By Erin Caine
Of course, no holiday season is complete without the likes of Brenda Lee’s classic “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” or Eartha Kitt’s sultry-sweet “Santa Baby,” yet, there are some underrated gems you’ve probably never heard of, as well. Whether it’s an indie original or a fresh take on an established classic, it’s hard not to make room for these tracks on your Christmas playlist once you’ve heard them. With finals already looming in the too-near future, these underappreciated songs are a perfect playlist for late-night study sessions.
- Low, “Just Like Christmas.” American indie band Low is best known for its folksy, minimalist song arrangements and tender vocal harmonies, and both of these characteristics shine through into their “Christmas” album released in 1999. The initial track, “Just Like,” is serene and heartfelt, with an underlying tinge of wistfulness throughout. Their languorous take on “Blue Christmas,” also on their 1999 album, is also worth checking out. (Though you’d be hard-pressed to find a version that tops Elvis Presley’s.)
- Basement 5, “Last White Christmas.” Bursting with energy and emblematic of the 1980s British punk scene, this is the perfect song to power through an essay or throw the best Christmas party on the block. Founded in London in 1978, Basement 5 played one of their earliest shows on Christmas Day as an opener for Public Image Ltd. With loud, brazen vocals—and a loud, brazen electric guitar squealing away in the background—it’s the perfect way to kick yourself into high gear during crunch-time.
- Louis Armstrong, “Cool Yule.” It seems almost criminal that such a music legend should be “underappreciated” in any capacity, yet few seem to be aware of Louis Armstrong’s 1953 recording of “Cule Yule,” written by Steve Allen. Though the song’s been covered by other artists—such as Roseanna Vitro in 1986 and Bette Midler in 2006—no one has come close to topping Armstrong’s deep, gravelly vocals and unparalleled ability on the trumpet. Armstrong’s “White Christmas” is also an underrated version, poignant and distinctive.
- Amy Winehouse, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” When this London-born songstress covers a song, it tends to sound nearly inextricable from her own repertoire of original material. This well-known Christmas track (originally sung by Jimmy Boyd in 1952) gets a jazzy re-imagining: a bossa-nova beat blends seamlessly with Winehouse’s soulful, one-of-a-kind vocals. Others have covered this song, as well, such as The Jackson 5 and John Mellencamp, but Winehouse’s version has a charming uniqueness to it that separates it from other versions.
- Queen, “Thank God It’s Christmas.” Perhaps giving voice to many people’s sentiments at the end of a long and busy year, Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas” was released as a single in 1984. Leisurely yet triumphant, this song — in characteristic power-ballad fashion — mysteriously appears on very few playlists during the holiday season, despite Queen’s lasting popularity as a band. Freddie Mercury croons out his recollections of “hopes” and “tears” during the year, and the song elevates into an exultant anthem in the chorus.