As I was driving this evening, quite literally, through the holiday bustle, listening to the holiday music channel on my satellite radio, I started to daydream. Don’t worry – I stayed in my lane. But I got to thinking about all the Christmas songs I love, and, conversely, the songs for which I do not have as much cheer.
So, without further ado, my Top 10 Christmas Songs of All-Time (and, ahem, my Bottom 10 Christmas Songs of All-Time):
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee) - This song is like popcorn for your brain. You hear it in the car? You’re bouncing. You hear it at home, you can’t help but dance. It’s fun. And no one can turn the word ‘couple’ into a three-syllable word quite like Brenda Lee. I challenge you not to get a sentimental feeling.
Blue Christmas (Elvis Presley) - I’ll admit it. I was never an Elvis fan. Not young Elvis, not old Elvis, not Elvis-on-a-Stamp. I just never liked the guy. I couldn’t trust anyone whose lip curled so unnaturally. That said, I love this song because it sounds like he’s singing on top of an overloaded washing machine during the spin cycle. And who hasn’t knocked a few back at a Christmas party and channeled Vibrating Elvis?
All I Want for Christmas is You (Mariah Carey) – This is a sentimental value song. I’ve written about it a few times now. Long story short, my family ‘rings in’ the Christmas season to it every year. The season simply cannot begin without this song. That’s just a rule. And, quite honestly, there’s nothing quite as intoxicating as the first few notes.
The 12 Days of Christmas (Really, anyone. Who cares?) Why do I love this song? Because it’s so damned long. You can wander off, get a drink from the water fountain, snag a few sugar cookies, and use the restroom, all before jumping in on the next verse. And it has a way of becoming pretty funny after, say, nine, when nobody’s quite sure whether the lords are supposed to be leaping, or the pipers piping, or something should be laying eggs. And then there are the people who get winded trying to sing all the way through. It’s a good time.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Burl Ives) - I love all songs – all media, actually – in which I can interject unsolicited commentary. Like a lightbulb!
Frosty the Snowman (Gene Autry) - Personally, I enjoy Frosty’s fast-paced life, the drama, the suspense. Will he melt away or won’t he? And it is a little magical to think about a pile of snow coming to life and cavorting with children. Let’s face it: We like snowmen. We just can’t get enough. (Author’s Note: The real reason Frosty was put on this list is because that’s the first record I ever owned. Once I got to this item, I realized that I would date myself by talking about the records I owned, so I decided not to discuss it.)
Jingle Bell Rock (Bobby Helms) - What’s not to love about this song? The bells? The guitar riffs? And it’s got a hop in it, just like Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. How come no one ever invited me to a hop? Or bought me a pop in a glass bottle? Or let me wear his Letterman jacket? This curdles my cold cream and gets my rollers all in a bunch. You know what? Never mind. I’m going to stay home and wash my hair.
Little Drummer Boy (Harry Simeone Chorale) - This one is simple. It’s my grandmother’s favorite Christmas song. She used to get all misty when it came on, and say, “Steph, ooh, Little Drummer Boy!” and she’d continue, “Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum!” with a far-off look in her eye. It does, and always will, remind me of her.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (anyone BUT Bruce Springsteen) - This is one of the songs that we all learn as kids. In fact, I’ve started teaching it to my son. Because nothing, and I mean nothing, beats threats from and old man you don’t know, who has total control over whether or not you receive anything for Christmas. Nothing.
Silver Bells (Johnny Mathis) – I love it. I do. And it’s so melodic. Just fun to sing. There’s not much to say beyond that. Except that it’s about precious metals and shopping. How could any woman not love it?
My Bottom 10 (If I never heard these again, it would be too soon.)
The Christmas Song (Alvin & The Chipmunks) – I don’t quite know how we came to love the Chipmunk voice. I’d like to think it was carryover from the ’70′s, maybe a little residue left over there, but I’m not feeling these fuzzy little freaks. And Theodore, with that godforsaken hula hoop. Get a real job, Dave.
Feliz Navidad (José Feliciano) - Okay, fine. I’ll admit it. The first five times, it’s not so bad. We don’t know the words. We make noises that resemble the words. We sound like complete fools. And once you hit the tenth or eleventh time, the madness begins to set in. Especially in a store. And you can’t turn it off in a store…
Last Christmas (Wham!) - Christmas heartbreak, as extolled so geniusly by George Michael. Though I was also given a Wham! record, I can’t say I was ever a fan. I was always more confused by him than anything else. I remember standing in a record store, in the mall, just staring at the cover of his Faith album. I was about nine. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Hey, George! Quit your bitching! The future shall bring many conquests.
Do They Know It’s Christmas (Band Aid) – Another gem from 1984, where the mega rich come together to beg for money to feed the poor. You know what else you could have done? Wrote them a check. Would have saved us twenty-eight years of grief. (Love you, Bono! Call me!)
Happy Christmas (John Lennon & Yoko Ono) - Never a Beatles fan. I know, I know. Sacrilege. And never, ever a Yoko fan. I’m glad Vietnam ended. I truly am. It was a long and miserable time for this country. But I don’t need (or want) to commemorate it every December. I just don’t. We should leave this one to the history books.
Merry Christmas Darling (The Carpenters) - I just never got into The Carpenters. And a big, fat NO to every version henceforth. This song just – How you say? – sucks.
Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey (Lou Monte) – Never heard this song? It’s a treat. Do look it up. In the meantime, I will try my level best not to launch into a rant. This song is pretty popular around these parts, since a lot of Italians literally dropped anchor here, and count this little gem as part of their Christmas tradition. This song is about a loud, annoying donkey who enjoys kicking. And the guy swings in and out of Italian during the song. It’s a marscapone-covered train wreck. Stare at it for a little while, and then move along.
The Christmas Song (Nat ‘King’ Cole) - ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’ is a phrase I have no interest in hearing. Ever. Again.
Silent Night (Doesn’t Matter!) - Let me qualify this one. I like this song. A lot, actually. Despite my having been forced to sing it hundreds of times in fourth-grade Glee Club. I’ve forgiven that. What I hate about it is that it’s one of those songs, you know, like I Will Always Love You or The Star-Spangled Banner, that everyone knows the words to, everyone sings, and most people butcher. Some songs are best left to the pros. This is one of them. Let’s let Celine sing it. That’s why she makes the big bucks.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (John Cougar Mellencamp) - This is another song I actually like. Kind of. I don’t like sexual undertones in any of my Christmas songs, as we’ve recently seen, so I’m really all set with anyone smooching Santa. My issue with this song, though, is a guy, in tight jeans, bopping his head and licking his lips, sweatily belting out the lyrics. I find it slightly revolting.
Santa Baby (Madonna) - When I hear Madonna attempting to purr and pout the lyrics to this song, I get an overwhelming urge to grab her lips and twist them until she cries ‘uncle’. Think she’s still into that sort of thing?