Q: What’s the very best Christmas song by a Texas artist?
Debby Sosa, El Paso
A: The Texanist, as anybody who’s ever had the pleasure of coming within earshot of his home or office or automotive hi-fi systems can attest, is possessed of eclectic tastes when it comes to music. Folks just never really know what they’ll encounter—Afro-Caribbean calypso, or Irish sea shanties, or Tuvan throat singing, maybe—when the Texanist cranks up his jams.
That said, the Texanist, in a revelation that will surprise nobody, is especially partial to the songs of his homeland, which is blessed with a bountiful array of musical genres. In addition to boot-scooting honky-tonk and tear-in-your-beer classic country and the balladeering of the great Texas singer-songwriter tradition, the state boasts plenty of blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, soul, psychedelic soul, psychedelic rock, hard rock, soft rock, punk, metal, synth-pop, Gulf Coast–style hip-hop, jaunty conjunto, jaunty Cajun, and jaunty polka, just to scratch the surface.
And while it’s true that these many genres don’t share much, virtually all of them do have one thing in common: they’ve produced some memorable holiday tunes.
Yes, holiday music can be a bit schmaltzy and mawkish, but as has been proven in this space many times, the same can be said of the Texanist, especially after he’s downed eight or nine cups of his high-octane eggnog. Yet even when he’s not enjoying a jingly-jangly buzz, the Texanist is a big fan of Christmas music, which makes him the perfect person to answer your question, Ms. Sosa.
The problem facing the Texanist in this endeavor, however, is that the catalog of great Texas Christmas songs is so deep that whittling it down to a single ditty would be a grinchy disservice to our state’s cultural legacy. The list of Texas musicians who have trolled the ancient (as well as contemporary) yuletide carol includes, among many others, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Ernest Tubb and His Texas Troubadours, Hank Thompson, George Jones, Roy Orbison, Ray Price, Buck Owens and His Buckaroos, Charles Brown, Joe Tex, Charley Pride, Freddy Fender, Christopher Cross, Ramón Ayala, Asleep at the Wheel, Jerry Jeff Walker, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, George Strait, Joe King Carrasco, Norah Jones, Kelly Clarkson, Kacey Musgraves, Selena Gomez (Selena Quintanilla, it appears, recorded no Christmas music), Jessica Simpson, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, Dale Watson, and the Texanist’s golfing buddy Kevin McKinney. Not to mention Tioga-born Gene “The Singing Cowboy” Autry, who had a chart-topper with “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and actually cowrote the holiday standard “Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane).” And Willie Nelson, who has recorded a slew of Christmas songs and wrote one of the great ones, “Pretty Paper.”
Suffice it to say, Texas has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Christmas music, which is why the Texanist has decided to answer a slightly different question than the one posed, namely: What would a compilation of the very best Christmas songs by Texas artists consist of ? And after dipping into a little preseason eggnog and then cogitating on it for a bit, the Texanist has come up with, in no particular order other than the order he finds most pleasing, the Texanist’s Very Best Texas Christmas Songs of All Time, Vol. 1:
1. “Silent Night” by Kevin McKinney
2. “Pretty Paper” by Willie Nelson
3. “When It’s Christmas on the Range” by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
4. “I’ll Be Walking the Floor This Christmas” by Ernest Tubb and His Texas Troubadours
5. “For Christmas” by Ray Price
6. “Maybe Next Christmas” by George Jones
7. “Merry Christmas From the Family” by Robert Earl Keen
8. “Christmas Time in Bossier City” by Shinyribs
9. “Christmas Time in the Valley” by Freddy Fender
10. “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Gene Autry
11. “Merry Christmas Baby” by Barbara Lynn
12. “Merry Christmas” by Lightnin’ Hopkins
13. “I’ll Make Everyday Christmas (For My Woman)” by Joe Tex
14. “Hard Candy Christmas” by Dolly Parton (from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas)
15. “A Willie Nice Christmas” by Kacey Musgraves
16. “Merry Texas Christmas, Y’all” by Asleep at the Wheel
17. “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk [This Christmas]” by Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis
18. “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown
19. “Never Felt Like Christmas” by Lizzo
20. “Christmas Blues” by Willie Nelson
And there you have it, Ms. Sosa: twenty of the Texanist’s favorite Christmas songs by Texans. He knows it’s more than what you requested, but, like so many Christmas-minded Texas musicians, the Texanist is a generous sort. Happy holidays!
This article originally appeared in the December issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “What’s the very best Christmas song by a Texas artist?” Subscribe today.