It’s been a crazy Christmas season this year, guys. I didn’t get a chance to space out A Sacred Wall Christmas (The Greatest Gift of All). However, just because I didn’t get a chance to do these once a week doesn’t mean I won’t overload your holiday weekend! And I’ll continue this journey with the Top Ten Christmas Special Songs!
As opposed to last week, when I ranked the ten best Christmas Special Characters, this week we look at the best songs written for Christmas specials and performed by and about our favorite character. Think of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or Jack Frost. My only rule is it had to be written for the specials – while many people remember Burl Ives singing Rudolph, the song was already a staple by 1964, rendering it ineligible. However, that doesn’t mean I have a shortage of great songs. Honorable Mentions include “Jack Frost” and “Just What I Always Wanted” from Jack Frost, the sensitive “Much Worse Things” from A Colbert Christmas, “It’s Gonna Snow” from The Year Without a Santa Claus, and the catchy, surreal “Most Wonderful Day of the Year” from Rudolph. And now, without further ado, here’s the Top Ten Christmas Special Songs
10. We’re A Couple of Misfits – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Let’s start off with the ode to non-conformity, “We’re a Couple of Misfits.” For the first half of the Rudolph special, we heard variations of this melody, as Rudolph and Hermey quietly sang to themselves as they questioned why they were so different than everyone else. However, after finding solace in each other and their differences, we get the jovial rendition everyone knows and loves, where they wear their differences on their sleeves, having found the place they fit in. And that’s not to mention that Hermey is so gleeful in his newfound acceptance, he punches a snowman shaped like his boss in the face. Now that’s a powerful anthem. Fun fact: the original song during this sequence was called “Fame and Fortune,” but it tested so poorly, they rewrote it for all subsequent years. To be honest, I prefer this version better. It’s a high point to the experience that is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
9. Linus and Lucy – A Charlie Brown Christmas
I almost didn’t include this one. It’s success with Charlie Brown Christmas was so overwhelming, it became the perennial Charlie Brown theme song, almost completely separating itself from Christmas. And yet, whenever we hear the song come December, we can’t help but think of Yuletide cheer. The Vince Guaraldi Trio outdid themselves with their nostalgic, triumphant jazz theme, narratively composed by Schroeder as the theme to the Christmas pageant. It’s a song so bouncy, so catchy, and so overwhelmingly happy, you want to get up and dance with the characters. And speaking of dancing, I love watching that group do their nonsensical dance moves. My favorites are the duplicated girl that has no in-canon twin, and yet there are two of them doing the same dance, the sloppy shuffle the kid in the green is doing, and the girl who is very clearly high in the back as she wards off the demons flying at her head. Sure, it might not be about Christmas anymore, but hey, we can’t separate the two if we tried.
8. Silver and Gold – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
It may be the spot you get up and go to the bathroom during the special (it has literally nothing to do with the plot), but on the radio, there are few songs as pretty and as powerful as “Silver and Gold.” Sung with the dulcet tones of Burl Ives, “Silver and Gold” is a song about enjoying the pleasures of silver and gold not because of their inherent cost or trading abilities, but because of their natural beauty. As Sam the Snowman points out, the worth is only that which we experience on Earth, and therefore nothing makes it stand out more than by enjoying its beauty on something as simple as a Christmas tree. It’s a great sentiment, and one sung beautifully; that alone is enough to earn it a spot on this list.
7. Put One Foot in Front of the Other – Santa Claus is Coming to Town
This is absolutely one of my favorite songs on this entire list. The halfway point of the beloved 1970 special, the song features Kris Kringle’s attempt to transform the Winter Warlock from a ferocious monster into a decent human being. He does this through the ingenious metaphor of taking your first steps, and singing over a montage of animals – and eventually the now-melted Winter Warlock – attempting to walk for the first time. What’s more, Kris is so magical he manages to create a door inside a sheet of ice. That’s just a cool-looking visual. There are a lot of reasons to love this number, but above all, it’s just a simple, catchy song. It’s arguably the best song in the entire special, and one of the best of all time.
6. Nutmeg – A Colbert Christmas (The Greatest Gift of All!)
In the most recent song on this list, we have John Legend’s new Christmas classic from the Stephen Colbert Christmas special, “Nutmeg.” In a response to Stephen’s lack of the best spice for egg not (note: he is right), John Legend performs an R&B song about his favorite Christmas spice, Nutmeg. However, like every R&B song, no matter what it’s really about, it’s always a metaphor for something more, something more, erm, sensual. And that’s what Legend does here, slowly turning his song about nutmeg into a song about love (to put it mildly). However, what makes this song great is how far Legend takes the joke, all while Colbert silently nods. It just gets closer and closer to going overboard, but manages to stay just barely on the side of good taste. And it sounds great too! I mean, I really shouldn’t be surprised at how great John Legend sounds singing and playing the piano (his first major line of the special is “Do I smell a piano?”), but it’s truly impressive how well he can do it all – act, sing, play, etc. It’s a personal favorite of mine, even more so than “A Cold, Cold Christmas” or “Much Worse Things,” and one that is easily a classic in the canon of Christmas special songs.
5. Heat Miser/Snow Miser – The Year Without a Santa Claus
I MEAN, DUH!!!! How can you not include the most over-the-top, the most flamboyant, the most wonderful songs of the lot? The Heat Miser and Snow Miser are as much a part of Christmas specials as Santa himself, and they prove why in these wonderful, wonderful songs. The composers of this special went to great lengths to make these songs catchy, concise, and enjoyable. They sum up both deities in one quick musical number, so we know that they control the weather, they hate each other, and they want control over Christmas. However, what makes these numbers great is the stop motion animation. Because not only do these deities have perfectly prepared songs to sum up their ideologies, they’ve had their minions learn expert choreography. That’s the kind of wonderful nonsense you would expect if RuPaul controlled the weather, not two petty brothers. And yet, that’s exactly what we get. And to push things further, George S. Irving and Dick Shawn relish in each word, as the animators make their figures pirouette around their castles in a ostentatious show of grandeur. There’s a reason we know every word to this song, even if we don’t know the words of any other song in any of these specials. And that’s because it is one of the best.
4. You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch – How the Grinch Stole Christmas
It’s a little weird that a villain song has become so much a part of the Christmas song canon, and yet here we are. Thurl Ravenscroft’s joyful ode to the monstrosity that is the Grinch has nothing to do with Christmas, per se, but we remember it anyway, because the Grinch reminds us of Christmas spirit, and also because it’s a great song. Ravenscroft’s deep voice perfectly matches the sinister nature of the Grinch’s soul, and watching him both prepare his scheme and execute it just wouldn’t be as fun (although it would still be well animated) without the clever lines and jokes at his expense. Ranging from the mild insults (“Cuddly as a cactus, charming as an eel”) to the relatively harsh (“Given a choice between the two of you, I’d take the seasick crocodile,” “You’re a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arcenic sauce”). Dr. Seuss was (obviously) responsible for this act of genius, and it shows. Each line plays like a Seussian act of sarcastic, comical genius, and while it may not exactly feel like a Christmas song, I can’t think of a better song from a special all year.
3. Holly Jolly Christmas – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Finally, we’re into the Christmas songs that not only stand out inside their respective specials, but can hold their own in universal radio play. “Holly Jolly Christmas” is what Christmas is about, people. It’s upbeat, it’s peppy, and it’s open in its declaration that Christmas is the best time of the year. We see all the characters gathered together to celebrate the holidays, exchanging presents, reconciling years of parental abuse, and generally partying under the Christmas tree. And maybe, just maybe, Rudolph and that creepy elf can get it on under the mistletoe (even Sam the Snowman gets in on the action, asking them to kiss their respective lovers for him). Like “Silver and Gold,” Burl Ives gives his all to bring this song to life, and honestly, it may be his best song. I think this is my favorite part of Rudolph. It’s perfectly animated, joyously upbeat, and the lyrics are beautifully simple. I think this is the most-known Christmas Special song, and there’s good reason for that.
2. Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas
Honestly, there are few moments as iconic on television than when crotchety old Bing Crosby wanders over to the door to reveal Ziggy Stardust himself standing in the doorway. Audiences gasped at the time, as it was a meeting between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, each presenting their greatest performer (gtfo, Sinatra). However, while things were awkward for a few minutes (like, really awkward. Like Bing didn’t want to be standing next to the oddball rock star), things take a turn when the two begin a duet. Bing wanted to sing “Little Drummer Boy,” a classic, but Bowie rejected the choice – he wasn’t a fan of the classics, and wanted to do something new, to change the game. And so they decided to compromise: they would sing point-counterpoint on “LBD” and a new song, calling for peace on Earth in the spirit of Christmas. The result is arguably one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time. Crosby brings the classic crooner stylings to the mix, setting a baseline while Bowie belts out his call for peace. And when the two harmonize – my word, it’s arguably one of the most important musical moments of all time. It’s monumental television, monumental history, and above all, monumental music. The special aired a few months after Crosby’s death, leaving it as a lasting legacy for the world, a final imploration of peace in the face of a changing world, and ended up serving as one of the greatest Christmas special songs of all time.
1. Christmas Time Is Here – A Charlie Brown Christmas
Is this really any shock? There are few songs in general as beautiful as “Christmas Time Is Here,” let alone songs from Christmas specials. The Vince Guaraldi Trio really outdid themselves in their quest for a nostalgic, beautiful ode to the sense of wonder, magic, and spirituality that exists around the Christmas season. It serves as the perfect introduction to the Peanuts on the small screen, as we see them peacefully and casually skating to the song in unison, happy to spend Christmas together in youthful joy. It also possesses a somber undertone, capturing Charlie Brown’s inability to relate to the season. And yet, while there is definitely a subdued undertone, the general happiness of the piece overwhelms the characters, the audience, and the listeners. Overall, “Christmas Time Is Here” is one of the greatest Christmas special songs, jazz songs, Christmas songs, and overall songs ever written. And it deserves the #1 spot on this list.
I hope you enjoyed the list of the best Christmas Special Songs! Let me know in the comments what your favorites are, and tune in tomorrow for a list of the best Christmas movies! Have a merry Christmas, everybody!