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My Least Favorite Christmas Songs

December 13, 2012

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Or so we’ve heard. Our perception of Christmas involves sitting by the fire, St. Nicholas coming down the chimney to deliver gifts, and a general aura of warmth and happiness pervading throughout our lives. The reality, on the other hand, usually involves going out in the bitter cold (or, if you live in the south, the bitter 60 degree weather) to Wal-Mart to pick up next year’s garage sale fodder for some ungrateful, entitled brats, and in general feeling that the experience was not unlike what Dante saw in the lower circles. “Joy  To The World,” the old song says, but if you get joy out of participating in the combination of herd/hive mentality, idol worship, and creative masochism that is American Christmas Shopping, you probably need therapy. After hours of wandering through vast shopping centers filled with angry people looking for things they don’t need to give to people they don’t like at prices they can’t afford, many of us feel a great temptation to flee back to the haven of Home-Sweet-Home and drink some eggnog and Southern Comfort. Sometimes we skip the eggnog.

To be fair, there have been many good things that Christmas brings to us. Copious amounts of sugary food are one. A renewed enthusiasm for consumer capitalism is another. Without the video games that I received in Christmases Past, I would have no doubt spent my childhood in the sun, exposed to dangerous ultraviolet radiation. Christmas can be a time for real pleasures: food, fellowship, caroling, The Jetsons Christmas Carol. We might even remember the origin of the Christmas story, a story about a Jewish boy who changed the world, buried as it is underneath the wrapping paper of modern materialism.

However, such heartwarming fare is not the dish that I will be serving at this particular Christmas meal. What you will find here is the thin gruel of Ebenezer Scrooge rather than the thick, greasy turkey of that wastrel Bob Cratchit, who overused fossil fuels, increased overpopulation and probably voted Republican–that’s a story for a different day. This post is about Christmas horror, and not just the horror of broken toys, spoiled fruitcakes, and Mario Lopez TV Specials on ABC Family. This post is about that horror of horrors–terrible Christmas songs.

Christmas has given us some good music. There is Sting’s If On a Winter’s Night, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, and whatever Sufjan Stevens has cooked up at the moment. But it is clear to all who have a firm grasp on reality (i.e. share my opinion) that the bad far outweighs the good. The “Sappy Claus” genre of Christmas music has given us some of the worst popular music this side of “The Good Ship Lollipop.” (And compared to some of these on the list, “The Good Ship Lollipop” is an instant classic.) I have taken it upon myself to catalogue these horrors so that no one else would.  This list of the Best of the Worst that you are about to read is not organized in any particular way, so that you, the reader, will be intellectually trapped in a dark maze. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here, and Merry Christmas Politically Correct DoublePlusGood Winter Festival.

  1. “Last Christmas,” originally by Wham. What is noteworthy about this song is not the low quality of the original version (Did you think that any good Christmas music could come out of the 1980s?) The thing that gives this song its place on the list is its amazing ability to entice bad artists to do terrible cover versions. Covering this song is a rite of passage for any teenage girl pop star, and on Spotify I found versions by Ashley Tisdale, the cast of Glee, Britt Nicole and Hawk Nelson (it is a proven fact that the members of Hawk Nelson are all teenage girls.) Taylor Swift, who has made a career out of fooling people into thinking that she is talented, also has a version out. Interestingly enough, there is one good version of this song–a Jimmy Eat World cover from the Deluxe Edition of Bleed American.
  2. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen. Not a year goes by that Bruce doesn’t ask if Santa is going to bring Clarence a new saxophone, and not a year goes by that every sane person hopes that Santa does nothing of the kind. Springsteen takes almost everything bad about his music and crams it into one song, though, to his credit, he doesn’t include a verse about the elves becoming unionized and going on strike to protest wage inequality. Not sure why the Boss would play a song that memorializes a person who essentially symbolizes capitalism. “Santa Claus Can’t Come This Year Because The Revolution Finally Hit The North Pole” has a nice ring to it.
  3. “Our Love Is Like a Holiday” by Michael Bolton. From Mannheim Steamroller to Kenny G, there are far too many awful musicians whose sole livelihood seems to be making bad Christmas songs. Michael Bolton is the worst offender of them all. Unable to make a career out of his signature style, which is something like a combination of Frank Sinatra and Scott Stapp, Bolton has made a career out of doing Christmas songs in his signature style. I picked this song because it was the first Michael Bolton Christmas song I found on Spotify, but any one of his songs would have done the job. This one has his vocals matched with an equally cheesy R&B backing track. The oddly emotionless gospel choir background singers–Church of the Non-Functional Heart?–only add to the awkward feeling that only listening Michael Bolton can give you. The only redeeming feature to this song is that it would make a killer karaoke song, provided all or most of the participants are smashed. (I think. I’ve never actually been smashed [or sozzled, stoned, schwasted, etc.], so all of this is merely conjecture.)
  4. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by U2. U2 has done some of the greatest rock and roll music of our time. Then there’s this. At best, Bono’s voice soars. At worst, its a nasally, uncontrolled wine, like listening to someone who simultaneously has a cold and a hangover. U2’s strength is atmospheric ballads, which this song is not. The jangly feel suits the band ill, the Edge seems to think that everything he does will sound cool if it has a lot of reverb, and the entire band feels lifeless. Since the song has no social justice themes, there is a strong chance that it wasn’t actually recorded by U2, and that what we hear is a performance by an uninspired cover band with a tipsy lead singer and a drummer strung out on Benadryl. I hope so.
  5. “Step Into Christmas” by Elton John. If you were trying to convince your friends that Elton John was one of the great songwriters of our time, a good idea would be to do everything in your power to prevent them from hearing this song. The song itself is an immanently forgettable track in the Elton John canon (Did the guy who wrote “Rocket Man” really sing this?). The overexposure that Christmas radio has given this little piece of 70s nostalgia has earned it a place on the list. And what is with that weird electronic sound  in the chorus? Was someone playing Pac-Man in the studio?
  6. “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney. Poor Paul McCartney. After being in one of the best bands of the 60s, he went on to do this. The electronic noise in “Step Into Christmas,” egregious as it is, has nothing on the synthesizer abuse in this song. It sounds like the kind of thing you would record in your garage while you were messing around with your really cool new keyboard. As a rarity in the Paul McCartney catalogue, it would have been mildly interesting. As a radio single on heavy rotation every year, it is grating. Along with its cheesy synths and emotionless vocals, it features one of the most uninspired guitar solos ever to be put on tape.
  7. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the Harlem Community Choir. In the wish-fulfillment illusion hall-of-fame, there is a statue called Yoko Ono Thinks She Can Sing. It is a very postmodern statue, so it doesn’t look anything like Yoko Ono–in fact, it looks like a printer with blue paint poured on it. The point still stands. John Lennon was a great artist, which naturally meant that he made some truly horrendous creative decisions. Ono’s voice soars over the Harlem Community and into different keys entirely. Listen to the end to hear the halfhearted applause from the test audience–“Thank goodness this is over.”
  8. “Happy Holidays/The Holiday Season” by Andy Williams. I wanted to write a sentence comparing Andy Williams to a paltry imitation of Frank Sinatra, but that would be unfair. Andy Williams had a lot of talent. Evidently he conserved it, for none of it is used here. This song exemplifies the worst trends in pop Christmas music from the 1950s and 60s–it is silly, vapid, and absolutely pointless. In short, a picture of Christmas divorced from its original meaning.
  9. “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas” by Gayla Peevy. Just give the brat a hippo already–I’m sick of hearing this song. You probably don’t know who Gayla Peevy is. The truth is, I don’t either–her only noteworthy accomplishment, besides having a really creepy sounding name (would you really name your child Gayla Peevy?), is recording this song, which the Christmas stations in my hometown put on heavy rotation. Catholic theologians are still divided as to whether this is a venial or mortal sin. Several Presbyterians have retroactively excommunicated her on the basis of this song, despite no evidence that she was actually a Presbyterian to begin with. In reaction to this, a Methodist church named her as their bishop and “Spirit Aura Channeler in Chief.” Nate Wilson was unable to comment.  (P.S. I really wish I hadn’t strayed into this flight of fancy, but it was too bad to pass up, and besides, this song is so incredibly awful that I could not keep my mind on it for any amount of time without my eyes starting to bleed. Please forgive me.)
  10. “The Christmas Shoes” by Every Inspiring Artist Ever. Just Kidding. The original version is by Newsong, one of those Contemporary Christian Music groups that your parents listened to in the 90s and that they made you listen to until you realized that you could convince them that The Devil Wears Prada was a Christian band. It all went downhill, or uphill, from there, depending on your perspective. This song falls into the tradition of the sentimental, slightly melodramatic Christmas story song. (When I say falls into it, I mean it falls like a backyard athlete on America’s Home Videos falls into something. It’s not pretty.) The song manages to bring tears to the eye the first time. Seventy billion listens later, it is the funniest thing in the world. The absurdity of the situation is painfully apparent upon repeated inspection. I have a feeling that the kid was really trying to just get some free shoes. Does mom really wear Air Jordans?  (Addendum: Thank goodness that there have been no teenage girl pop covers of this song. Can you imagine Taylor Swift remaking this? Gag!)
  11. “Do They Know Its Christmastime” by Band Aid. There’s a principle that if you put several really good things together, there’s a high chance that they will turn out awful. For example, try mixing white chocolate, peanut butter, Tabasco Sauce and Goulda cheese. (Note: if my brother is reading this, this is not a serious suggestion.) Likewise, the idea of having Duran Duran, Bono, Sting, George Michael, and Phil Collins in studio recording a single for charity is great in theory. In practice, it turned out to be an atrocious mess. The entire recording process went south after the members of Status Quo showed up with cocaine. (This could be a metaphor for the history of 99% of rock bands.) In the midst of the wild partying (I wish I could come up with a snappy slogan involving substance abuse and African orphans, but I can’t), the song was somehow pieced together. The lyrics are hastily written and simply baffling (“Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you!” Really?). Worse, they produce a negative picture of Africa as a place where only bad things happen, a place that only rich, white, British rockstars can save. It’s essentially Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden,” minus Kipling’s poetic talent plus Christmas and the 80s.

What is your least favorite Christmas song? Comment and tell us.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Katy permalink
    December 13, 2012 10:29 pm

    Nick, have you heard Dave Matthews’ Christmas Song? It is old (’98?), but I heard it for the first time today and liked it up until he kept saying, “the blood of our children all around.” This left me confused about what he meant. Wish you’d give it a listen and let me know your thoughts…

  2. D. R. Leach permalink
    December 17, 2012 9:02 am

    Paul McCartney was in “one of the best bands of the 60’s.” Ya think?? (Not that I think song is a wonderful effort, mind you!)

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