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Not-so-silent nights: Christmas karaoke party tips


The holidays are always filled with Christmas songs — at school, in the mall, on KOST 103.5. They are also prime time for karaoke, whether it’s at a family gathering, office party or night out with friends.

This year, The Times created the ultimate guide to finding your go-to karaoke songs with the help of reader suggestions, a panel of karaoke enthusiasts and Pandora music analysts. The song generator allows you to choose songs based on time period, vocal range, mood and difficulty.

You can sing anything you want at a holiday karaoke party. But if you want to have a Christmas-themed karaoke night, it’s helpful to use the same principles we learned from our research to choose a song. The best selections are always a mix of strategy and personal preference — head and heart, if you will.

We invited the experts and reporters from our karaoke project to share what they would sing if we had a Christmas-themed karaoke party — and linked the songs to corresponding karaoke videos for your convenience. We also asked Pandora music analysts Steve Hogan and Hannah Glass to remind us of what we should consider and to suggest songs based on their Music Genome Project data.

Welcome to our virtual karaoke party (Theme: Christmas)

A.J. Rafael, singer-songwriter
“Feliz Navidad” and “The Christmas Song”
“Feliz Navidad” gets everybody dancing and singing along, which is always perfect for a party opener. “The Christmas Song,” aka “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” is a classic that everybody knows, and it really reminds people of the warmth of the season. There are really cool chords and key changes in that song, so I’d say that it’s a medium-difficulty song with just enough jazz to make a singer look really good if they can nail it.” Rafael and Alyssa Navarro recently released their first Christmas song, “Counting Down to Christmas.”

Alyssa Navarro, singer
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is my go-to because it’s warm and fuzzy — and everyone knows it. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey is another fun one because everybody can dance to it. Also, everyone, including nonsingers, knows all the background parts. Navarro was one of Forbes’ 2022 30 Under 30 for her work as an executive producer at Disney Launchpad.

Pandora’s Picks

Sing-along song or show-off song?

There are two main intentions when choosing a song for karaoke, singer Alyssa Navarro told The Times. You can pick an impressive song you know you can smash, or find a song that’s easy for everyone to sing along.

Christmas songs with great sing-along choruses: Gene Autry, “Jingle Bells”; Burl Ives, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”; Pointer Sisters (or Bruce Springsteen), “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”; “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”

Christmas songs with demanding vocals: Carrie Underwood, “O Holy Night” (extra-challenging: Celine Dion’s version); Mariah Carey, “All I Want for Christmas Is You”; Nat King Cole, “The Christmas Song”; the Beach Boys, “Christmas Day”; Donny Hathaway, “This Christmas”

Steve Hogan, Pandora’s director of music analysis
“Christmas in Hollis”
When I was a kid, the first edition of “A Very Special Christmas” came out and was an instant hit in our household. It is a compilation album of holiday tunes that features some of the biggest stars of the ’80s, and along with the subsequent editions, it has raised a ton of money for the Special Olympics. One of my favorites on this album is “Christmas in Hollis” by Run D.M.C., which, to my knowledge, is the first original hip-hop Christmas song. It is fun, funny, a little bit irreverent, but overall it is a good-natured Christmas classic — and guaranteed to be a winner at the holiday karaoke party.

Hannah Glass, Pandora’s rap and hip-hop analyst
“Carol of the Bells,” “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “O Holy Night,” “Mary Did You Know,” “River,” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”
Along with “The 12 Days of Christmas,” “Carol of the Bells” is like the “Baby Got Back” of Christmas lyrical marathons. I’ve always wanted to know the words, and if there’s any Christmas song that I’d need the lyrics in front of me to perform, it would be this one.

“All I Want for Christmas” is my surprise card for summer karaoke. It works any time of year: Mariah Carey’s that good. But my actual favorite Christmas karaoke songs — jazz standards aside — are the slow, lyrically written melodies of “O Holy Night,” “Mary Did You Know” and Joni Mitchell’s “River.” They showcase a wide vocal range and have enough space between the words [for you] to make it your own. For whimsy, I recently did “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” at our Pandora Music Analysis party, and it was a hit.

Jen Yamato, L.A. Times film reporter
“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
Before Mariah Carey officially became our once and future Queen of Christmas, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love earned her own Xmas GOAT status belting out this famous 1963 holiday jam. It’s a classic that hits the Christmas karaoke sweet spot: irresistibly bouncy, a touch melancholic, jubilant and melodramatic all at once, and every single soul in the room knows it by heart. How could they not, when everyone from Jon Bon Jovi to the Foo Fighters, Cher, U2 and Mariah herself have covered it? Make Darlene proud by unleashing all those angsty Christmas feelings and singing it to the rafters.

Extra suggestions: Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas,” The Beach Boys’ ”Little Saint Nick,” the Lonely Island and Justin Timberlake’s “D— in a Box” — yes, technically a Christmas song — and “Christmas Is All Around,” the holiday-ized version of The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” sung by Bill Nighy in “Love, Actually.”

Howard Ho, composer and musicologist
“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”
Vaughn Monroe’s version of “Let It Snow” is my choice for its usage in “Die Hard,” whose score I’ve actually analyzed musically on YouTube. But also, “Let It Snow” fits comfortably in my range, features lots of stepwise notes that are easy to sing and has the universal message of “cold weather is for snuggling.” Ho is also a writer and sound designer, and his YouTube channel, Howard Ho Music, is known for his series “How Hamilton Works.”

Pandora’s Picks

What’s your vocal range?

Many popular Christmas songs have been recorded by multiple artists in different vocal ranges. For example, there are 18 versions of “The Christmas Song” available on Karafun. Baritones and basses can sing Michael Bublé or Seth MacFarlane’s versions; tenors may want to go with Justin Bieber or the Temptations; altos have Natalie Cole or Diana Krall; mezzo-sopranos can choose from Jessie J or Peggy Lee; and sopranos can go for the Celine Dion or Idina Mendel ones.

Here are some more suggestions for each vocal range:
Bass: Thurl Ravenscroft, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
Baritone: Andy Williams, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
Tenor: Stevie Wonder, “Someday at Christmas”
Alto: Rosemary Clooney, “Snow”; Ella Fitzgerald, “Sleigh Ride”; Faith Hill, “Where Are You Christmas?”
Mezzo-soprano: Ariana Grande, “Santa Tell Me”; Kelly Clarkson and Ariana Grande, “Santa, Can’t You Hear Me”
Soprano: Darlene Love, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”

Graeme Hinde, Casual Encounters Live Band Karaoke
“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
My favorite holiday song to sing is the Bruce Springsteen version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” It might be tricky with regular karaoke because it starts with a full minute of Bruce talking to the crowd about who’s been naughty or nice, what the E Street Band wants for Christmas this year. But since we do it as a live band, we can skip all that and get straight to the song. Hinde is the bassist and manager of Casual Encounters Live Band Karaoke, which performs in various venues in Southern California.

Kiki Park, singer and KJ
“All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “This Christmas”
I always sing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” because it’s an awesome record and has completely taken over as the No. 1 Christmas dance tune. It also doesn’t feel like the holiday season has begun unless I hear it. And my warm Christmas heart loves “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway. I can smell my mommy’s cookies when I hear this jam. Kiki Park, also known as Kiki Karaoke, KJs at Prince O’ Whales, the Shak and Banter Bar in West L.A.

Pandora’s Picks

What kind of mood are you in?

Most Christmas songs are joyful, but if you want to bring something more unexpected, here are some other mood alternatives.
Bare your soul: “Silent Night”; The Eagles, “Please Come Home for Christmas”; Wham!, “Last Christmas”
Just dance: Jackson 5, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”; Stevie Wonder, “What Christmas Means to Me”; Brenda Lee, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”
Swagger: The Kinks, “Father Christmas”; Snoop Dogg, “Doggy Dogg Christmas”; Dropkick Murphys, “The Season’s Upon Us”; Eartha Kitt, “Santa Baby”

Jessica Roy, L.A. Times Utility Journalism Team assistant editor
“Mele Kalikimaka,” “Santa Baby” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”
Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters’ rendition of “Mele Kalikimaka” has optimal crowd sing-along potential, uncomplicated lyrics and a runtime under three minutes. That’s the trifecta of a good karaoke song as far as I’m concerned. Plus, it’s not overtly religious, and the laid-back feel-good vibes make you think of tropical vacations instead of frightful winter weather. The boogie-woogie backup vocals and quirky syncopation from the lyrics give the whole thing a lovable kiss of kitsch. It’s also a male/female holiday duet that isn’t the slightly creepy “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

I also like karaoke songs with the potential for some dance moves. Standing onstage clinging to the mic with your eyes glued to the screen is not a fun experience for those watching you. Eartha Kitt’s version of “Santa Baby” has lots of potential for hip-swaying, finger-curling and other come-hither moves. Depending on your audience, you can play “Santa Baby” straight — an adult woman with some fairly straightforward if spendy requests from the big man — or like Eartha Kitt does it, where you can just about hear her gesturing coquettishly in Santa’s direction. Speaking of straight, this song is about 10 times funnier when a man sings it.

And lastly, at a peppy 2 minutes and 6 seconds, Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is a crowd-pleaser that will have you on and off the stage in a hurry, if that’s something you want. Brenda Lee’s contralto can be a little tough to match, but when it’s this short, it won’t hurt your voice to belt for a bit.

Matthew Ballinger, L.A. Times Utility Journalism Team editor
“Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me)”
Calling all Christmas hams: Shake your hips, curl your lip and take on that unmistakable Elvis affect to sing this 1957 rock ’n’ roll carol. Lyrically, this upbeat song about a singer missing his love at the holidays hits all the nostalgic notes — “fill my sock with candy,” “make these reindeer hurry” and “candles all aglow.” Shy singers will appreciate the runtime under 2 minutes, and your audience will appreciate having more than one opportunity to “ah-hubh-ah-hubh-ah-hubh-ah-hubh” with you at the end of the bridges.

Karen Garcia, L.A. Times Utility Journalism Team reporter
“Sleigh Ride”
In 1963, the Ronettes recorded a cover of “Sleigh Ride” for Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You,” an album of Christmas songs by various acts. This song has been covered by many talented artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Neil Diamond and, more recently, Gwen Stefani. Everyone who has sung this tune has made it their own. But I absolutely love this cover because to me it sounds like a musical group just having fun and harmonizing together. Why not grab your friends and do the same?

Pandora’s Picks

What’s your audience?

Sometimes you’re in the mood to sing a certain type of song. Other times, you’re gauging the mood of the room. Depending on what kind of holiday gathering you’re attending, you might want to consider:

Kid-friendly songs: “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Up on the Housetop,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Christmas Time Is Here,” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”

Religious songs: “Little Drummer Boy,” “O Holy Night,” “Silent Night,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “Joy to the World,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Angels We Have Heard on High”

Mischievous songs: Elmo & Patsy,Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”; Art Mooney, “Nuttin’ for Christmas”; Kelly Clarkson, “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)”

Jon Healey, L.A. Times Utility Journalism Team senior editor
“Do You Hear What I Hear?”
This song has been covered by a metric megaload of artists, so pick the one in your range. Bing Crosby sings it at the lower end of his baritone, and he brings it in at a brisk 2:45 — considerably faster than some of the more emotive versions out there (looking at you, Carrie Underwood). What makes this a great karaoke song is the call and response in each verse — e.g., you sing “Do you see what I see?” and all your friends respond, “Do you see what I see?” It also has a big finish, if that’s your thing.

Michelle Woo, L.A. Times West Coast Experiences Editor
“This Gift”
Sure to be a crowd-pleaser among millennials who couldn’t get enough of Nick Lachey and his frosted tips, this forgotten ’90s song recorded by 98 Degrees leaves us with a holiday mystery: What exactly is the gift? Sex? Eternal love? An engagement ring? Ah, who cares? The song has a catchy chorus and offers plenty of boy-band nostalgia.

Pandora’s Picks

Bonus suggestions

Most of the Christmas canon is made up of songs in the years during and immediately following World War II. It’s hard for newer Christmas songs to stand the test of time, but here are some to try:

New Christmas songs: Kelly Clarkson, “Underneath the Tree;” Ariana Grande, “Santa Tell Me;” Sia, “Snowman;” Josh Groban “Believe”

And last but not least, holidays for togetherness:

Duets to sing together: Rosemary and Betty Clooney, “Sisters from White Christmas;” Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters, “Mele Kalikimaka;” Bing Crosby & David Bowie, “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy;” Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan, “Baby It’s Cold Outside;” Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton, You Make It Feel Like Christmas

Ada Tseng, L.A. Times Utility Journalism Team assistant editor
“Last Christmas” and “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”
Heartbreak songs that are danceable make for the ultimate karaoke song. Everyone knows “Last Christmas” by Wham! so I can count on people to sing along. This is also a good reminder that if you prefer singing in the alto (lower female) range, the tenor (higher male) songs are your friends. You might not be able to hit the Mariah Carey high notes, but maybe you can hit the George Michael high notes.

Also, according to our experts in our go-to karaoke song guide, we should go back to what we listened to when we were young when picking a song. I hadn’t thought about “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” by *NSYNC in a long time, but, for sure, I know all the words! And it is a “wonderful feeling to feel the love in the room from the floor to the ceiling.” It’s also cheerful, earnest and — again, most important to me as someone who gets nervous if I have to belt something — not too high.

Happy holidays!

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