Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin'" (get it?) is notable for being the first hip-hop track released by a major label. It was a long fight to get the music thought of as anything but novelty music by "the industry." But then, all Christmas songs are inherently novelty numbers, and this remains a pretty great one.
I have so much love for Rev. Edward Clayborn aka "the guitar evangelist," a sanctified blues singer and itinerant street musician who recorded about a dozen sides for Vocalion in the late '20s/ early '30s, and they all pretty much sound the same (not an issue for me). He's being a bit of a judgmental bummer here, telling you how you should and how you should not celebrate, on "The Wrong Way to Celebrate Christmas Day," but it's still downright wonderful, and jaunty.
Moon Duo's take on "Silver Bells" is paired-down and perfect.
Marvin Gaye's “I Want to Come Home for Christmas” was recorded in 1972 but not released until years later. This remarkable song is funky and political and heart-warming — what else would you expect from Gaye at the height of his powers? It details a prisoner of war in Vietnam wishing he were home for the holidays. Stevie Wonder's holiday hit from five years earlier was also anti-war, but it didn't explicitly call out Vietnam, so it got to be released when it was actually recorded.
Willie Nelson's 1979 Pretty Paper LP, a staple of dollar bins the world over, is an unexpected delight. He and Booker T (that's right, THE Booker T) are stoned out of their gourds just slaying these Christmas songs, mowing them down like they're nothing, like they took real live machine guns to the state fair shooting arcade. Some of the songs on the record (like the title track) were initially hits for other artists during his early songwriting days.
Oh man, I almost forgot about the Carpenters. What's wrong with me? The Carpenters fucking own the holidays.