Music enthusiast FlourishAnyway introduces some fun competition into the holidays by ranking cover versions of popular Christmas songs.
The Best Time of Year
Each year when you start to hear this song of seasonal revelry you can be sure that Christmas is in full swing. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" has become as much a part of the holidays as gaudy Christmas sweaters, Amazon boxes, and regifted fruitcake.
This much-loved ditty about holiday merrymaking was originally written especially for the first Christmas album by well loved 1960s crooner Andy Williams. The tune describes many ways that Americans traditionally celebrate the holiday season, including:
- inviting family and friends to visit
- toasting marshmallows over a fire
- Christmas carolling in the snow and
- stealing a romantic kiss under the mistletoe.
Additionally, it mentions the Victorian-era tradition of telling ghost stories, something which is no longer done at Christmastime.
Although the studio chose another song from his holiday album as the promotional single (i.e., his cover of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas"), "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" became a #1 single. Further boosting its popularity, the pop and easy listening singer performed the song on his one-hour television variety show, The Andy Williams Show. The tune subsequently appeared on each of Williams' eight Christmas albums, many of which were best-sellers, and it has become an enduring holiday standard.
In the years since, many popular artists have sought to cover this Christmas original while adding their own twists. Entertainers that follow have performed the song as a duet, with and without background singers, and with high or low enthusiasm and energy. Alternative genres have included rock and country. Artists have improvised the lyrics, they've sped the tempo way up or slowed it down, and some have struggled with how to begin or end this song. Find your favorite version below as we look at who sang it best.
"Who Sang It Best?": Here's How It Works
With many artists singing the same Christmas tunes, the sleigh has become overloaded. Let's rank them and cross some off the list.
In the "Who Sang It Best?" series, we start with the original version of popular songs that have been covered multiple times. Then we present a set of contenders, artists who have released cover versions in any genre. Some cover versions honor the original artist's style while others are reinterpretations.
Since the original song version is typically considered "the standard," we don't include it in our overall rankings. Instead, we display it first for comparison, with up to 14 contenders presented next in ranked order. Vote on your preferences:
- Do you prefer the original song or a cover version?
- Which of the cover versions do you prefer?
"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Andy Williams (1963)
Andy Williams became known as "Mr. Christmas" due largely to his holiday tv specials, eight Christmas albums, and the popularity of this original song. His version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" remains a consistent Christmas favorite, as indicated by its steady appearance on the Top 10 of Billboard's Holiday 100, a ranked list of songs based on the number of downloads, streaming, and radio station airplay. Six decades after it was released this tune is still going strong.
The song begins with a jubilant explosion of band music. Williams is totally trippin' on joy, freakin' on festivities of the season. His voice is high spirited and cheerfully reflective of the celebratory nature of Christmas. Although there is the ridiculously campy "ding dong, ding dong" of background singers, Williams maintains a refined, dignified enough air about him.
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Mr. Christmas sets the bar high in this classic version of the song that is hard to beat, concluding with a finale that is a hum-dinger. While his career spanned 70 years and Williams is known for "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," is it possible that another artist could sing it better? Listen to the covers and decide for yourself.
1. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Brett Eldredge (2016)
Country crooner Brett Eldredge does Christmas right with this suave, smart, and energetic rendition without completely overdoing it. And whoo-ee, I admit that it doesn't hurt that he's a bit of eye candy.
A fantastic buildup in the song's intro leads right into this confident, jovial version, delivered in the style of Andy Williams. It's a festive update on the classic and offers an unfussy ending. Eldredge is absolutely the new Mr. Christmas, which happens to also be the name of his 2021 holiday album.
2. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Johnny Mathis (1986)
Johnny Mathis is keen on Christmas in this giddy number as he starts off strong then soars even higher. He doesn't moderate his voice a lot to add many low notes, even when they would be appropriate. Additionally, he charmingly holds his notes a good long "tiiiiiiime." The back up singers add to the julilation.
Mathis is a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award honoree and has been inducted into the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame for composers. Additionally, he has been admitted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for three hit recordings, "It's Not for Me to Say" (1957), "Misty" (1959), and "Chances Are" (1957). Mathis has recorded six Christmas albums.
3. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Kylie Minogue (2015)
This version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" kicks off with grand Hollywood-like fanfare providing a buildup of anticipation before Kylie Minogue starts in. Her voice is sticky sweet like homemade Christmas candy as she adds believable gaiety to this song. The tempo is perfectly quick-paced, backup singers support her well, and the Australian singer and actress remains appropriately enthusiastic and festive right 'til the very strong ending.
4. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Lea Michele (2019)
Lea Michele has absolutely no trouble putting on the happy. She's mainlining merriment here, perhaps overdosing. The gal couldn't be more euphoric. The former child Broadway actress turned Glee tv star is enthusiastic and crisp in her enunciation.
She opens her voice up like the stage actress she was born to be, singing for a crowd. Her male backup singers make a brief showing and were a nice balance, but we could have used more from them. (Learn how to share the stage, my friend.) The energetic finale was superb, like firecrackers at the end of a celebration.
5. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Amy Grant (2007)
This version begins softly and formally with the magic of orchestra music. Consistent with her Christian contemporary pop style, neither Amy Grant's angelic vocals nor the music itself are over-the-top. Instead, they are controlled and understated in their revelry. As a result of such low-key enthusiasm, Grant barely convinces her audience regarding the wonders of Christmastime. However, if you're listening to this song you're probably already sold on the glory of the season.
The singer attended my alma mater, Vanderbilt University, where each year she hosts groups of students on her farm outside of Nashville. Both a Grammy Award-winning artist and the recipient of Dove Awards for gospel music, Grant has been inducted into two halls of fame: the Christian Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She is married to country musician Vince Gill.
6. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by BarlowGirl (2008)
BarlowGirl was an all-female Christian rock band that disbanded in 2012. Here they provide a more traditional Christmas rendition that is uplifting and fun.
The middle sister, Alyssa. is the lead singer in this song who does much of the vocal heavy lifting, as evidenced by her motivational yelping, "hey," and her demanding, "come on." The ending has me envisioning her collapsing on the floor in exhaustion. While that's not very merry or wonderful it does reflect how a lot of people actually feel as they struggle to finish their holiday shopping.
7. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Garth Brooks (1999)
If you're a country fan, you may be partial to this version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" simply because it's offered up by country megastar Garth Brooks. But let's be honest. It's not the cowboy's best work. Brooks yell-sings, doesn't carry a tune well here, and there is a weird straining uptick in his voice instead of actually rendering the high notes.
Furthermore, his enunciation is off in places (e.g., "cheer" sounds like "chair"), he wants to roast marshmallows rather than toast them, and the Grammy Award-winning singer swaps out the word "gay" in favor of "great" (gay doesn't rub off, don't worry). The song is also missing the final three lines from the Andy Williams original: "Yes, the most wonderful time / Oh, the most wonderful time / Of the year." Overall, this Christmas effort is a little too awkward to be believably joyful and genuinely felt. This version was released rght before he retired the first time.
8. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Peabo Bryson (1997)
Like a love song from the 1980s, this soft, sensuous version demonstrates that this Christmas ditty doesn't have to be boisterous and rollicking to be pleasing. Peabo Bryson is a Grammy Award-winning R&B artist known for his ballads, including these Top 40 Billboard hits:
- "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love" (with Roberta Flack) (1983)
- "If Ever You're in My Arms Again" (1984)
- "Beauty and the Beast" (with Celine Dion) (1991)
Although occasionally he emits unusual inflections, this singer's vocals are soothing and nuanced in complexity. At the end, however, Bryson seems unsure how to conclude the performance. As a result, the song just peters out as every last creative flourish in his vocals are expended without any focused effect.
9. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Mandy Moore (2020)
Singer Mandy Moore seems to be the one who needs to be persuaded that the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. In this unremarkable rendition with a mid-tempo beat, Moore is a little low-key and not exactly brimming over with requisite perkiness. Lean into the song, girl. It's understandable as to why she is a bit bummed, however, as she recorded the holiday favorite during the gloomy 2020 pandemic days.
The actress and singer had one song that broke the Top 40 of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, "I Wanna Be with You" (2000), although her 1999 song, "Candy" almost cracked the Top 40. Technically, that makes Moore a one-hit-wonder.
10. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Pentatonix (2014)
There's w-a-a-y too much going on here vocally in this a capella version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." No offense, but the incessant echo singing and badap badap of the female background singer, Kirstin Maldonado, competes for the spotlight against the droning nasal male vocals of Avi Kaplan. He provides low inflection, as if he forgets how wonderful this time is supposed to be.
Then at the song's midpoint, there is an odd musical intercession which is essentially an opportunity for Maldonado to perform a solo "ba da bap" for a moment in the spotlight — how totally unnecessary. While there are tunes that Pentatonix does perform well, this offering is sheer cheese.
Pentatonix rose to fame in 2011 when their five-person group won the third season of NBC's a capella reality singing competiton, "The Sing-Off." The group has gone on to launch a successful YouTube channel and has won multiple Grammy Awards.
11. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Stevie Mackey, Jennifer Lopez & THE ELEVEN (2020)
If only. With so much talent in the room, this could have been really solid with something called practice. These artists simply needed to coordinate better regarding who was going to sing what part. If only they had done a few run-throughs they could have been golden, but no.
Stevie Mackey is a vocal coach to stars like Selena Gomez, Lenny Kravitz, Coldplay, and J Lo. You'd think he wouldn't be averse to practice. But alas, the folks on this version are important people who are short on time. It's far easier to fly by the seat of one's pants and fill the space up in the name of having fun, using improvisational fluff such as, "I just love Christmas, Stevie, don't you?" Artists need to understand that when they make such dumb exhortations during recordings, then those remarks actually become part of the song. The audience is stuck hearing the quips along with the lyrics forevermore.
As a ruse, Steve Mackey also ad libs in the opening of the song that Jennifer Lopez is unprepared:
I'm expecting a friend
She's always a little late, hmm
But trust me, it's worth it.
Oh, wait Is that her?
Here she is, ha ha
Neither clever or cute, this is a mighty poor substitute for an instrumental introduction to the song. Despite some bad inflections in the name of artsiness, these two harmonize fairly well and do seem to have good chemistry.
JLo rose to musical fame in 1999 with a string of pop and R&B singles. Back in the day, Jenny from the Block had previously been a backup dancer for Janet Jackson and had spent several years as an actress on In Living Color as well as other gigs. She is considered a triple threat in the entertainment industry.
12. "Wonderful Time" by Kelly Rowland & NOVA WAV (2021)
If you don't have anxiety before you listen to this song, then you will afterwards. This cover rendition is so fast in tempo that it doesn't at all feel like the original tune, "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year." Look, they even renamed it.
The frenetic energy of last-minute Christmas festivities is captured by former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland as well as NOVA WAV, a Grammy Award-winning record production and songwriting duo. Their über-creative rendition offers lovely vocal intonations as well as alterations to the lyrics. Some of these modifications (e.g., "scary ghost stories" becomes "good love stories") are long-needed updates. Seriously, who tells ghost stories at Christmastime these days?
The last stanza also varies from the original, mainly focusing around the words "wonderful" and "time." However, the ad libbing in the intro (e.g., "Never gon' make that back") was confusing garbage that detracted from the real content of song. It has no business in the actual recording.
This version ends abruptly, like a car slamming on brakes and about as satisfying. "Wonderful Time" was released in support of the Lifetime television movie, Merry Liddle Christmas Baby (2021).
13. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by FirsttoEleven (2019)
Hold on to your spiced eggnog because this is a version like no other. Here is an unconventional interpretation of the Christmas favorite, and it's not for the traditional or faint of heart. FirsttoEleven is a rock band out of Erie, Pennsylvania, that mostly performs covers of existing songs. Their experimental take on "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the the Year" initially sounds like a depressed, oppressed teen with its sulky intro.
But then in the middle of the song the energy shifts noticeably. The heavy drumming and guitar riffs intensify, and lead singer Audra Miller's voice transitions from surly to kinda wonderful in its own right, especially as she brushes those high notes in the crescendo of the song.
14. "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Harry Connick Jr. (2008)
Oh, yuck. This jazz version sounds like Harry Connick Jr. is the last one left in the bar at closing time. He doesn't hit high notes well, wants to roast marshmallows rather than toast them, and changes the lyrics in a couple of places. For example: Oh, we're gonna have parties, then we're gonna host them as well as
Oh, there'll be kissing 'neath the mistletoe
And hearts are gonna glow
When you're with the one you love.
His voice jumps all over the place like a pesky fly that cannot be swatted, and sadly, the best part of this song is the instrumental interlude. While the singer and actor has snagged both Grammys and Emmys, he's way over his skis in this piece of music. Put it on when your party guests are overstaying their welcome and watch them evacuate.
© 2021 FlourishAnyway