Saturday, November 28, 2015

What are the best -- and worst -- Christmas songs ever?

Hope all of our Squawker readers had a great Thanksgiving. Now that we are officially in the holiday season, we're going to hear Christmas songs 24/7 for the next month, which can be both good and bad, depending upon the songs! (An aside -- why are there a gazillion Christmas songs, but there is only one Thanksgiving song -- "Alice's Restaurant"? I ask this every year, yet nobody ever seems to come up with another one!)

Anyhow, I was working out at the gym today, thinking about which holiday songs I love to hear, and which ones I cannot stand. To me, the best Christmas songs are ones that are poignant. I want the lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I hear them. So most of my Top 10 favorites fit that description.

As for the worst, there are so many ways to make a bad Christmas song, that they don't really fit any category -- other than that I don't like them!

So, without further ado, here is my list of favorite and least favorite Christmas songs. I have linked to YouTube for each song, so you can hear them for yourself:

10 Best Christmas Songs

10. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Bing Crosby and other artists:  Crosby is known for "White Christmas," but I like this one better. This song originated with Crosby during World War II. The line "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams" had special resonance for the soldiers then. I imagine my father listened to this in World War II when he was in the Pacific as a paratrooper. This is a great song, and pretty much everybody has covered it. I also like the Frank Sinatra take on it, and I even enjoy the Seth MacFarlane (!) version a lot.

9. "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses: This is a fun song, with a nice twist at the end. I remember when I was a teenage new wave music fanatic, how excited I was to hear a Chirstmas song done by an artist I listened to. This song still holds up.

8. "2000 Miles" by The Pretenders: Yes, this is a Christmas song -- pay attention to the lyrics. Since Austin is roughly 2000 miles from New York, I remember playing this song a lot in my freshman year of college, when I was homesick after being away from home for the first time. I just recently learned that Chrissie Hynde wrote the song as a tribute to James Honeyman-Scott, the band's guitarist who overdosed in 1982.

7. "It's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by U2: This is one of my favorite bands, in their prime, doing a poignant song -- a cover of a song Darlene Love made famous. What's not to like? Well, maybe Bono's hat in the video.

6. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Frank Sinatra and by Judy Garland: Two of the greatest singers of all time know how to hit every melodramatic button in this song. Judy's version was the original, in the movie "Meet Me in St. Louis," but Sinatra's take on the song is pretty fantastic, too. Note: this song, as sung by Al Martino (aka Johnny Fontaine), plays in an early scene in "The Godfather," my all-time favorite movie.

5. "Linus and Lucy" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio: This instrumental is the rare song on my list that is happy and not poignant. It's just pure fun -- especially the Christmas dance that the "Peanuts" characters do to it. When I ran a race in Central Park this summer, this was the first song I played on my iPod.

4. "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid: Yes, I know this song has fallen out of favor a bit in recent years, and some of the lyrics are a little silly and condescending. "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime" -- what's that all about? But I still love this song. Not only is it a good tune, but it features many of my favorite British and Irish artists from that time. Bono, Sting, Boy George, George Michael, Paul Young, and Simon LeBon are just some of the voices in the song. The song has held up much better than their 80s mullets in the video have.

3. "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon: Oh, this song is a tearjerker for me. Especially given that Lennon was assassinated in December; he would have been 75 this year if he had lived. You can't help but think of the loss of him when hearing this. I don't think I've ever been able to hear this song without getting at least a little choked up.

2. "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley: This is such a classic song; it's my favorite Elvis tune. I linked to Elvis' version of this song in the 1968 "Singer Presents Elvis" Christmas special -- aka the '68 Comeback Special. Producer Steve Binder single-handedly revitalized Presley's career with this show, the greatest Christmas TV special ever, in my view. Ironically, 10 years later, Binder was also behind the infamous "Star Wars" Christmas special.

1. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey: Most of the songs on this list are from artists I really like. I've never been a Mariah Carey fan, but she does a great job with this song. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" hits all the notes of holiday-themed music, with the poignancy and "lump in the throat" qualities of a great Christmas song. A modern Xmas classic.

5 Worst Christmas Songs 

5. "The Little Drummer Boy" by anybody not named David Bowie or Bing Crosby: This song is truly annoying, yet people seem to like it. Rankin-Bass even did a TV special about it. The only version of the song that I like is the one that Bowie and Bing did together, and part of that is just the amazing juxtaposition of the two of them together. The other part is that they add another song to this, "Peace on Earth." It's what makes this horrible tune palatable. Click here to see what I mean.

4. "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" by Spike Jones and His City Slickers: Aren't lisps funny? That's what this song seems to communicate. It's just horrible. And the lyrics don't even make any sense. "Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth/Then I could wish you, 'Merry Christmas.'" But the narrator already said "Merry Christmas," even without two front teeth. Good grief.

3. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by Jimmy Boyd: Not only is this a stupid song, but the vocals, by Boyd at age 13, are just dreadful. Yet this song sold 11 million copies. Go figure. How many kids wondered what the heck this song was about when they were young? Too much information!

2. "Wonderful Christmas Time" by Paul McCartney: Has anybody ever had a wonderful Christmas time after hearing this song? I imagine even Paul himself is embarrassed by this dreck. Such a great artist. Such a bad song.

1. "Santa Baby" by Madonna: I hate this song with the fire of a thousand setting suns. Madonna puts on this annoying childlike voice for this tune that gets on my last nerve. I have literally left stores in order to avoid hearing this song. If I am ever kidnapped, and somebody wants to torture me, just play this song. I'll 'fess up to anything to avoid hearing it!

What are your favorite -- and least favorite -- Christmas songs? Let us know!

1 comment:

Uncle Mike said...

Every year, I note that Paul, one of the great sentimentalist of all time writing about that most sentimental of holidays, wrote a total clunker. While John, no fan of organized religion, wrote such a great Christmas song.

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