By now you’ve probably seen this XKCD comic strip, which has been making the rounds this holiday season. Not only does it take a crack at Boomer nostalgia, it points out the fact that Christmas songs recorded after the 1970s don’t receive a lot of commercial airplay on American radio stations. For every “Last Christmas” there’s a ton of tunes recorded by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Phil Spector’s pals that clog the average FM dial during the month of December. Or so claim the good folks at ASCAP.
But the last 32 years have provided TONS of Christmas albums and songs recorded by everyone from The Ramones to New Kids on the Block and She & Him. There’s some great ditties in there and, well, a whole lot of stuff that smells like Santa’s bathroom on Christmas morning (all those cookies and milk probably aren’t the best things in the world for a 1,000+ year old saint’s digestive system).
Here’s a rundown on my picks for the worst Christmas songs of the past generation. Covers don’t count. As grating as the Glee cast’s “Do You Here What I Hear?” is on 99.7% of the world’s ears, you won’t find it here. Only entirely original tunes made the cut.
Click the jump to dive into the holly, jolly mucky-muck….
10. Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” – 1979
The ultimate earworm from the earwomiest Beatle. What’s the matter with silly [Christmas] songs? Plenty, Paul, plenty. “Wonderful Christmastime” probably took him 20 minutes to write, compose and record but it’s been torturing the entire planet for over 30, straight Christmases.
9. The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” – 1981
A terrible novelty song with terrible lyrics (“last year, ski shop, encounter, most interesting” Who wrote this? Yoda after a head injury?) performed by someone who sounds like a bored sixteen year-old reading an excerpt from Walden in a high-school English class. It drags on for over five minutes and contains not one but two saxophone solos. ‘Nuff said?
8. C3PO and R2D2 “Bells, Bells, Bells” – 1980
The album Christmas in the Stars was a half-hearted Star Wars cash-in that’s notable for two things: giving the world the rather awesome “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)?” and for serving as the first professional recording by one Jon Bon Jovi. Oh, and this song, which is absolutely horrible. It consists of over three minutes of C3PO singing/explaining to his robotic counterpart/not-so secret lover the concept of bells. Yes, bells. The legend of Santa Claus might have made more sense, thematically, and especially since the album also contains “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” but maybe R2D2 was already up to speed on the jolly ol’ elf.
7. Mariah Carey’s”All I Want For Christmas is You” – 1994
As inescapable during December as A Christmas Story and conservative talk show hosts blithering on about imaginary forces trying to prevent Americans from celebrating the birth of Jesus. Oh, right, and it sucks. A lot.
6. Cyndi Lauper’s “Christmas Conga” – 1998
Christmas albums…the last refuge of fading pop stars and record executives eager to wrap up lingering contracts. Based on the title, Lauper’s “Merry Christmas… Have a Nice Life” reeks of some sour grapes between her and the powers that be at Epic Records. Supposedly, Lauper recorded all of her vocals in a closet because she “liked the reverb” (not because she was embarrassed to be associated with this project or anything). This song is a filler among filler on an album that sounds like it was hastily hashed together in a few days by a group of people that were striving to break the boundaries of the term “going through the motions.” With lyrics like “Bonga! Bonga! Bonga! Do the Christmas Conga,” this one’s a long, long way from “Time After Time.”
5. Smashing Pumpkins’ “Christmastime” – 1997
Could there be a more embarrassingly earnest moment in Billy Corgan’s career than his band’s cover of “Landslide”? Yup! Look no further.
4. Carnie & Wendy Wilson’s “Hey, Santa!” – 1993
Combine the essence of Wilson Phillips’ supremely cheesy ’90s pop with a bit of dried-up mistletoe and mix it with a dozen soiled Kleenexes from a screening of Beaches in 1988. Toss in some sour whiskey nog, pour it into a recording booth and you’ve got “Hey, Santa!” At least in spirit. Or something. Maybe this metaphor doesn’t quite make sense. Eh, I can’t be bothered to come up with another one. Somehow, Chynna Phillips had the good sense to stay away from this.
3. Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – 1984
You’re probably familiar with the phrase “the road to hell is paved in good intentions.” Since it’s still played on the radio all these Christmases later, this song has created a virtual 12-lane freeway to Satan’s dominion since its original release in early ’80s.
2. The Smurfs’ “Christmas With the Smurfs” – 1995
One of the most unbearably catchy songs of all time. One listen and you’ll get this song stuck in your head for no less than a fortnight. It’ll keep you up at night. You’ll find yourself humming it at the worst possible moments. It’s sort of like that videotape in The Ring but worse. Much, much worse. At least the vengeful ghost girl from the movie has the common decency to kill viewers after a week of torment. The Smurfs? They’d rather see you go stark, raving mad instead. Still, their holiday ditty is better than…
1. New Song’s “Christmas Shoes” – 2000
This song was supposedly recorded by a Christian group but I suspect they’re in league with the forces of darkness. Pure, uncut schmaltz…pure enough to kill a blue whale if administered in repeated doses. It goes on for nearly five minutes and just when you think it can’t get any worse, a children’s choir kicks in. The song’s narrator encounters an impoverished kid standing in line in a store on Christmas Eve who’s eager to purchase a pair of shoes for his dying mother. Sadly, he doesn’t have enough cash on hand to buy them.
If I were this kid’s mom, I’d thank him for the sentiment before smacking him upside the head for not bringing his struggling family home some groceries. “Dammit, boy! You could have grabbed me some footwear for a dollar out of the bins at Goodwill! What good is a pair of $150 pumps going to do me and all your brothers and sisters after I’m dead, you moron! I think Jesus, our Lord and Savoir, has better things to worry about than what I’ve got on my feet when I arrive at the Pearly Gates.”
Regardless of its absolute, unquestionable terribleness, the song spawned a novel and a made-for-TV movie starring Rob Lowe. Patton Oswalt has brilliantly torn “Christmas Shoes” to shreds during several stand-up routines over the years. Here’s a link to his routine, which should help you wash the pain away….