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. Something about Hynde’s voice always reminds me what it is to be a woman and to always be searching for warmth somewhere in the cold. In this 1983 song, she describes a lonely character waiting alone for a man on a frosty night. Just one yer prior, The Pretenders lost guitarist James Honeyman-Scott to drug-related causes. The song is also quickly becoming a classic, as KT Tunstall and Coldplay have performed versions of the song.
“Calling on Mary” by Aimee Mann
“Christmas in Hollis” by Run-DMC
“Last Christmas” by Wham!
“Hurry Xmas” by L’Arc en Ciel