Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash Vol. XLIII: Christmas in Haiti, and an essential Christmas music playlist

Radio stations play the same Christmas songs over and over. What songs would you play if you could choose? – Phyllis J.

When radio stations begin playing Christmas music in earnest shortly after Easter in an effort to turn us from chastened, recession-bleary penny pinchers back into lusty little consumers, it becomes a veritable holly-jolly assault on both our ears and good taste. Nothing says “convert to atheism” quite like the 435th play of “Ring Christmas Bells,” or even the first play of Manheim Steamroller’s version of “Deck the Halls.” So if I was Christmas’s programming director, here’s how it would look, complete with YouTube videos. Improve your holiday season. Make this your playlist:

1. Best secular Christmas classic: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” This 1944 song, first introduced in the film Meet Me in St. Louis, is so well-crafted, it’s hard to butcher, though many have tried. As with most standards he sings, it’s hard to beat Frank Sinatra’s version:

Though if you prefer one sans the distracting background singers, try James Taylor’s cover:

2. Best religious Christmas classic: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Almost any version does the trick. But in order to preserve the mystical eeriness, it should be sung by an echoing unaccompanied choir, as evidenced by the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers:

3.  “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” by Tom Waits.  The only mention of Christmas in this song is in the title, though since it’s the best song title of all time, in addition to being one of my favorite Tom Waits tunes, it bears inclusion:

4.  For many, Christmas is a time for spiraling depression. And there’s no way to wallow in it quite as satisfyingly as Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here,” the soundtrack for that most famous of depressives, Charlie Brown, in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”: