“White Christmas” is one of the most covered songs of all time. Some sources say it’s the most covered song, and it seems like every major artist has recorded it at some point. Since its first studio recorded was released in 1942, the tune has attracted everyone from Tony Bennett to Barbra Streisand, Tiny Tim, the Flaming Lips and Iggy Pop and Ringo Starr.
Although there are simply too many covers to, well, cover, we’ve compiled a list of seven of the best versions of “White Christmas” currently available through streaming services. They’re listed chronologically:
• The Drifters (1954) – The legendary doo-wop group the Drifters had crossover pop hits with “Under the Boardwalk,” “Up on the Roof” and “Save the Last Dance for Me,” but their take on “White Christmas” was mostly relegated to black radio stations when it was released in ’54. With its complex vocal arrangements, it’s one of the most spirited and distinct versions of the song, and its prominent placement on the “Home Alone” soundtrack (Macaulay Culkin actually lip synchs to it) later ensured its classic status.
• Frank Sinatra (1954) – Ol’ Blue Eyes took on Berlin the same year that the Drifters did, and although his version is more traditional, it confidently announces itself as one of the best. This one might seem like an obvious choice – without even hearing it, you know Sinatra’s take on “White Christmas” is going to be great – but his voice marries so beautifully with Berlin’s music that it’s further proof that Sinatra could do no wrong in front of a mic.
• Ella Fitzgerald (1960) – Another of the greatest vocalists of all time, Ella Fitzgerald never met a song she couldn’t make her own. Her “White Christmas,” which appeared on 1960’s “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas,” is no exception: It’s as effortlessly classy and lovely as you might expect, and the song’s jazzy percussion and swooning brass give you the impression you’re in the company of the world’s best lounge act.
• Darlene Love (1963) – Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You,” a holiday showcase for the infamous producer’s contracted artists, was a flop upon its first release (it came out the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated). It’s now frequently cited as the greatest of all holiday albums, and many of its 13 tracks, including the Crystals’ “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and the Ronettes’ “Sleigh Ride,” have become Christmas classics. Darlene Love’s soaring “White Christmas” opens the record in all its Wall of Sound glory, a slice of glossy L.A. pop that’s perfect for a snowy afternoon.
• Otis Redding (1968) – One of the most expressive vocalists in pop music history, Otis Redding tackles “White Christmas” with the same soulful power he did his other timeless R&B ballads. Redding’s arrangement is heavy with horns and an organ, giving the song a bluesy swagger while maintaining its inherent melancholy. That his version was released a year after his death imbues it with a bittersweet edge.
• Stiff Little Fingers (1980) – This fast and furious punk version by Irish band Stiff Little Fingers is the perfect antidote for anyone who’s bored with traditional takes on Christmas songs. Recorded live, the track opens with the band admonishing the audience for jumping on the stage and kicks into high gear with a second half that’s sloppy, energetic thrash punk. Irving Berlin probably would have hated it, but it still rocks.
• Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (2015) – Powerhouse vocalist Jones passed away last month, leaving behind a sterling catalog of retro soul tunes with her backing band, the Dap-Kings. Her Christmas album, “It’s a Holiday Soul Party,” turned out to be the last studio record Jones would release while she was alive, and her funky, infectious take on the Berlin chestnut sounds like it was beamed straight from the Motown studios in 1965. You’ll wish it was twice as long.
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