Elf, the story of a human named Buddy who, after being raised by Santa’s elves, learns the secret of his birth and makes a pilgrimage to New York to meet his biological father, took the box office by storm in 2003, generating over $220 million against a budget of $33 million and winning positive reviews from movie critics everywhere. Since then, it’s inspired a Broadway musical, been turned into an animated TV special, and become compulsory viewing for millions of households every Christmas. Its soundtrack, which features a festive selection of classic holiday treats like Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland, has proved just as successful, selling over half a million copies in the US alone to become one of the best-selling Christmas-themed soundtracks of all time. Here’s how we rank all the songs from the Elf soundtrack in order of greatness.
12. Christmas Island – Leon Redbone
Leon Redbone made several contributions to Elf, voicing the character of Leon the Snowman, teaming up with Zooey Deschanel for Baby, It’s Cold Outside, and delivering a lovely performance of this festive treat from his 1987 album, Christmas Island.
11. Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt and the Henri René Orchestra
In 2019, Variety readers voted Santa Baby one of the most annoying Christmas songs of all time. But for every person who hates it, there are another 100 who love it. Since Eartha Kitt and the Henri René Orchestra first recorded it in 1953, it’s become one of the most widely performed Christmas songs of all time, with Madonna, Taylor Swift, and Michael Buble all putting their distinctive spin on the classic.
10. Sleigh Ride/Santa Claus’ Party – Ferrante and Teicher (feat. Les Baxter)
Anyone who’s seen Elf will remember the scene where Buddy gets a little too excited for his own good when the manager at Grimbles announces that Santa is coming to the store – not to mention this festive jingle from Ferrante and Teicher that’s playing in the background when it does.
9. Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel
Baby, It’s Cold Outside has inspired countless wonderful duets since Frank Loesser wrote it in 1944, including Bing Crosby and James Stewart, Doris Day and Bob Hope, and Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan. On the Elf soundtrack, we get to hear Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel add their magic to the classic.
8. Nothing from Nothing – Billy Preston
There might not be anything particular Christmassy about this 1974 hit from Billy Preston, but the upbeat rhythm and good-time vibes will still make you want to rock around the Christmas tree.
7. The Nutcracker Suite – Brian Setzer
The Nutcracker is one of Tchaikovsky’s best-known and most beloved compositions. Since the 1960s, it’s become a seasonal standard with ballet companies, not to mention an almost mandatory part of every festive film. Brian Setzer’s uplifting boogie-woogie version might not be traditional, but it’s still a festive triumph.
6. Pennies from Heaven – Louis Prima
When Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke composed Pennies from Heaven in 1936, they probably had no idea it would become such a classic. Over the next few decades, scores of artists put their spin on it, including Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Dinah Washington, Lester Young, Dean Martin, and Billie Holiday. The most famous rendition was recorded by Bing Crosby and the Georgie Stoll Orchestra, whose version held onto the top spot for a full 10 weeks in 1936 and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Louis Prima’s modern-day interpretation introduced its charms to a new generation in 2003 when it was included on the Elf soundtrack.
5. Sleigh Ride – Ella Fitzgerald and the Frank De Vol Orchestra
Strangely enough for such a festive song, Sleigh Ride was originally conceived by composer Leroy Anderson in the middle of one of the most intense heatwaves of the ’40s. Once Mitchel Parish added lyrics in 1950, dozens of artists began recording it, and it now ranks as one of the most performed songs of all time. The Ronettes’ Phil Spector-produced version from 1963 ranks as the best known, having appeared on Billboard’s Top Ten U.S. Holiday 100 chart every year since its release. Despite the enduring popularity of the Ronettes’ version, it was Ella Fitzgerald’s 1960 cover from the album Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas that made it to the Elf soundtrack.
4. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Lena Horne
Heatwaves seem to be fertile fodder for Christmas songs – just one year before the heatwave of 1946 inspired Leroy Anderson to write Sleigh Ride, the sweltering heat of the summer of 1945 was making Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne fantasize about snow, snow, and more snow. Since Vaughn Monroe first took it into the charts in 1945, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! has been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Jessica Simpson. It’s Lena Horne’s lovely version that can be heard on the Elf soundtrack.
3. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town – Eddy Arnold
Over 200 artists have recorded Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, including Bing Crosby, Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, The Temptations, Michael Bublé, and The Jackson 5. On the Elf soundtrack, we get to hear country singer Eddy Arnold’s take on the classic Christmas favorite.
2. Winter Wonderland – Ray Charles
1. Jingle Bells – Jim Reeves
It’s thought that Jingle Bells was originally written as either a drinking song or a Thanksgiving song, but over the years, it’s been co-opted by Christmas and now ranks as one of the most well-known and popular festive songs in the world. It’s almost impossible to find a Christmas album that doesn’t include a version, with Jim Reeves’ lovely take making the grade for the Elf soundtrack.