Not many things can get people in the spirit of the holiday season like Christmas music. There’s music for everybody this time of year – from the sacred to the secular, and from the traditional to the ultra-modern.
I’ve always been a fan of Christmas music, and my collection is as eclectic as one could expect. In my opinion, it’s hard to screw up Christmas music. But bad Christmas music does exist, and when Christmas music is bad, it’s awful!
Here are the ten worst examples of Christmas music. I know that even bad Christmas music has its fans, so not everyone is going to agree with my choices. But I think most of you will understand, and some of you might even agree with me.
10. “Merry Christmas Baby,” Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers (and various cover versions)
Some Christmas songs are bad because of a particular version that spoils it. Others are terrible no matter who records them. “Merry Christmas Baby” falls into the latter category.
The song dates back to 1947, when songwriter Lou Baxter approached Charles Brown, then the lead vocalist and keys player for Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, with a song he had written. Moore helped shape the tune, and the trio recorded it. It became an R&B hit that year and later became a staple of Christmas albums by rock singers.
“Merry Christmas Baby” follows a pretty standard blues pattern, with repeated lyric lines. The bluesy simplicity of the song opens up plenty of opportunities for artists who perform it to oversing and try to sound more soulful than they should. I’ve never heard a version of this song that I enjoyed; some of the worst offenders with this song include Bruce Springsteen and Sheryl Crow.
On a more positive note, Brown had his own Christmas solo hit that was much better than the one he performed with Moore’s trio – “Please Come Home for Christmas.”
9. “Wonderful Christmastime,” Paul McCartney
I’ve been a Beatles fan for as long as I can remember, and Paul McCartney is my favorite Beatle. But even I can admit that he has released some real turkeys over the years. “Wonderful Christmastime” is one of those.
We’re talking about one of the most blandly cheerful songs in the holiday canon. Nobody can deny that the song is upbeat and happy, but it’s neither rousing nor exciting. It’s an oddly synth-driven song for a McCartney number. In fact, for all the grief fans have given Linda McCartney over the years for her vocals and keyboard skills, I can’t imagine her dreaming of playing some of the synth lines that her husband takes on in “Wonderful Christmastime.”
There’s also nothing thoughtful about the season in the song, either. The lyrics are a tableau of generic Christmas activity with no more depth than the artwork on a dollar-store Christmas card.
As lackluster as “Wonderful Christmastime” is, you have to give McCartney some credit. As the sole songwriter, musician, and vocalist on the track, he has raked in the royalties over the years. He reportedly makes $400,000 a year on that song alone. Hooray for capitalism!
8. “Little Drummer Boy,” Harry Simeone Chorale
I’ll start my rant against this song by admitting that I have a history with it. “The Little Drummer Boy” was the first song I ever sang in public when I was seven years old. It has taken decades to shake the reputation of the kid who sang that song in church all those years ago. My family still gives me grief over it.
I’ve made my peace with the song, although it’s not my favorite Christmas carol. I’ve found some versions of “The Little Drummer Boy” that I enjoy, but the one by the Harry Simeone Chorale – which many people consider the definitive version – isn’t one of them.
Everything about this arrangement is grating, from the shrill soprano melody to the bass vocals droning “rum, rum” throughout the song. I’ve always thought it was unlistenable, even when I started to come around on the song itself.
Take it from a former little drummer boy himself: skip this version and find one of the hundreds of other version to make part of your Christmas tradition.
7. “Jingle Bells,” Barbra Streisand
We hear some Christmas carols so much that they become clichés. From kids singing at school to endless commercial background music, we probably do hear “Jingle Bells” far too often. When we can hear an innovative arrangement, that version can catch our attention.
But here’s the thing: Barbra Streisand’s version isn’t that fun rendition we’ve been looking for. I’ll confess that Streisand isn’t one of my favorite vocalists anyway, but I think that even if I were a diehard fan, I would hate her take on “Jingle Bells.”
Streisand has given us one of the most irritating Christmas songs ever in this recording. It’s frenetic and too clever by half. She’s not as funny as she thinks she is singing it, and there’s absolutely nothing endearing about her performance.
Unfortunately, Streisand’s reputation as the vocalist of all vocalists has led other artists to imitate this horrendous version of “Jingle Bells” (including one my all-time favorites, Amy Grant). That’s a shame, because this take on a classic carol needs to disappear down the memory hole.
6. “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas),” John Denver
I grew up on lots of classic Christmas music from the ‘70s: The Carpenters, Andy Williams, you get the picture. One of our family’s favorites was John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas. It was a staple on the turntable in my childhood years – with the exception of one song. My mom would refuse to listen to “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” I had to move on to adulthood and buy the CD to understand why.
I can’t decide whether that song is so sad it’s funny or so funny it’s sad. The song (which Bill and Taffy Danoff of Starland Vocal Band fame wrote) is so over the top in its maudlin nature that it can’t be serious. But the subject of the song, as you can see from the title, isn’t really any laughing matter either.
So “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)” sits in this uneasy space between pathos and humor, never really fitting enough into either category. As a result, it’s uncomfortable to listen to it, and that fact alone puts it in the bad song category.
5. “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band
Apparently, former Beatles had no business writing original Christmas songs.
I can consign “Happy Xmas” to the naughty list with three words: “Yoko sings backup.” But that’s not exactly fair, because it just scratches the surface of what makes this song so awful.
John Lennon became obsessed with hippy-dippy notions of peace in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, as we can see from songs like “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine” and the protest stunts he and Yoko Ono engaged in during that period. In one such endeavor, the couple purchased billboard space and plastered it with “War Is Over, If You Want It.” They turned that sentiment into a Christmas song.
Lennon and Ono – along with whatever the Plastic Ono Band was – recorded “Happy Xmas” to the tune of the English ballad “Stewball,” which also became the melody to the “Come Back to Jamaica” ad campaign a few years later. So this supposed Christmas classic paired a timeless melody with those goofy anti-war lyrics. And then those poor kids in the children’s choir! They have to sing along with Yoko, bless their hearts.
For some reason, artists revisit this song and cover it Christmas after Christmas. They might as well just sing “Stewball” or “Come Back to Jamaica.” At least those lyrics make sense.
4. “Deck the Halls,” Mannheim Steamroller
The problem with so much of the music of the ‘80s is that it has become dated. The electro-cheese that is Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas music sounded dated minutes after the band released it. In all honesty, I was going to cop out and say, “anything by Mannheim Steamroller,” but instead I chose the tune I consider to be the worst offender.
The brainchild of Chip Davis – the guy who helped “Convoy” become one of the most unlikely number one hits of the ‘70s – Mannheim Steamroller began releasing their synthesized festive take on elevator music in 1984. In the nearly 35 years since, Davis and company have released a whopping 26 Christmas albums, including compilations and not counting Davis’ three solo holiday records.
Clearly there’s a market for this crap, but why? It all sounds like a bunch of nerds created this recording in a computer lab. I can hear them now: “Let’s play with the melody to a familiar Christmas carol. We can make it as annoying as possible.” Some people really love them some Mannheim Steamroller, but I confess that I’ll never understand it.
3. “Blue Christmas,” Porky Pig/Seymour Swine
“Blue Christmas” is one of those modern holiday classics that is almost always good, no matter who records or performs it. Of course, Elvis Presley’s version stands head and shoulders over all over covers, but the tune is proof that a good song works in any capable hands.
But there’s one novelty version that is nothing short of maddening – it’s the “Porky Pig” version. This take on a Yuletide classic was the brainchild of comedian Denny Brownlee, who tested his idea in a comedy club before putting on record. Brownlee changed the “artist” name to Seymour Swine to avoid copyright infringement.
Needless to say, this song isn’t politically correct, and plenty of people have expressed their anger and disdain over making fun of stutterers. But not enough people have shared their outrage at how unfunny this version of “Blue Christmas” is. It’s simply annoying, and it’s three minutes of your busy Christmas season that you’ll never get back. Don’t waste your time on it.
2. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” Elmo & Patsy
Novelty Christmas songs and comedy tunes in general don’t get worse than “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Artists – a term I use loosely – Elmo & Patsy benefited from the advent of MTV to turn this juvenile quasi-country number into one of the most undeserving Christmas classics.
Simply put, this song is terrible. The vocals are amateurish, the production is poor, and it’s just not funny after the first listen. The video is worse, with production values that reveal the apparently low budget and puerile humor. Did I mention that it’s not funny?
What’s so crazy about “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and its success is that the song became the target of protests – and this long before the era of the social justice warrior. The Gray Panthers, a group committed to defending the rights of older Americans along with a host of liberal causes, went after the song, claiming that it upheld stereotypes against the aged.
Somebody should protest against it as an example of bad comedy.
1. “The Christmas Shoes,” NewSong
The vocal group NewSong released plenty of good songs on the Christian charts in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but they lost every bit of goodwill those decent hits generated when they released the worst Christmas song ever: “The Christmas Shoes.”
If you’ve never heard it – you know, if you’re fortunate enough to have avoided it all these years – “The Christmas Shoes” is schmaltzy and sentimental and intentionally meant to play with your emotions and induce tears. The narrator of the song tells the tale of standing in line behind a little boy who wants to buy a special pair of shoes for his mom before she passes away of an illness. The kid wants his mom to look her best for Jesus when she meets Him. Needless to say, the boy’s plight moves the man to purchase the shoes and make this family’s Christmas.
“The Christmas Shoes” is an egregious tear-jerker, and it resonated with enough people who wanted to torture themselves emotionally to crossover to the country charts, top the Adult Contemporary charts, and nearly make the top 40 on the Hot 100. Someone even made the song into a movie. Someone needs to put a stop to the schlock, and the sooner the better. It’s the worst Christmas song of all time, hands down.
There’s the list! Are there any other songs that you think belong on the list? Let me know in the comments section below.