String up the lights and strike up the chorus because holiday programming is here and not a moment too soon. An avocation more steeped in star-studded drop-ins than the Hollywood Walk of Fame is the great seasonal tradition of holiday specials from some of music's best and brightest with this year shaping up to be no exception. From Netflix newcomers to their golden age progenitors, cap off an arduous year with these greats from the very merry echelon of must-see television specials.
(Photo by Allan Tannenbaum, Chris Stein and Debbie Harry of Blondie, 1980)
CHRISTMAS AT PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE
Living rent-free in our minds is Christmas at Pee-wee's Playhouse, a nonsensical charmer for the whole family which features a feverish abundance of iconic guests appearances that will make even the most orthodox music-lover sing with childlike delight. It's Christmas Eve of 1988 and Pee-wee, with the help of his robot companion Conky 2000, has spent so long drafting an insurmountable Christmas list for Santa that he's completely forgotten to decorate, much less remember the true spirit of the season. That is, of course, until a convenient parade of famous friends and neighbors stop by to lend hands, talent and fruitcake. Among the television special's most memorable moments are candy-kitsch gags with Little Richard, Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Magic Johnson and Frankie Avalon with unforgettable performances by Charo, Dinah Shore and Grace Jones whose spirited rendition of "Little Drummer Boy" just may be the only version that truly matters.
THE SONNY & CHER SHOW: CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
Speaking of Cher and Christmas specials that rock, we'd be remiss not to shine a special light on the raven-haired provocateur whose variety show was the tour de force of music, comedy and unequivocally cool savoir faire we hope to emulate all the year through. True to form, each year of the program's collective six-year run in various iterations (The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Sonny & Cher Show, Cher) lent itself to yet another show-stopping holiday episode of equiluminance. As such, may this 1976 rock & roll Christmas medley from the divorcees' final special which features Bernadette Peters, Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keeshan, Chastity Bono and even a newborn Elijah Blue, the widely-publicized heir of Cher and fellow music icon Gregg Allman provide a mere jumping-off point for your own dive into the variety show exemplar.
MARIAH CAREY'S MAGICAL CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
In a year of scarcity, who better to aid Santa in a resurgence of holiday cheer than the unyieldingly delightful and preposterously extravagant Mariah Carey? Cementing the chanteuse's place in holly jolly history, Carey doubles down on her timely Apple TV special in sharing, "We can't just let the bleakness of the current place we are at in the world foil all of the extra fun things that we do every year." Touché. Spoiler alert: She does perform "All I Want For Christmas Is You."
JOHN DENVER AND THE MUPPETS: A CHRISTMAS TOGETHER
Among the most beloved entertainers of an era, John Denver joins forces with Jim Henson and his motley crew of perennial, plush pals for what may be the season's most ubiquitous television special. With all the feel-good familiarity and multi-generational charm of Denver classics like "Take Me Home, Country Roads", A Christmas Together is a tried-and-true classic, a jukebox masterclass in holly jolly culture and perennial artistry that is perhaps best exemplified through his heartwarming duet of "A Christmas Wish" with Kermit The Frog.
CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR STARRING THE RADIO CITY ROCKETTES
Since 1933, Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes has been a cherished holiday tradition for New York natives and visitors alike. In light of an unprecedented year, NBC gifts fans a front-row seat to the show that draws in millions each and every year with its at-home holiday special. Comprised of pre-recorded performances and interviews with noteworthy patrons like John Legend, Josh Groban and Whoopi Goldberg, the hour-long special can be streamed for free HERE.
A ROCK N' ROLL CHRISTMAS
"Enough of this naughty and nice stuff; who wants to rock and roll?" Hosted by SNL's Dennis Miller, this 1988 special raises weaves together classic holiday performance clips by David Bowie, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Pat Benatar, Marvin Gaye, Elton John, Little Richard, Robert Plant, Run DMC and Elvis Presley among others, taking music-lovers on a sleigh ride of epic proportions with plenty of laughs and legends along the way. Equal parts yule and cool, this unconventional classic is a blast from the past and total must-see.
THE CARPENTERS: A CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT
With all the grade-A camp and saccharine charm one would come expect of The Carpenters, A Christmas Portrait would be the duo fourth television special and second and final for Christmas. Largely comprised of songs from Spike Jones' 1956 "Xmas Spectacular" which Karen and Richard had listened to as children, the 1978 special and accompanying album behold similar reverence for us at this most tender time of year. Augmenting holiday tradition, this star-studded spectacular includes surprise appearances from megawatt cohorts like Gene Kelly, Jimmy and Kristy McNichol and Georgia Engell.
THE KACEY MUSGRAVES CHRISTMAS SHOW
Harkening to the evergreen specials from genre frontrunners like Porter Wagoner and Cher, the contemporary country-pop ingenue's Netflix special is a loving pastiche of the syndicated pasttime with its sprinkling of A-list drop-ins and high-shine romanticisms. Of laudable talent and lavish propensity for taste-making, Musgraves breathes refreshing, contemporaneous life into the classic holiday special format. Bonus points for original music, as well.
CHRISTMAS WITH THE MARTINS AND THE SINATRAS
Last but certainly not least, we're closing things out with the tried-and-true Christmas with The Martins and The Sinatra. A Rat Pack double-feature, black-tie crooners Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra are in jolly form as they enliven the season with enough soul-stirring sing-a-longs and laughter to go 'round in this 1967 special. Video quality aside, it's plain to see why these raconteurs' delightful program continues to be a cherished tradition for those looking to get into the wholesome holiday spirit. Beyond the dueling legends' endlessly compelling tongue-in-cheek rapport, other standout moments include Nancy Sinatra's rare reimagining of breakout hit "These Boots Are Made For Walking" with Christmas lyrics and a heartwarming ensemble performance of "Silent Night."