10 Awesome Christmas Songs You’ve Probably Never Heard

WXPN DJ Robert Drake shares obscure gems from his vault of nearly 20,000 holiday tunes.

Most folks have a love-hate relationship with Christmas songs.

Perhaps it’s the feeling of being forced to embrace the season regardless of what life has thrown your way the past 11 months. Or maybe it’s simply that many Christmas songs are so sickeningly sweet that you might as well carry a NovoLog insulin pen just in case.

But for the 200 or so Christmas songs we all know, there are thousands more that have rarely been heard — from renditions of classic songs to original tunes that embrace the season, warts and all.

For the past 22 years I have had the honor of hosting The Night Before on XPN, a live radio extravaganza. Every December 24th, I take-over WXPN (88.5FM) in Philadelphia for 24 hours nonstop to play anything I want from my insane collection of holiday music that has grown over the past 30 years.

I gotta say it has been humbling to share just part of the holiday season with families around the world year-after-year over the past decades. So, when Philadelphia magazine asked me to create a list of Christmas songs, I suggested this: the 10 best songs you’ve probably never heard.

Give them a listen below, and hear them back to back on this YouTube playlist.

“Merry Christmas From The Family” by Robert Earl Keen

Few songs celebrate the reality of the holiday season better than this classic, which really paints the vivid picture of a white (trash) Christmas, indeed.

“Eight Days Of Hanukkah” by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones has carved out a unique niche for herself over the decade, and it warmed my heart when she released this holiday CD last month. A mix of raw funk, horns and holiday cheer!

“Sunny Christmas” by Renee & Jeremy

This California duo put out a few CDs for families and then dropped a musical present for all ages when they released this holiday EP. This song EASILY should be as popular as some of the nonsense played in malls throughout the country. It’s a hypnotically good track.

“Amazing Grace” by The Blind Boys of Alabama

You can never go wrong with anything from The Blind Boys of Alabama, but when they delivered their first Christmas CD a few years ago, my jaw dropped over the rich harmonies and unique interpretations of holiday classics. This live-performance clip showcases just how talented these gentlemen are — even if they are from the House of the Rising Sun.

“Tree” by Ilene Weiss

Those who listen to me annually on Christmas Eve know how much I truly love this song. It is easily one of the most unique songs for Christmas, and it has nothing to do with the holiday. It is a song sung from the perspective of the Christmas Tree … or is it? Amazing.

“Hot Christmas” by Squirrel Nut Zippers

If you’re a fan of that early jazz sound from the early part of last century, Carolina Christmas is the CD you need to add to your holiday collection. The Squirrel Nut Zippers deliver a tin pan alley full of Christmas cheer, as demonstrated by this track. So perfect, regardless of how hot Christmas turns out to be.

“A Snowflake Fell (And it Felt Like a Kiss)” by Glasvegas

This track from Scottish rock band Glasvegas was an EP that came out several years ago – it’s poignant, sweet and lovingly told by lead singer James Allan. It remains a favorite on my annual Christmas Eve show.

“Jingle Bells” by Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

Closer to home, this New Jersey-based duo released a Christmas EP a few years ago and this rendition of the classic “Jingle Bells” is rhythmic and could easily be remixed into a 12-inch single! Can you say DRUMS!?

“Little Drummer Boy” by El Vez

It’s not Christmas without a little Elvis … or make that El Vez, the Mexican Elvis. His Christmas CD Snow Way Jose is packed with roasted chestnuts. If you ever get a chance to see El Vez perform his holiday show live — DO NOT MISS IT! It’s out of this world.

“Christmas Day” by Squeeze

Finally, as the keeper of the keys to all things ‘80s here in Philly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add at least one classic Christmas song from my favorite genre of music. Of course, there are plenty, including one of my all-time favorites by The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl “Fairytale Of New York,” but this is one that gets overlooked on most holiday mix tapes.

Catch DJ Robert Drake on the 23rd annual Night Before on XPN from midnight to midnight on Thursday, December 24th. You can find it on WXPN-FM 88.5 or at online here

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