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December 20, 2012

Slate's definitive Christmas playlist

There are plenty of people who loathe Christmas music or tire of it quickly, and it can be easy to see why: Every year brings fruitless attempts to introduce a new song into the canon or put a new spin on a holiday classic, and that can be a drag. But what about that perfect rendition of the holiday standard you otherwise hate? Or that Christmas song that has many great versions, but you can't decide which one is the best?

Here at Slate, we've compiled a playlist of the definitive covers of Christmas standards, those songs that have been interpreted countless times, but have only one, true performance we can call the must-listen-to classic.

Sometimes, the traditional version of a Christmas song remains the best. First, there is the one that started it all, "White Christmas," as performed by crooner Bing Crosby. While there have been many notable covers, the original (along with the many versions recorded by Crosby) still stands the test of time. As Slate pop critic Jody Rosen puts it, "There weren't really any Christmas pop songs until Bing. He created the genre."

Likewise, Judy Garland's introduction of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the 1944 film "Meet Me in St. Louis" remains the quintessential version of the tune, both for her subdued yet powerful performance and the underlying tinge of sadness that brings some variety to the normally cheerful Christmas canon. (The song's original lyrics were "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow" supplanted by the awkward "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough" more than a decade later.)

Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" still holds up as the best, despite being performed by artists as varied and talented as Bob Dylan, the Carpenters and Aretha Franklin — his simple phrasing and charming musical accompaniment continue to make his version a classic.

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