The best Christmas songs are ones that can be played while sipping brown liquor.
I know, I know: the birth of Christ. I love Jesus, too; still, the holiday season overlaps with cuffing season, and with all that cold weather and love in the air, you are likely to spend your time either drinking eggnog while laid up with the one you love or sipping something dark and flavorful contemplating why you’re alone on Christmas Eve. Musical artists know this—that is why there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to brown-liquor Christmas songs.
As I stated before, in order for a track to qualify as a “brown liquor” song, it must meet certain criteria:
- It must have a pronounced bass line.
- This bass line must be contrasted with an ethereal harmony.
- The sonic tension between these juxtapositions must evoke a mood that is either libidinous or mournful in nature.
Yet for it to qualify as a brown-liquor Christmas song, it must do Nos. 1 to 3 while also commenting upon or utilizing symbols of the holiday season. This can be done by a) turning a traditional Christmas song into a brown-liquor song (see: the Temptations’ “Silent Night”); b) taking a symbol of Christmas and using it in playful and libidinous ways (see: Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa”); or c) using Christmas as a setting to lament the one who got away (see: Luther’s “Every Year, Every Christmas”).
Many Christmas songs qualify, but below, I present to you the 10 best brown-liquor Christmas songs of all time, ranked.
10. “Merry Christmas Baby,” by Kenny Burrell
This is a soulful and jazzy cover of the Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers classic. It’s perfect background music for when you have friends over and you’re mixing up amaretto sours.
9. “My Favorite Things,” by John Coltrane
I’m a jazz snob. I don’t do the cheap, elevator-music-adjacent Kenny G bastardization of the black-American art form. If it doesn’t push the boundaries of melody, then you can miss me with your whitewashed, sweet-white-wine shenanigans. “My Favorite Things” by ’Trane is a 13-minute encounter with the divine. It is a masterpiece and perfect with a hot buttered bourbon.
8. “Santa Claus Wants Some Loving,” by Albert King
Even Santa has needs. This raunchy jawn is your crazy uncle’s second-favorite Christmas song. He drinks Jim Beam out the bottle while he listens to it.
7. “Every Year, Every Christmas,” by Luther Vandross
Luther’s voice was one of a kind. “Intimate,” “sultry” and “velvety” don’t do it justice, and his voice is on full display as he sings about how the holiday is a source of pain because his lover is not with him. Sip this with Crown Royal and ginger ale. Be sure you don’t get tears in the glass.
6. “A Child Is Born,” by Oscar Peterson
This is a quiet, mournful jazz standard written by composer Alec Wilder and trumpeter Thad Jones. On this cover, Peterson improvises on the melody, filling out the sonic landscape of the song in ways that make it both soulful and melancholic. Watch the snowfall as you listen to this and drink a Swedish glogg.
5. “Please Come Home for Christmas,” by Charles Brown
This is the official Christmas song of juke joints and liquor houses everywhere. Charles Brown’s vocalizations put one in the mood to sip something brown and aged while yearning for the one who got away. Pair this with a Macallan 18-year, straight, no chaser.
4. “Silent Night,” by the Temptations
The Temptations’ rendition of this Christmas classic is a soulful blend of the sacred and the secular. Listening to Glenn Leonard makes me do the ugly church face ubiquitous in black houses of worship. This is your spiked-apple-cider song.
3. “Let It Snow,” by Boyz II Men
Christmas is in winter, and winter is cuffing season. I contend that “Let It Snow” is the definitive sexy Christmas song. “The market is full of widely recognized artists singing the usual classics,” says Elon Dancy, professor of education and associate dean for community engagement and academic inclusion at the University of Oklahoma. He is a scholar world-renowned for his research into black men in higher education but is also an underappreciated cultural critic. He continues, “However, one of the special contributions of Christmas Interpretations is that the majority of the album is original Christmas music … it is musical velvet.” Keep warm as this plays by sipping a spiked hot chocolate.
2. “Back Door Santa,” by Clarence Carter
On this track, Carter is petty, trifling and brilliant. That’s why this is your crazy uncle’s favorite Christmas song. He gets fancy, says, “What you young bucks know ’bout dis right cha,” and drinks Courvoisier out of a snifter as he grooves to this.
1. “This Christmas,” by Donny Hathaway
Much has been said about this track, so I will just stress to you how strongly I feel that this is the official Christmas song of black folks everywhere. This joint is suitable for every occasion and pairs with any drink. Yet I choose to enjoy it with Johnnie Walker Blue—because I’m bougie.