Let’s face it, somewhere between the day after Thanksgiving & the first week of December, we’re already sick of about 95% of all Christmas music ever recorded. Even the stuff that we haven’t heard. Even the stuff that hasn’t been recorded yet.
But like Dante, we are all drawn to extremes—& even at that, we are fascinated by evil. (I mean, who actually reads any part of Dante’s The Divine Comedy besides The Inferno?) Even in the merriest time of the year, evil lurks just one step away, just like how “Santa” is an anagram for “Satan.”
With that in mind, I’d like to present a list of the Top 5 Worst Christmas Songs of All-Time:
5. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid (Christmas 1984)
Yes, this song was written & raised money for a very worthy cause—relief for the 1984-1985 famine in Ethiopia—& became the UK’s best-selling single ever up to that time & providing the blueprint for U.S.A. for Africa’s “We Are the World,” all of which takes away from the fact that “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is a very dumb song. Built on a strange premise (I mean, would the famine victims know it’s Christmas even if they weren’t starving?), it manages to feel both over-worked & unfinished, while remaining a structural mess. The words range from overdramatic (“& the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom”) to obvious (“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime…”), until the record builds to Bono singing the cruelest words ever heard in a Christmas song: “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you!” Maybe we should be asking if the record’s producers knew it was Christmastime at all.
4. “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” by Spike Jones (Christmas 1948)
Almost as old as the Christmas song is the Christmas novelty song, which have formed a long & proud American tradition in & of themselves. Some, like Elmo & Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” are stubborn classics in their own right, but most of them are disposable junk that should be thrown out along with the empty boxes & shred up wrapping paper. This song strikes a rare balance between the 2—a stubborn classic that nonetheless shoulda never been heard more than once (let alone a number-one hit more than once, which it was in both 1948 & 1949). Now don't get me wrong, I freaking love Spike Jones. He is an unsung pioneer of American music, boldly mixing highbrow & low, jazz & classical, comedy & pop into the likes of something both singular & timeless (just check out my American Wolf article about his masterful “Cocktails for Two” here). But make no mistake about it: “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” sucks.
3. “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms (Christmas 1957)
Somewhere between when Elvis had his first number one hit in 1956 & when he got drafted into the army in 1958, rock & roll music went from something significant & menacing to something, well, less significant & less menacing. One of the indicators of the trend was this early Christmas-&-pop/rock fusion, which took a half-decent idea & watered it down like cheap eggnog. (A similar offender would be Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” the following year, although that song sounds like heavy metal compared to this one.) There’s an annoying stench of cuteness and opportunism that undercuts any impact the song may have in favor of finger-poppin’, head-boppin’ fun. Plus I jingle hate the jingle way the jingle lyrics jingle every other jinglin’ word, all of which gives the song a poetry & grace on par with Chubby Checker’s “Limbo Rock” & Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry the Eighth I Am.” When all put together, “Jingle Bell Rock” is far closer to “Jingle Bell” than “Rock”—& that’s never a good thing.
“Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses (Christmas 1981)
There was a strange period between the Sugar Hill Gang’ “Rapper’s Delight” & Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five “The Message” where rap was seen as the cool new thing that any random (read: white) new waver could do & prove their street cred. Sadly, this was rarely the case; just check the less-than-dope skillz of Adam & The Ants’ “Ant Rap,” Blondie’s “Rapture,” or The Clash’s “The Magnificent Seven.” But in the sweepstakes of unfortunate new-wave rap music, The Waitress’ “Christmas Wrapping” surely wins the prize. Everything about it is wrong, from its rapping/wrapping titular pun all the way through the cheesy production values & deadpan non-vocals that sound like far closer to the melodic tunelessness of The Shaggs & the lyrical aimlessness of The Streets than anything Grandmaster Flash would touch with a 12-inch record. Unfortunately for Christmas, it would be another 6 long years before Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas in Hollis” would give the holiday its first rap classic.
1. “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney (Christmas 1979)
How is it possible that the man behind many of The Beatles’ finest pop songs—“Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be”—& the driving force behind the most memorable parts of the Beatles’ twin masterpieces—the “Sgt. Pepper” concept of Sgt. Pepper & the long medley on Abbey Road—could’ve written & recorded this, one of the most awful songs ever made? The production plays like a sneak preview of everything that would be wrong with pop music in the ’80s—sparse, echoing synthesizers that sound like a David Bowie/Brian Eno collaboration stripped for parts & run through a garbage disposal. For a song that purports to be a celebration of how wonderful Christmastime is, it sounds surprisingly cold & empty. Add to that the almost non-melody of the verse, the lazy descending bridge about the children singing, and the cloying, broken record-sounding “Simply having a wonderful Christmastime” refrain, & see if you can get it out of your head before next Easter. The song ultimately defies itself: When it is playing, it is literally impossible to simply have a wonderful Christmastime.