Christmas Songs: The Best, The Worst and the Oh Dear Lord It’ll Never Go Away
Christmas is almost here, in case you couldn’t tell from the festive decorations that have adorned your local shops and town centre since before Halloween or the increasingly testy TV ads informing you of the amazing deals you haven’t bought and that you’d better do so now or your children will never forgive you. It’s a tiring time, and the promise of good food, cool presents and that cheese board your mother won’t let you touch until Boxing Day (thanks, mum!) do little to quash the exhaustion. If you’re like me and have certain family members who wait until CHRISTMAS EVE to do their shopping, you still have to confront the crushing reality of inescapable Christmas songs. True story: I worked one Christmas in a bookshop that had a corporate mandated festive playlist full of the expected songs and ‘Please Let Me Get What I Want’ by The Smiths. Subtle messaging, right?
Generally speaking, Christmas songs don’t do much for me. It’s a level of maudlin I seldom enjoy experiencing, but hey, sometimes you just need to embrace the madness and have a good sing-along (the drunker, the better). In the spirit of the season, and of inflicting some world class ear-worms on you, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best, worst and most baffling Christmas songs we could think of. It’s not our fault if they get stuck in your head, so feel free to share the agony in the comments with some of the songs that make or break your December.
Fairytale of New York - The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl.
Let’s be honest, this is the best Christmas song ever. It’s the perfect antidote to the often overwhelming schmaltz of the season, and it’s a genuinely great piece of storytelling. Fairytale of New York is the ultimate folk ballad to the crushing reality that sometimes your dreams can never come true. It’s vicious and melancholy and the ideal number after a few drinks when you suddenly feel brave enough to do a waltz. Half the time, when you’re singing along, you forget how scathing the song actually is (in fairness, Shane MacGowan is seldom the easiest man to understand at the best of times). Most Christmas songs are about the warmth and joy of the season, the excitement of being with family and embracing festive iconography, but Fairytale of New York is the broken whisky glass of the evening, the number that encapsulates how much thosr Christmas myths actually kind of suck. Still, I dare you not to sing along when you hear it.
Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt.
Accept no substitutes, this song is Kitt’s through and through. Sorry, Madonna and Kylie, but neither of you have the sultry cadence or right level of sharp cheek to pull it off like Eartha. You don’t doubt for a minute that she could get basically anything she wanted from Santa and he’d be honoured to give her it.
All I Want For Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey.
I mean, what else is there to say that Mariah hasn’t already said? If you’re going to go big this Christmas, go BIG. While Ms Carey herself questions her title as Queen of Christmas, this is definitely a song by someone who wholeheartedly loves the season, and that high note has crushed many a throat during giddy sing-alongs.
Everything on A John Waters Christmas.
Look, if you can’t trust the Pope of Trash with your festive music choices, who can you trust? As expected by the guy who directed Pink Flamingos, it’s an album of eclectic choices, from Rudolph & Gang’s Here Comes Fatty Claus to an ahem… interesting cover of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Tiny Tim, to Santa Claus is a Black Man. Here’s a taste to get you going, but you can find all of the songs on YouTube.
Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End - The Darkness.
What more could you ask for from a Christmas song than glam rock guitars, falsetto screeching and plenty of sly references to dicks? I remember when this one came out and how it ended up in a race for the coveted Christmas number one spot with Gary Jules’s Mad World. It peaked at number 2.
Do They Know It’s Christmas? - Band Aid.
Is there a more patronising Christmas song than this egotistical hackwork wherein some of the biggest musical stars of the decade united to raise money for anti-famine efforts in Ethiopia? Yeah, the intent was nice - although even that wore away once Bob ‘give us your fucking money’ Geldof kept dragging it out every time there was world crisis - but the song itself remains one of the most condescending things ever put to music. Do they know it’s Christmas? Well given how massive portions of the continent are Christian, I’d say they probably do, Bob! ‘Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you’, Bono sings? Screw you! It’s pomposity disguised as nobility; a shockingly flippant display of shamelessness that only got away with it because it raised a lot of money. Even Midge Ure, the guy who co-wrote it, admitted it was a song that had nothing to do with music. It doesn’t help that there have been multiple versions of this song and they somehow get worse with every new bunch of celebs.
Santa Baby - Michael Buble.
As I said, nobody should really sing this song unless they’re Eartha Kitt, but there’s something especially hilarious about Michael Buble doing so, but getting too ‘no homo’ about the song to even sing it cheekily. As Buble asks for a Rolex, a nice new yacht and Knicks tickets, he begs his ‘buddy’ and ‘pally’ Santa to cough up the capital because he’s missed out of ‘all the hotties that I never kissed.’ Dude, if you’re going to beg Santa to buy you expensive gifts, at least act like you want to fuck him. Don’t pretend Santa’s cheap.
Wonderful Christmas Time - Paul McCartney and Wings.
Paul McCartney’s trying to get good use out of that Casio keyboard Linda bought him, and what better way to do so than by writing the most boring Christmas song ever? Never before has the season sounded so damn dull. Come on Paul, you’re a Beatle, you don’t need the seasonal residuals this bad, do you?
Millennium Prayer - Cliff Richard.
For some reason I can never fully fathom because it’s too depressing to think about, Cliff Richard is a big deal in the UK. This is the man who self-funded a Wuthering Heights musical wherein he played Heathcliff while wearing the fakest beard ever created by man and it became a hit. Nothing about this song makes sense - it’s the Lord’s Prayer but set to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, and neither of those two things should even be in the same room. We, the British public, let this go to number one! It’s not really a Christmas song yet I hear it every damn Christmas because I guess some radio stations feel the need to include at least one song that actually references Christianity.
Christmas Shoes - NewSong.
I’m not sure there’s much I can add here that Patton Oswalt didn’t already cover in his take-down of the creepiest Christian pseudo-rock Christmas song of the past millennium, and I wouldn’t dare subject you to the real thing, so take it away, Patton.
I’m Gonna Put Some Glue ‘Round the Christmas Tree (so Santa Claus will stick around all year) - Peggy King with Mitch Miller and his Orchestra.
This isn’t a song: This is a serial killer’s diary entry on how they plan to capture Santa with an elaborate Saw meets Home Alone plan involving glue and evil that will keep him prisoner in their home all year so that they can force him to act like it’s Christmas every day. ‘I’ll capture him like a fly, and I’ll have him for Easter and the Fourth of July’, Peggy King sings so sweetly, as if she isn’t ready to go full Buffalo Bill on this fucker.
Don’t Shoot Me Santa - The Killers.
The Killers have gotten really into the tradition of Christmas songs, and they’re not afraid to go a bit barmy with them, but there’s something so delightfully unnerving about a psychotic Santa - or just some dude in a Santa suit - holding poor baby Brandon Flowers hostage with a loaded gun. It’s knowingly creepy-funny, which does help.
Santa’s Sack - White Ghost Shivers.
If you haven’t made copious amounts of jokes about Santa having a big swinging heavy sack that’s coming just for you, then you’re obviously a better person than me.
Christmas Unicorn - Sufjan Stevens.
Of course Sufjan’s Christmas song is 12 minutes long. Of course it’s a demonstration of lyrical genius that takes on the various contradictions of Christmas, from its pagan roots and American iconography to the way it bleeds us financially dry. Of course he’s singing about unicorms and makes you totally buy it. Goddammit, Sufjan.
Misty - Kate Bush.
This isn’t really a Christmas song, but how could I not include a song about a woman documenting her sexual encounter with a snowman? Hey, it beats Frosty the Snowman. Season’s greetings, everybody!