Whether you like or hate Christmas songs, they're vital in getting into the holiday spirit. Their simple and traditional melodies capture the warm feelings of wearing fuzzy sweaters, drinking hot cocoa, seeing colorful lights, bonding with family and, of course, presents. What makes Christmas music in Texas unique, though, is how Texans musicians add a Southern touch to them. If you want to feel more Texan this holiday season, try adding these songs to your Christmas compilation playlist.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry
While there are many versions of this classic, there’s a reason Gene Autry’s version first reached No. 1 on the U.S. charts once it came out in late 1949. The song has become a staple in Christmas playlists since then, known for its hummable melody and old-timey sound. In case you’re unfamiliar with the story of Rudolph, the story is simple: all of Santa’s other reindeer pick on Rudolph for having a red, glowing nose — that is, until Santa asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh with his nose during a foggy Christmas. It’s a positive song and, Texan or not, it’ll paint your living room with Christmas colors.
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“Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown
Not everybody gets to be with their loved one during Christmas, whether it’s because of obligations or personal problems, but Charles Brown brings temporary hope to overshadow the Christmas blues. “Please Come Home for Christmas” was released in 1960 and reached Billboard’s Christmas Singles chart nine times. Hearing church bells, blues licks and constant pleas directed at a close someone to come back are enough to bring anyone to the verge of tears. But there’s an optimistic message within the song, a sense of hope that your loved one will return, bringing happiness once again. The holidays are meant to generate joy and cheer in people, and this song is dedicated to those who feel a little lonely.
“Pretty Paper” by Roy Orbison
“Pretty Paper” was originally written by fellow Texan Willie Nelson in 1963, but it was Roy Orbison who turned it into a holiday hit. The song was recorded only a year before Orbison’s other pretty single, “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and he reportedly sang the song with a 102-degree fever. The lonely man in the song, who sells wrapping paper and pencils to people during Christmastime, was inspired by a real person Nelson saw frequently when he lived in Fort Worth. The man used to yell the words “pretty paper” to draw in customers. When Orbison sings those same words in the chorus, it’s as if the man is yelling at you now in a crowded street, and you feel Christmas day getting nearer.
“The Christmas Song” by King Curtis
Jazz instrumentals are essential to listen to during this time of the year since they match the cool weather. That’s why Fort Worth’s King Curtis has a smooth jazz version of “The Christmas Song” you should include in your playlist. Curtis is perhaps well-known as one of the tenor saxophonists on Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” and he’s able to demonstrate his skill in creating soulful music with this Christmas cover released in 1968. Sure, the popular Nat King Cole version is in its own class, but King Curtis incorporates a Texan elegance through his playing; it has a rough attitude but a gentle heart.
“Merry Christmas Strait to You” by George Strait
Released in 1986, this song is off George Strait’s first Christmas album, which shares its title with the song. While the album features country versions of traditional Christmas songs, it also includes other songs like “Merry Christmas Strait to You” written just for Strait’s baritone voice. The song describes Strait’s inability to be with friends during Christmas and how he can only provide the song itself as a gift to make up for his absence. As a catchy, upbeat track that contrasts the singer’s usual slow ballad style, this is perfect background music for a large family having table conversation, smiles and laughter included.
“Merry Christmas from the Family” by Robert Earl Keen
There are dysfunctional families, and then there are Texan dysfunctional families. Robert Earl Keen’s 1994 hit turned into a fan favorite because it's easy to relate to. The song illustrates different family members getting drunk, chain smoking, sending others to convenience stores to get supplies, trying hard to get along with extended family members and watching sports on TV — creating a messy Christmas scene. Many people have at least experienced one chaotic Christmas in their lives, meaning this song is sure to produce a few laughs if played around a family that understands. If you can’t relate, then consider yourself lucky.
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“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Willie Nelson and Norah Jones
This collaborative rendition of a Christmas classic brings two Texans together for an elegant mixture. The pair released this cover in 2009 and it was included on Willie Nelson’s American Classic album. In the song, Nelson plays the part of persuading Jones to stay with him through a snowy night while Jones tells him that she must go or her family will be worrying about her. While it might sound more of a seductive song, the song has generally been regarded as a Christmas song for its seasonal setting. Texas rarely sees snow, but there’s always that one person who tries to get you to stay longer.
“Feliz Navidad” by Kacey Musgraves
From her 2016 Christmas album, Kacey Musgraves’ version of “Feliz Navidad” integrates Latin-infused rhythms with this timeless, traditional tune. Musgraves sings both Spanish and English parts with a delicate voice that complements the male backup singers and instrumentation. If the original song were ever in need of an updated replacement, Musgraves’ rendition would definitely be one of the top candidates, for it holds the spirit of the original and meshes cultures beautifully. Texas has always been made up of both American and Hispanic customs, so in keeping Christmas peaceful in the state, crank up this song and spread merriment.