Merry Christmas to all of you good kiddies out there! This means it’s time once again for A Sacred Wall Christmas (The Greatest Gift Of All). This year’s Christmas selection has, unfortunately, been a little lacking. I do apologize for that; between the hectic nature of joining the Online Film Critics Society (!) and the hectic nature of my day schedule, I just didn’t get a chance to stay on top of it the way I should have. I’ll try to make up for this next year; but in the meantime, I thought we could celebrate the season with one short list: the Top Ten Worst Christmas Songs Of All Time.
Listen, we all have those Christmas songs we hate. The ones that are lyrically, musically, or aesthetically terrible, get stuck in our heads, and make everyone miserable. Going through my selections for the worst Christmas songs, a few things become abundantly clear. First and foremost, it has suddenly become clear why so few pop stars take a stab at crafting a modern Christmas banger. Success is incredibly rare – more than likely you’ll end up on this list, like no less than four all-time great artists. Hell, half of the world’s greatest band is on this list, in case you were wondering how high the bar is.
Second, more than any list to date, “worst” Christmas song is absolutely a matter of taste. Some people hate the classics, sung by crooners who got by on charm more so than talent. Some hate the new stuff, finding it instantly dated and ridiculous. And still others just get caught up on one or two minor details that burrow into their brain and ruin the season for them. This is all to say that the list is entirely subjective, and should be treated as such. And third, it is very easy for an artist to ruin a song. “Frosty The Snowman” is a cute enough song, and Nat King Cole is an all-time great, but combine the two whilst incorporating chipmunk-like child singers, and you have a nightmare. Most of these songs are reflections on the artist, not the performer (with one glaring exception).
Before reaching the actual list, some honorable mentions. I don’t like hating on Justin Bieber’s early work (he was, after all, a kid), but “Mistletoe” was just a miss across the board. Few songs are as annoying as “We Need A Little Christmas,” no matter who’s performing it. Michael Bublé’s attempt to overcompensate with his “no homo” rendition of “Santa Baby” – titled “Santa Buddy” – is as bad as it sounds. N*Sync gave things the old college try with “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” and yet there’s a reason we don’t hear that one in the rotation.Christina Aguilera’s a legend, but her rendition of “O Holy Night” isn’t quite the masterpiece that Celine’s is. I won’t be including “The Christmas Shoes,” a dorky song admittedly that coasts by on its earnestness. While it’s supposed to be an edgy piece of comedy, Tiny Tim’s “Santa Claus Has Got The AIDS” just isn’t as funny or as melodic as it should be. Oh, and while you’ll see it at the end, Green Book writer Nick Vallelonga wrote a seven-minute Christmas song describing things he sees in New York at Christmas time. It’s amazing. None of these songs are legends, but they also aren’t as bad as this Top Ten. So without further ado, let’s look at the Ten Worst Christmas Songs Of All Time.
10. “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)” – John Denver
There are a limited number of great country Christmas songs, and most of them are performed by John Denver. He just had a perfect voice for Christmas. This rule does not apply to “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas),” a cheerful ballad about being an eight-year-old watching your alcoholic father get piss-pants drunk on Christmas Eve while your mom cries in the background. Every line is asinine as Denver tries to replicate this child’s POV, and musically…well, “Annie’s Song” or “Take Me Home, Country Road” this ain’t. Certainly not the worst, but definitely worthy of the Worst Christmas songs of all time.
9. “Step Into Christmas” – Elton John
Look, I already warned you all that this list was going to spark some controversy. An attempt to honor the Phil Spector era of Christmas songs (think “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”), “Step Into Christmas” is an understandable attempt to write an original, upbeat song of holiday cheer. But while John’s skills as a pianist are commendable, this is the worst type of earworm. The song was clearly written during John’s cocaine days, as part of a genre of music that was already dead when he wrote it. And thanks to some of Bernie Taupin’s worst lyrics, the song becomes the memorable tune John dreamed of, yet for all the wrong reasons.
8. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – Dean Martin
The crooners have held a monopoly over Christmas for quite some time, and for good reason. From Nat King Cole to Frank Sinatra, their passable voices provide a homey, loving atmosphere, and their love for the season and the music outshines any flaws in their voices. Enter Dean Martin’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Not only is Martin’s voice far inferior to Sinatra’s, but the clearly inebriated Martin also gets weirdly chummy with the titular reindeer. At one point, he stops saying “Red-Nosed” and starts calling him “Rudy the Red-Beaked Reindeer” with an unnatural sense of chumminess. And at one point, he starts playing Santa with a German accent. Why? It’s never established in the song. It makes no sense. It’s just another bad decision in a bad rendition of a classic song.
7. “Christmas Wrapping” – The Waitresses
You know what never caught on? New Wave Christmas songs. I can’t say with any certainty why this is, but I have a hunch: “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses. Have you ever listened to “I Know What Boys Like” and thought, “Man, what would these people sound like doing Christmas music?” Of course not, because you have taste (it’s why you read this site). Random Christmas sayings and expressions are jammed together into a series of lyrics, placed over music that does not fit the season. It seems like a song designed in a lab to drive people nuts, or as evidence that the 80s were a terrible decade, no matter what the Boomers tell us. Somehow the only song on this list outdone by its Glee cover, “Christmas Wrapping” is an earworm for all the wrong reasons.
6. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” – Elmo ‘n Patsy
I have previously praised this song as a novelty classic. And that it is. But much as “The Chipmunk Song” is a masterpiece and a novelty song, this ditty about Grandma’s murder at the hands of Santa’s vehicular manslaughter is an utter travesty. The lyrics, while comical, are juvenile at best, and the music is less of an earworm and more of an assault on the senses. The song is mostly harmless, but if you can look around the room when a song comes on and see everyone – the grown-ups, the children, and especially the elderly – cringe and groan, it’s a sign of a bad Christmas song. And that’s exactly what “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” is.
5. “Christmas Eve On Woodward Avenue” – Karen Newman
This song may not bother you as much if you didn’t grow up in the Metro-Detroit area. Hell, you may not even know it if you didn’t grow up here. But if you did, and if you do, you’ll know that this song is a living, breathing nightmare, a sign of Christmas in the same way that Cerberus the Hell Hound is a sign of warm weather. Performed by homegrown hero Karen Newman, who has made a career out of signing the anthem for the Detroit Red Wings and opening for Kid Rock (honestly, what a combo), the song is the Detroit region’s “Friday” – horribly sung, and featuring a child choir of young singers intentionally picked to make Newman’s weak voice sound stronger. It is a musically bad, lyrically bad song, and the only reason it isn’t higher is because it’s more of a regional headache than an international travesty.
4. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” – Any Version
You know, we give John Lennon a lot of leeway for being one of the world’s greatest musicians and lyricists, and for being part of the world’s greatest bands. But after the Gal Gadot “Imagine” fiasco, the question begs to be asked: “Was John Lennon actually a smooth-brained writer?” It’s a question that extends to his horrifically asinine song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over,” which asks the ever-so-deep question, “What if this Christmas, we, like, got rid of the wars, man?” Wow, deep stuff there, Johnny Boy. Lennon’s version, which opens with a conversation with Yoko and features the most ham-fisted child choir you’ll ever see, is bad. But at least Lennon can sing. No, I’ll save my real hatred for the Maroon 5 cover, which is equally bad and somehow misses the point of the song. But no matter who performs it, this song still stands tall as one of the worst of all time.
3. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Band Aid
Oh boy, another song filled with the most ham-fisted imagery imaginable. Nothing says Christmas like a bunch of rich assh*les positing, “Man, Ethiopians are so poor. They can’t even afford food. Do they even know what food is? Or Christmas? Maybe they should buy our song so we can explain it to them.” While a few artists, like George Michael and Kool Bell try to elevate the song musically, the song mostly consists of the world’s worst earworm performed by the haphazard blending of Bono, Phil Collins, Bananarama, Duran Duran, Boy George, and Sting. While the song was a massive hit, especially in the U.K., it has aged as well as three-day-old milk. And it’s enough to make even the staunchest conservative wonder, “Should we eat the rich?”
2. “Wonderful Christmastime” – Paul McCartney
But seriously, how did two members of The Beatles, the greatest band of all time, come up with Top Five All-Time Bad Christmas Songs? Arguably the second-best artist in the band (after George Harrison), McCartney’s post-band career with The Wings is a litany of masterpieces – “Live and Let Die,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” etc. And yet, despite constantly changing the game musically and lyrically throughout his career, McCartney writes possibly the most unbearable Christmas song of all time. Musically, it is simplistic to the point of infantilization. Lyrically, it sounds as if McCartney just looked out the window and just started to describe the things he saw. It is…a hilarious failure, across the board. And it honestly only misses out on the top slot for two reasons: because of McCartney’s legacy, and because of the worst song of all time…
1. The New Kids On The Block Christmas Album. Just All Of It.
I’m not picking a single song off this album. They’re all terrible. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cover, like “The Little Drummer Boy” or “White Christmas” or, inexplicably, “The Christmas Song” (yes, that one), or an original song, like “This One’s For The Children” (which sounds more like a threat than a declaration) or “I Still Believe In Santa Claus” or “Merry, Mery Christmas.” Each of these songs is bad. Now, I don’t hate New Kids On The Block by any means. In fact, I love “Step By Step” and “The Right Stuff.” But their voices are just not suited for the genre, and they don’t know how to blend on the harmonies. I could go on and on mocking this album, but I don’t think I need to. After all, there is a song called “Funky, Funky Xmas” that is written by Donnie Wahlberg. That sentence is funnier and more incisive than any smarmy joke I could come up with. It’s the all-time worst Christmas song/album, and each song deserves its place with a bullet.
Well, I hope this list brought you a good laugh and some good cheer this Christmas. Next week I’ll be kicking off the Best of 2021, so there’s some great stuff on the horizon. But until then, and until next year, have yourself a merry little Christmas.