opbmusic DJ JT Griffith is our resident holiday music expert. He’s programmed for KMHD Jazz Radio, the Oregon Zoo’s Zoolights event and opbmusic. And each year, he shares this lovingly curated list of seasonal songs.
Here is my offering to you, dear friends and loyal opbmusic listeners. I hope this music helps you get through the holiday season.
2018 has been a year of tremendous national uncertainty but I’ve found the nostalgic elements of Christmas music to be a salve against the increasingly crazy news cycle. So, this year I highly recommend you join me and overindulge on a little cheer and distraction. That being said, let’s also not forget that a good soundtrack to a winter wonderland can also pull the heart strings and harness the emotional power of the transition from one year to the next.
This year Santa’s brought us a very full sack of brand new recordings — some silly and some melancholy, just like the holiday itself! We have an appearance from rock ‘n’ roll legends, some great pop music, a little moodiness, swinging rockabilly, classic covers and even some funk. There’s even more surprises at the bottom, so please indulge! — JT Griffith
Lucius - “Christmas Time is Here”
This cover was released as a 7-inch benefiting the family of Oregon-based producer Richard Swift, who died this past year. The slow and haunting version is made especially somber by that fact but the joy imbued in the recording transcends the twinges of sadness in the season and promises to be an annual favorite.
Phoebe Bridgers - “Christmas Song”
This is a moody original from the LA-based and OPB favorite singer-songwriter.
The Lumineers - “Pretty Paper”
This year The Lumineers have covered the 1963 Roy Orbison original (made famous to me by Willie Nelson). A bit somber but a solid entry.
JD McPherson - “All the Gifts I Need”
Rockabilly and Christmas have been going hand-in-thermal-gloved-hand since Brenda Lee was “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” in 1958. JD’s entry “Socks” is a welcome addition of originals though it skates on perilous ice toward a bit of a cynical take on the holiday, which some may appreciate more than I do. That being said most holiday mixtapes will be better off by pulling one from this record.
John Legend - “Merry Merry Christmas”
This was the song that Legend played for the encore during his recent concert at the Schnitz. A Legendary Christmas entry for sure. This is one of those records that will live on long after we’re all gone.
The Minus 5 feat. Benjamin Gibbard - “Christmas in Antarctica”
This is a new song that will put a smile on the face of all but the Grinchiest of Grinches.
The Monkees - “Christmas Party”
I picked this one because, while it is a new song from The Monkees, it was written by Portlander Scott McCaughey of the Minus 5.
Mimicking Birds - “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
Man this is a double whammy of moodiness. Always great to hear a new Christmas song from Mimicking Birds, though. Becoming an annual tradition.
The Old 97s - “Auld Lang Syne”
The Austin, Texas, alt-country legends have released their first Christmas full-length (“Love the Holidays”) and it’s hard not to imagine the same Shiner-fueled mosh pit breaking out during this song.
Ingrid Michaelson - “All I Want for Christmas is You”
A beautiful version of the Mariah Carey classic featuring a duet between Ingrid and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.
Aloe Blacc - “Last Christmas”
I thought I was tired of hearing versions of this Wham! Christmas song, but Aloe Blacc’s convinced me there was room for one more.
Khruangbin - “Christmas Time is Here”
Another cover of the Vince Guaraldi classic this time from the Texas-based multigenre trio.
The best of the rest:
Sufjan Stevens - “Lonely Man of Winter Doveman Remix”
A nice, stuttered, dreamy version of the title track from the new Stevens Christmas release. Airy and beautiful.
Lissie - “Peace on Earth”
A straightforward and sentimental wish for peace from on of my favorite singer-songwriters.
Tuxedo - “Holiday Love”
Some robotic synth funk from Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One. Merry Christmas, Zapp and Roger.
Tyler, the Creator - “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
This is a solid entry from the recent Grinch reboot.
Amy Stroup - “Holiday Ease”
This is a great acoustic original from Nashville-based singer-songwriter. A little Bobby Gentry, a little Dusty Springfield.
Hush Kids - “Jingle Your Bells”
A nice country fireside stomper from Jill Andrews and Peter Groenwald. This is a track that I think will have some legs over the years.
Rosie Thomas - “Christmas Don’t Be Late”
Rosie rereleased her Christmas album this year and I like this cover of the Chipmunks song. A pretty straightforward record overall but one that packs an unexpected emotional punch and really beautiful punch at that.
RuPaul - “Christmas Party”
I want to go to this party. One of my kids asked me what kind of Christmas song this is. I told him the truth: “It’s fabulous, child.”
Beck - “The Little Drum Machine Boy”
This is a digital re-release of a somewhat rare 1996 recording by the indie electro OG.
Mark Ronson, Miley Cyrus and Sean Ono Lennon - “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”
Haters gonna hate, but this John Lennon/Yoko Ono cover is pretty good.