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December 19, 2012

Slate's definitive Christmas playlist

(Continued)

According to Slate writer Katie Kilkenny, Michael Bublé's 2011 "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is definitive because of its classic interpretation with only a slight, jazzy update. "The bass guitar, piano and cymbal in the back of the song adds a nice mellow accompaniment to Bublé's always-reliable vocals," she says, "recalling old-fashioned live singers at holiday parties."

And forget Dean Martin's popular turn with "Baby, It's Cold Outside" — Slate writer Jennifer Lai prefers the "flirtatiousness and coquettishness" of Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting's 1949 duet. "The singers are obviously teasing each other and having fun with singing," she says, "while Martin's version makes him sound like he's had quite a few too many to drink (and isn't really into his female companion)."

There are plenty of Christmas recordings that take on a hipper vibe than originally intended, and sometimes, we're all the better for them. The Jackson 5's "Up on the Housetop" turns the benign children's song into a funky romp with blaring horns, a list of the toys that each boy desires (Tito wants a new guitar with a guarantee: "That it won't play out of key!"), and an energetic breakdown referencing "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

Peggy Lee's "Winter Wonderland" takes a swinging, jazzy turn with her signature sultry interpretation that enhances the typically sweet and straightforward vocalization other artists prefer.

Meanwhile, there are those songs that we wouldn't consider classic in their own right, except for one particular cover that reimagines and completely elevates the music. The Ronettes' rendition of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" — a usually grating song — benefits from the girl group's distinctive, playful phrasing and the uptempo "wall of sound" musical accompaniment.

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