So I started out meaning to write an amusingly snarky post about bad Christmas songs.
Speaking as a critic, there are some things best left uncriticized. For example: few weeks ago, I had a steak at Denny's. Here's my critical take on that meal: Denny's should stop serving steak. All Denny's restaurants, everywhere, should remove steak from their menus. Just do their best to erase all trace of having ever offered steak to customers. Pretend it never happened. The chain should never serve another steak. It is useless to try to critique that steak; it just shouldn't have happened, is all, and should never happen again.
I feel somewhat similarly about Christmas songs. It's not that I hate them, it's that I hate being force-fed the same bad ones for an entire month in the service of mindless commerce. I feel like a mental patient being dosed with meds against my will. I know people (many of them people who don't like music, or rather any other kind of music) are sentimental about Christmas music. And far be it from me to tell them they're wrong; that would be obnoxious. Of course they're not wrong. Except if they like The Jingle Dogs or anything by the Chipmunks.
The world around, from time immemorial, musicians have been seduced into creating or recording Christmas songs. Usually with visions of sugarplum cha-ching dancing in their heads. For the most part, they would be well advised to just...not. Refrain. Forbear. Resist the impulse. Rest over the holidays; start writing songs again in February.
Christmas songs are an easy target. I was going to gas on about how fortunate it is that Burl Ives is already dead, because if he wasn't, I would be in jail for the rest of my life for his murder, having set aside my philosophical pacifism, bought a deer rifle, and hunted the fat bastard down. A bloody violent death is far too mild a punishment for "Holly Jolly Christmas," the #1 worst Christmas song ever.
Songs deliberately intended to be bad have a built-in excuse. But we still have to listen to the infernal things over and over again, for which there is no excuse. That explains the #1 worst Christmas song ever, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."
Wait...how can both those songs be the #1 worst songs ever, you might (reasonably) be asking? Simple. Because there are lots of lists. You could even make a list of all the number one worst evers from all the various lists.
The problem with writing a list of the worst Christmas songs, of course, is that then you have to research bad Christmas songs. Which means you have to listen to lots of really, really awful ones. And bad Christmas songs, as you must know if you live here (on Earth, I mean) can be really bad. A purgatory for the unhappy critic, who is then self-inflicting his own wounds.
That light bulb lit up over my head when I read a short appraisal of Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," which, along with its secular twin "Silly Little Love Songs" embodies everything about Paul McCartney that everyone, even his staunchest fans, hates, and which is, yes, another #1 worst Christmas song ever. Shane Ryan of Paste said, "I refuse to listen to check this out, but if my memory serves me correctly, the only lyrics in this song are, 'simply having a wonderful Christmastime,' and they’re repeated over and over for 16 minutes." I do not know much, but I know that no human being should ever be forced to listen to "Wonderful Christmastime" against his or her will, even as a research project. It's not an atrocity, but it's indecent. And if you're never heard "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas," by 11-year-old Gayla Peevey, you should extend that winning streak. I did not.
The principle became painfully (extremely painfully) obvious when I encountered—at #1 on a surprising number of lists—a song I'd never heard of before called "The Christmas Shoes" by a Christian group called Newsong. I warn you, do not Google that song and listen to it. It's so appallingly tasteless and stupid it will drain the blood from your head and leave your brain starved of nutrients. I actually listened to it. I did that to myself. Not smart.
So I decided not to write that article. Even though it would have allowed me to vent my spleen about "Frosty the Snowman," which makes "Happy Birthday" look musically sophisticated and which is capable of turning almost anyone permanently against the whole idea of snowmen by, oh, say, the 500th time they're tortured with it. It isn't anybody's #1 worst Christmas song, but excessive overexposure has made me hate it enthusiastically anyway.
So, mainly to be easy on myself, I've decided to create a list of good Christmas songs instead. Rather than trying to rank them—always a suspect enterprise, even more so than lists themselves, which are pointless enough (although I love them)—I thought I'd just put up one song for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
This one's for tomorrow, when I'll be taking the day off. It's by the Duluth, Minnesota slowcore trio known as Low, from their EP Christmas. On a good stereo system that drum accent is magical. And, should you happen to be Christian, apparently the members of Low are believers as well, which might set their efforts apart from more cynical indie bands for you.
Now about the Twelve Days of Christmas. Were it not for the horrible Christmas song about some guy who gave his true love livestock and quite a few live human beings*, which I'm pretty sure is illegal, I don't think anybody would have more than a hazy idea what the Twelve Days of Christmas actually are. Turns out no one really agrees anyway, which sort of goes along with everything else about religion, but basically it's the twelve days or so between Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany, which often falls on January 6th, although nobody quite agrees on that either.
To make the rest of the list topical, I think I'll add a photobook to each day's song as well. Don't hold me to this grand plan, though, because I might lose interest. You know how I can be.
Anyway, Merry Christmas and warmest best wishes to any of you who celebrate it. And if you do or do not celebrate Christmas, heartfelt greetings to you and your loved ones on the occasion of the religious or winter solstice holiday you choose to observe.
Wishing you health, prosperity, calmness, kindness, and peace of mind in the season!
*Twenty-seven to be exact—eight maids a-milking, nine ladies dancing, and ten lords a-leaping. Let hope it's not a case of human trafficking!
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Comments from:
Speed: "JG wrote in the Comments Section about The Waitresses' 'Christmas Wrapping' (1981). The song was featured this week in an NPR piece about...Christmas songs.
John Goehrke of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says around three-quarters of its inductees have made a Christmas record.
[ ... ]
"Five of the Top 20 all-time best-selling singles are Christmas records," Goehrke says. "Mariah Carey's 'All I Want for Christmas Is You' from '94—that's in the Top 10. That has sold more copies than 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' by the Beatles."
[ ... ]
Chris Butler says he certainly can't live off "Christmas Wrapping," but he does get a nice little annuity from the seasonal hit.
"Somebody buys them."
Mike replies: Somebody certainly does.
Roger: "Well thanks, Mike. Now I have 'Holly Jolly Christmas' stuck in my brain. I should deploy the Ninjas to inflict a nuclear wedgie upon you. Instead I'll just wish you a holly jolly Christmas."
Dana: "So Mike…I come up with my own songs to combat the cacophony of holiday music. I know how much you enjoy a good jazz number so I offer to you my favorite tune of the year for your Christmas ear: Aaron Parks 'Dear Someone.' Thank you Mike."
Mike replies: No, thank you. That's beautiful. And it is Christmas-carol-like.