Christmas Tunes Revisited: Some Utterly Wretched Songs
[guest post by JVW]
One year (and one day) ago this evening I wrote a post covering some songs and albums which make my list for the best of Christmas music. Given my general grumpy disposition this Yuletide season, I thought it only appropriate that we discuss some of the more substandard, trite, grating, and annoying holiday carols known to man. Buckle up, friends: this may get contentious.
Now at the outset I want to say that I have zero interest in discussing novelty holiday songs — i.e., those which are designed to be intentionally offensive, eye-rollingly silly, or even moronically putrid. No, this post is reserved for songs which were actually designed to become Christmas classics, witless though they may be, and those which are somehow revered by hordes of our fellow human beings. The inspiration for this post was a back-and-forth which took place over at National Review Online earlier this month, in which some of the staff writers and a few guests took aim at various songs. It’s an entertaining debate, so allow me a moment to recap it here:
Back at the end of October, Kyle Smith Tweeted a funny picture taken of a jukebox at a Dallas bar, upon which was posted a notice explaining that the playing of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is forbidden prior to December 1, and rationed to only one time per day thereafter. The illustrious Ms. Carey herself replied in a round-about way to the Tweet.
After Mr. Smith wrote a post in the Corner recounting the event, without particularly passing judgement on the song itself, Kevin Williamson replied that he was neutral to Mr. Carey’s oft-played hit, but he held particular contempt for “Santa Baby” and “Little Saint Nick,” which strikes even me as undue curmudgeonry, even though the former is overrated and the latter is a thin rewrite of “Little Deuce Coupe” with seasonal lyrics.
This brought Dan McLaughlin into the debate. He agrees that “Santa Baby” — in which the songstress is trying to seduce Jolly Old St. Nicholas for cryin’ out loud! — is indeed perhaps the worst Christmas classic, but he brought to my attention a holiday song which I had not yet had the misfortune to hear, “The Christmas Shoes” by NewSong, a emotionally-manipulative Christian-oriented tune designed to make you feel really shitty about enjoying the Birth of the Savior while others get by on less, though the song’s narrator virtue-signals his way through the story. This abomination apparently came from a novel and was turned into a TV movie starring Rob Lowe and the ex-girlfriend of tennis great Pete Sampras.
Mark Kirkorian came to the defense of “All I Want for Christmas,” declaring it a great song, and instead proposed the vainglorious anthem from my youth which accelerated the notion of pop stars being fonts of altruism, 1984’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by a collection of pompous British and Irish musicians with nothing better to do than condescend to Africans and advance the notion that all of Africa was parched Saharan desert rather than some of the most fertile agriculture land in the world. As we all know, this effort would be matched on our side of the Atlantic, and the whole look-at-us-coked-up-pop-stars-doing-good genre would be upped several notches over the next few years. NRO editor Jack Butler reminded Mr. Kirkorian that he (Butler) had raked the song over the coals the previous year, gleefully relating Morrisey’s classic quote about the effort: “It wasn’t done shyly. It was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music.” This brought back in Dan McLaughlin to protest that the tune itself was pretty good, and its political vacuity was no worse than that of the execrable John Lennon and Yoko Ono abomination “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”
Then entering the fray was George Messenger, who confidently declared that Wham’s “Last Christmas” — another incessantly-played noël — was in fact the King of the Nativity Dung Hill, opining that its sheer (Ninteen-) Eightyness was akin to “being force-fed a Trapper Keeper.” Touché, Mr. Messenger! Alec Dent protested that though “Last Christmas” certainly isn’t for everyone, it isn’t the oblique and senseless narrative as charged by Mr. Messenger but rather a moving reminder of how the holiday season can turn one’s thoughts wistfully to loves lost, though stipulating that every single cover version of the song is awful. This final post brought the debate to an unresolved but nevertheless satisfying close.
But, dear Patterico’s Pontification reader, verily the worst Christmas song of all time is one that went nearly unmentioned (except for a brief acknowledgement in Dan McLaughlin’s first post): Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” Let me acknowledge upfront that this particular artist is tied for last-place on my list of favorite Beatles, just after Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best. That said, I don’t entirely hate the guy. I’m actually for the most part a fan of the Wings Band on the Run album, and there are a handful of his other solo and band songs which I truly enjoy. However, Paul McCartney all too often unfortunately dishes up treacly tripe, and there is a certain amount of laziness in his output which suggests that he strives for ditties destined to receive radio play rather than satisfying standards which can stand the test of time.
I somehow doubt that anyone will be playing “Wonderful Christmastime” after the last fan with a living memory of Paul McCartney has shuffled off this mortal coil. It’s not going to be another “White Christmas” or “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” or — Lord, help us — “Santa Baby.” The hook itself is piffle: as Mr. McLaughlin aptly describes it, a sixty-second concept stretched by sheer banal repetition into a four-minute single. And frankly, I’m not sure that I would like the sixty-second version of the song all that much either. For some reason it is played rather frequently between Halloween and Epiphany, though fittingly one is most likely to encounter it being piped in over the sound system in some shopping plaza or else while trapped in an elevator. Though there are plenty of bad Christmas songs destined to bring out one’s inner Grinch (have I ever mentioned how much I loathe “Away in a Manger”?), I can’t imagine one that makes me want to reclaim Cindy Lou Who’s Christmas bounty any more than “Wonderful Christmastime,” truly the worst Christmas song of them all.
Now your turn: tell us which holiday classic really makes your skin crawl.