Country music being embedded deep within the traditions of gospel and folk music means that the holiday season is a time wherein there is a considerable level of creative inspiration. Moreso than usual, the 2021 holiday season has found country music diving deep into the spheres of yuletide joy, Christian spirituality, and goodwill for all. Therefore, we at CMT have decided to honor a smattering of the significant level of current Christmas songs, plus also highlight them against a few other standout holiday moments in country music’s century-long history.
Gene Autry – “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer”
Aside from being a bonafide Christmas classic, singing cowboy era legend Gene Autry’s adaptation of Harry Brannon’s performance of songwriter Johnny Marks’ take on the 1939 story Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer published by the Montgomery Ward Company is one of country music’s best pop-crossover hit stories. The song was suggested as a “B” side that Autry was skeptical of recording, but his wife convinced him to use it. The crooner’s reminiscing about “the most famous reindeer of all” was recorded in June 1949, released as a children’s record by Columbia Records in September 1949, pushed as a pop record two months later, and was a pop No. 1 during Christmas 1949.
Trisha Yearwood – “It Wasn’t His Child”
“It Wasn’t His Child” was written and recorded by Skip Ewing in 1989, but five years later, via Trisha Yearwood’s Christmas album The Sweetest Gift, the heartfelt take on the birth of Christ achieved its greatest renown. A take on the reason for the season from the perspective of Joseph, and not Mary, is profound. Adding a layer of turmoil to it in the sense that the Immaculate Conception requires a level of humility from a man that many men in the same position — but not written about Biblically — adds a greater gravitas to the subject. Then, to wrap the song in the sense of understanding driven by the higher purpose of the holiday, and there’s really no other song quite like it.
Buck Owens – “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy”
If looking for a perfect song to play after hearing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” Buck Owens’ 1965-released holiday hit “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy” is ideal. Buck Owens adding a touch of his trademark humor to this idea is really fun, and it’s also — given the subject matter — an actually quite well-written song too, to boot.
Willie Nelson – “Pretty Paper”
Peak ’70s era “Red-Headed Stranger” is always a noteworthy listen. Thus, Willie Nelson covering a Roy Orbison Christmas tune from 15 years before “Pretty Paper”’s 1979 release is epic. The lonesome tale of a street vendor who sells pencils and paper during the Christmas season is poignant. However, the song gets profound as Nelson’s when it’s realized that he also knew a similar type of salesperson in his Texas childhood –however, in his case, the salesman had his legs amputated and moved with rollers. Of the many country Christmas songs, there are few that hit with the gravitas of this classic.
Martina McBride – “O Holy Night”
Martina McBride’s legacy as an iconic modern country vocalist is already well-set and a part of country music’s canon. However, that notion was still nearing that “unassailable” level of truth in 1998 when she released White Christmas, a holiday album. Supported by tracks such as McBride’s cover of the chorale favorite, the album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America by 1999, Platinum by 2003, and then double-Platinum in 2018. If looking for a version of a Christmas song that has the potential for remarkable longevity like Gene Autry’s previously mentioned “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” look no further.
Lainey Wilson – “Christmas Cookies”
“Things A Man Oughta Know” vocalist Lainey Wilson’s latest has been released just in time for the holiday season. “Christmas Cookies” is a rollicking, honky-tonking George Strait cover tune that reveals some of the deep tones and phrasings in the rising star’s delivery. Regarding the track, Wilson noted via a press release, “’Christmas Cookies’ by George Strait is just a song that my family and I absolutely love, and we turn it up during Christmastime, so it’s gonna be cool for them to hear me singing one of our favorite Christmas songs.”
Carly Pearce – “Mary Did You Know?”
Carly Pearce has finished off a year wherein she was named the CMA’s Female Artist of the Year, joined the Grand Ole Opry, and released critically acclaimed album 29, with the release of a take on the traditional Christmas song “Mary Did You Know?” The “Next Girl” singer’s Kentucky roots show in a manner most positive throughout the song, which has a rootsy, guitar-driven core. “Christmas came early y’all!” Pearce posted to social media. “This will forever be one of my favorite Christmas songs. I had so much fun creating my own version.”
Tim McGraw – “Christmas All Over The World”
Alongside the recent announcement that he’ll be starring in the upcoming Paramount+ Yellowstone prequel 1883, Tim McGraw has finally released his latest Christmas tune, “Christmas All Over The World.” Regarding the cover of New Edition’s 1985 Christmas hit, McGraw noted via Instagram, “There’s nothing that brings us all together quite like the holiday season. It’s almost that time of year… get into the spirit with ‘Christmas All Over The World,’ available now!!”
Mickey Guyton – “O Holy Night”
One year after premiering the song via Apple Music’s exclusive Carols Covered holiday series, Mickey Guyton has now released her cover of “O Holy Night” across all platforms. The rich, warm vocal stylings required to meet the standard of traditional versions of the choral anthem are well within Guyton’s wheelhouse. Guyton’s 2021 was bookended by holiday-themed appearances, too. She kicked off 2021 as a performer at the Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1, and recently was featured during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Carrie Underwood – Stretchy Pants
Just in time for second and third servings of holiday meals is Carrie Underwood’s latest, fanciful single “Stretchy Pants.” It’s available as well as a “Special Edition” release of her 2020 holiday album My Gift. Regarding the latter, it’s being released simultaneously with the kicking off of her concert series, Reflection: The Las Vegas Residency, which opens December 1 at the brand-new Resorts World Theatre on the Las Vegas strip.