Not all holiday music is created equal.
And that certainly rings true for Christmas songs brought forth to the world by Long Island artists over the last three decades. Suffolk and Nassau’s best have produced holiday tunes with widely varied levels of success — some sinking to obscurity, others enjoying mild appeal, and one placing itself among the most lucrative singles of all time.
Greater Long Island has compiled a list of 10 of the best — and perhaps worst.
Some of these artists have had multiple holiday hits, but we’ve listed one track per singer. Have a look and a listen and let us know who and what we need to include next year.
Pat Benatar (Lindenhurst)
‘Christmas in America’
Proceeds from this 2001 charity single went toward helping children affected by the tragic events of Sept. 11. Benatar performed “Christmas in America” with her longtime bandmate and husband Neil Giraldo. Despite its pretty melody and poignant refrain at the time — “Christmas in America, God bless the USA” — the song never really gained much traction during the holiday season. Benatar, 69, and Giraldo were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this month. Fun fact: Benatar played Queen Guinevere in Lindenhurst High School’s production of “Camelot.”
John Tesh (Garden City)
‘Carol of the Bells’
Pretty much anything Garden City High School graduate John Tesh touches in his career turns to gold. An award-winning journalist and longtime host of TV’s “Entertainment Tonight,” Tesh is a highly accomplished pianist, pop music composer and uber popular radio host who has earned six Emmy Awards and a pair of Grammy nominations and sold more than eight million records.
Tesh, 70, performed “Carol of the Bells” during his “Christmas in Positano” PBS special recorded in the cliffside village of Positano on southern Italy’s Amalfi Coast. The breathtaking scenery pairs perfectly with the eloquent sounds of Tesh on the piano and his accompanying band members.
Alexa Ray Joel (Sag Harbor)
The daughter of Long Island singing and songwriting legend Billy Joel and model Christie Brinkley, Alexa Ray Joel has performed often with her dad over the years. A graduate of the Ross School in East Hampton, Alexa, now 36, released an EP “Sketches” in 2006 and subsequently put out several singles with independent record labels.
Below she taps into her sultry side with a televised rendition of “Santa Baby.”
Dee Snider (Freeport, Baldwin and East Setauket)
‘The Magic of Christmas Day’
“Do not tell her Satan wrote a Christmas song!” That’s what Baldwin High School grad Dee Snider reportedly told his sound engineer when he learned that Celine Dion was including his song, “The Magic of Christmas Day,” on her 1998 Christmas album. It became a holiday music classic — and years passed before Dion realized the piece was written by the Twisted Sister lead man. The heavy metal icon (who with his wife raised a family in East Setauket) judged that it was way out of his vocal range, so he handed it off to Dion’s team. But in November of 2020, he teamed up with Lzzy Hale to record a pandemic era version. We think it rocks. We also liked the version with Dion singing. So, below we’ve included both.
Ashanti (Glen Cove)
A year after crashing the pop music scene singing on Fat Joe’s “What’s Luv?” and Ja Rule’s “Always on Time,” Glen Cove native Ashanti, 42, released the album “Ashanti’s Christmas” in November 2003. Later, in 2013, she dropped “A Wonderful Christmas with Ashanti,” an EP featuring five upbeat holiday tracks. A year later, it was reissued as a full-length album, with three additional singles.
Below is the Grammy Award winner’s energized and cheerful version of “Sleigh Ride.”
LL Cool J (Bay Shore)
‘Rock the Bells’
Is ‘Rock the Bells’ a reach for holiday music? Nah, we don’t think so. Born in Bay Shore and representing Queens, 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Def Jam superstar LL Cool J is often credited with coming up with the acronym G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). In 2017, Cool J (born James Todd Smith) became the first rapper to receive Kennedy Center Honors.
Check him out below, performing a “Rock the Bells” duet with Eminem.
Rosie O’Donnell (Commack)
‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ with Elmo
Teaming up with superstars the likes of Cher, Celine Dion, Billy Joel, Gloria Estefan and Elton John, Rosie O’Donnell released “A Rosie Christmas” in 1999. The 14-song album reached No. 1 on Billboard’s holiday album chart.
Below, the 1980 Commack High School graduate performs “Do You Hear What I Hear” with Elmo on the Today Show in 1996. (Fun fact: O’Donnell was homecoming queen, prom queen, class president and “Class Clown” in high school.)
Billy Joel (Hicksville and Sag Harbor)
‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ with Johnny Mathis
You can scour YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify and the rest for Billy Joel doing Christmas, but you probably won’t hear anything better from the “Piano Man” than when his singular voice is harmonized with the soulful tenor of Johnny Mathis for “The Christmas Song” (AKA “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”)
Debbie Gibson (Merrick)
Long removed from her stretch as a teen pop star, Debbie Gibson is enjoying an incredible career renaissance. The Merrick native’s new “Winterlicious” holiday music album — which dropped this fall — piggy backs off the success of last year’s release “The Body Remembers,” her first studio album full of original songs since “M.Y.O.B.” in 2000. Gibson, 52, kicks off her “Winterlicious — An Evening of Holiday and Hits” tour Wednesday night in Red Bank, New Jersey. The second show is Thursday night at The Paramount in Huntington. In June, the Calhoun High School alumna played to a packed house at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, as part of “The Body Remembers” tour.
“Christmas Star” is the first video released from her holiday album. It doesn’t disappoint.
Mariah Carey (Huntington)
‘All I Want for Christmas’
Ok, so Mariah Carey’s petition to trademark herself as the official “Queen of Christmas” was denied this month by the Trial Trademark and Appeal Board. Nonetheless, the 1987 Harborfields High School graduate remains our QOC. When Thanksgiving rolls around and you first hear “All I Want for Christmas is You” — probably on WALK 97.5 — it probably doesn’t stop jingling in your brain until deep into January. Last year, the song became the first holiday tune to be certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for selling 10 million units.
Treat yourself, and listen and watch below. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Santa Cool JEmbed from Getty Images
Top photo: Singer/actress Ashanti poses with her new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame during a dedication ceremony in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)