The best Christmas songs, whether they're classic carols or new favorites, embody whatever you love about the holiday. The worst, on the other hand, are grim reminders of all that is unbearable about the season's orgy of consumerism, exploitation of Christian tradition and ham-handed sentimentality.
I e-mailed a few local musicians the following three questions about holiday music:
1. What is your favorite holiday song (or songs), and why?
2. What memories does that song bring up for you?
3. What is the holiday song you never want to hear again, and why?
I was hoping to include responses with non-Christmas holiday songs, but nobody who responded mentioned Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Also, nobody picked my personal favorite. For me, Christmas is about love, and nothing reminds me of real love—maddening and unconditional love for someone who you're bound to let down and who is bound to disappoint you—like The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York."
Really, the responses were great. Thanks to all who replied. Merry Christmas.
Jim Heath, a.k.a. Reverend Horton Heat
1. Right now, my favorite Christmas song is "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!" Because I can't do Christmas now without the Rat Pack (Frank, Dean and Sammy), and the Rat Pack can't do Christmas without Dino slurring/crooning "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!"
However, when I was kid, every year without fail we listened to Season's Greetings from Perry Como. We listened to this over and over, and I thought everyone did this at Christmas. Eventually, I figured out how un-cool Perry Como was. Then later I had to find this music again. So now guess what? We listen to Perry Como every Christmas. Just not over and over like the (good?) old days.
2. Whenever I hear Perry Como's Christmas album, it takes me back to the house we used to live in. The early '60s décor (pretty cool now that I think of that), the smell of hot Dr Pepper and lemon (try it!) and the mostly fruitless prayers for snow in San Antonio.
3. The worst Christmas song ever written was written by a friend of mine, so I can't say what or who. But good and bad is totally subjective, and he's made a lot of money on the song, as some people love it.
I will say that once I got a pretty bad hangover from a really good Christmas party, and, while I was in total anguish, thinking that I would die, the song "We Are Santa's Elves" was playing in my head over and over and over. It's really not such a bad song, but now, as you can well imagine, it grates on my nerves.
1. Well, I'll be honest here, I am not much of a holiday music fan. I actually find holiday music and all its "merriness" (if that's a word) rather disturbing. It just doesn't seem possible that anyone could be that jolly. It's kind of like an aural representation of that one high-school cheerleader that was always smiling but secretly hated everyone. But if I had to pick one, I'd say the "Ukrainian Bell Carol," but not when those cheesy choirs add words to it! I like it because it's dark and eerie. That's the way Christmas should sound, if you ask me.
2. It doesn't really bring up any memories, I just like the way it sounds. Maybe that's why I like it, because it doesn't bring up memories. All the other Christmas songs bring up too many childhood memories, and now they just make me sad. Maybe that's why I hate them.
3. I cannot freakin' stand "The Little Drummer Boy." I had serious issues with this song from the time I was a little girl. "Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum?" Am I really expected to sing this? Come on, people. You can't be serious.
Boyd Dixon of Tame...Tame and Quiet
Favorite holiday song: "Linus and Lucy" (Vince Guaraldi). My mother grew up loving Charlie Brown, and we always looked forward to the annual airing of the Christmas special. The whole soundtrack is wonderful, but "Linus and Lucy" is my favorite. It's the song that Schroeder plays while they're trying to rehearse the Christmas pageant, but instead of having any productive rehearsal, they're all just dancing and bobbing their heads. However, this is an adulthood favorite for me. When I was too young for nostalgia, I think "Jingle Bell Rock" was my fave.
Never want to hear again: "Jingle Bell Rock," probably from having during past Christmas seasons turned on my TV and gone to department stores entirely too frequently.
Paul Slocum of Treewave
1) "Christmas" by Beat Happening.
2) Cassette tapes.
3) I could do without "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."
Chris Holt of The Slack, Sorta and numerous other bands
Oh, I've got lots of favorites, and what's both sad and funny is that some of the ones that are absolutely wretched are the ones that I find myself listening to and giggling at the most.
Ones I really love:
Vera Lynn, "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot." This one's a tearjerker, a '40s tune about a boy with no father who gets no presents. I first heard it because it's in the opening scene of the movie The Wall, but the entire tune's great. In a really sad way.
Badly Drawn Boy, "Donna & Blitzen." I adore this tune, but I can't listen to it any other time of year. It's a sweet and simple sleigh-bell shakin' love song.
The Three Wise Men, "Thanks For Christmas." This is actually the great XTC, under a pseudonym. Sugary pop fun.
Any of the Vince Guaraldi tunes from A Charlie Brown Christmas. I can listen to that all month long and love it. For me, it's all about childhood nostalgia.
Another fantastic one is "Father Christmas" by The Kinks. "Give all the toys to the little rich boys." What a great "fuck-the-wealthy" anthem!
Some of the REALLY bad ones, I can't help but enjoy them as well. When I was a kid, I had the 45 single of Band Aid "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which I still enjoy on a campy level, but I always thought it was creepy when Bono sings "tonight thank God it's them instead of you." What a dick.
Paul McCartney's "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" is so bad, and yet I'll always listen. Same with "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses. It's an embarrassment on virtually every level and yet irresistible. Bowie and Bing doing "Little Drummer Boy" is a hoot as well.
I always liked the one where Tom Petty asks for a new Rickenbacker guitar and two Fender Bassmans at the end—can't remember the name of the tune [It's "Christmas All Over Again"], but that part always sticks in my head. Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" is hilarious, 'cause he sounds so damn serious. You better not pout, and the Boss will tell you why.
If I never again hear "Feliz Navidad," "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," my life would improve. Those songs make me wanna kick Santa in the balls.
Oh, and have you ever heard John Denver's "Daddy Please Don't Get Drunk For Christmas"? 'Nuff said.
Tim Alexander of Asleep at the Wheel and Reverend Organdrum
1. Favorite Xmas song is "Daddy's Drinkin' Up Our Christmas" by Commander Cody.
2. The irreverence and the humor of the Commander.
3. Least favorite is "Christmas Time is Here" by Alvin and the Chipmunks. The novelty has worn off for me.
Scott Porter of Record Hop, Spitfire Tumbleweeds and TXMF Records
1. As a suburban wastoid, I love empty Christmas bullshit: The lights, the colors, the weirdness of the new super-commercial season where there are months of strange animatronic elves and fat men and smiling woodland creatures plastered to every surface and giant flashing trees on every corner. I especially love the music. You will not hear me bitching about the classics and their inevitable two months of constant rotation from every speaker everywhere. I have to go with "Sleigh Ride." I started playing the French horn in sixth grade, and that song was in the program for every Christmas concert until I was a senior. It just sounds like December to me, which is, of course, the finest of all months, especially if you were an acid-addled mall rat. Wait—I think I might wanna go with Mannheim Steamroller.
2. Not scoring with band chicks from sixth grade through senior year.
3. Nah, it ain't like that. Me and Christmas music? We cool.