A recent compilation article in Vulture tracked “The Best Original Christmas Songs Since ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You'”  – an expansive 50-song list of which I knew…fewer than 5. Despite considering myself a connoisseur of hip Christmas music, apparently my focus runs a bit old-fashioned; too much towards Elvis, Sinatra, the Beach Boys, and Vince Guaraldi, and not enough on more recent decades. The introduction to the piece made the point that despite the titular Mariah Carey masterpiece seeming like a modern classic – I’m an unapologetic huge fan, by the way, as covered here a previous Christmastime – it has now somehow been out for 28 years! Still, notwithstanding their comprehensive and contemporary list, Vulture concluded that “Only one song has the commercial appeal and ear worm potential to compete against the self-proclaimed Queen of Christmas herself.” I was, in fact, familiar with that one, and it gets my enthusiastic vote too.

Looking for a respite, perhaps, from my well-worn holiday season staples by the likes of Brian Setzer, B.B. King, Aaron Neville, Oscar Peterson, and Los Straitjackets (just the tip of the iceberg, I assure you), a few Decembers ago my daughter, Mary, introduced our household to the 2013 album Wrapped In Red by the original American Idol winner – then a 20-year-old cocktail waitress from Ft. Worth, Texas, and now a blockbuster singer, songwriter and omnipresent television personality – one Kelly Clarkson. Its irresistible standout track, ‘Underneath The Tree,’ presently has about half a billion streams on Spotify – yes, that’s with a “b”. Apparently I was a little late to this Christmas party.

In sum, I’d say that ‘Underneath The Tree’ is quite pleasingly like ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ in three principal ways:

  • Kitchen-sink arrangement reminiscent of Phil Spector’s famed “Wall of Sound” (and in particular, his 1963 Holiday classic, A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector)
  • Totally modern pop production sensibilities
  • An absolutely killer vocal performance that jumps octaves and out of your speakers

So, neo-retro-belting. That’s it, there’s your winning formula, Santa’s musical “nice” list. Though after all these Christmases passed, clearly it’s something more easily documented than executed.

In crowning their new Christmas song conqueror – the post-Mariah champ – Vulture explained it thusly: “’Underneath the Tree’ has all the right elements: chiming sleigh bells, sound-bolstering backup singers, lyrics that outline (her) loneliness. It doesn’t reinvent the Christmas-song template, but its willingness to revel in tradition while showcasing modern pop’s sparkle is a big part of why it’s the most worthy heir to ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You.’”

Merry Christmas, Vulture. The (Christmas) queen is dead, long live the queen!

…actually, the Christmas music season goes on forever; there’s still more than enough room for them both.