December 10, 2003

Best-Loved and Most-Hated Holiday Songs

"How about one of those most-hated Xmas song threads?" asks Zizka.

You ask, IA delivers. But as always, I reserve the right to edit and revise in accordance with my own tastes, preferences and arbitrary whims. So it's most-hated and best-loved. Feel free to snark, or to confess a shameful addiction to the most saccharine fare imaginable: you can always post anonymously...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at December 10, 2003 01:52 PM

"So it's most-hated and best-loved."

Best-loved: In the Bleak Midwinter; Stille Nacht; Once in Royal David's City; You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch; Still, Still, Still; The Cherry Tree Carol; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Happy Xmas (War is Over); I Saw Three Ships; The Rebel Jesus; Adeste Fidelis; etc.; etc. (More here:

Most-hated: Every time I think there's a song I can't stand, I usually run across some version of it that's pretty good. Except "O Christmas Tree." That one's probably pretty much unsalvageable.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox at December 10, 2003 02:20 PM

Best loved - "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues and Kirsty McColl.

Posted by: Henry Farrell at December 10, 2003 02:35 PM

Best loved would need to be "Carol of the Bells." Worst hated would probably be "Walking in a Winter Wonderland", but almost anything that is played on pop radio would likely work. What's that annoyign one I've heard time and again about "This is my grown-up Christmas dream?"

Posted by: wolfangel at December 10, 2003 02:50 PM

I hate the word little, so The Little Saint Nick and have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (good tune though)would be up there for me. But I once worked in a supermarket over Christams where they played the same tape endlessly at the wrong speed. So worst of all is some song that seemed to go "Ludwig, Ludwig, tralalalala, something something carpenter."

Posted by: duncan at December 10, 2003 02:59 PM

Ah but Wolfangel, the Eurhythmics did a version of "Winter Wonderland" back in the 1980s that was brilliantly cool. There's almost no song that can't be redeemed by the right arrangement.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox at December 10, 2003 03:00 PM

Fleming and John have a "Winter Wonderland Hop" which takes the lyrics from Winter Wonderland set to a holiday arrangement of Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop". It's good Christmas fun.

Love: Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Nat Cole and the Christmas Song

Hate: Anything about grandmothers or two-front teeth.

Posted by: Andrew at December 10, 2003 03:34 PM

I have a soft spot for the rather sad "I Believe in Father Christmas" by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. There's nothing like a little grown-up disillusionment in your egg nog...

But I'm also inexplicably fond of the very whitebread "sweaters-for-everyone!" Christmas stylings of Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians: "Ring Those Christmas Bells!" And I like Glen Campbell's "Little Toy Trains," which is a lovely and warm evocation of childhood.

I can't think of any Christmas songs I really hate, although I'm finding that "Jingle Bells" grows more cloying with every year.

Posted by: J.V.C. at December 10, 2003 03:47 PM

Jane Siberry's album Child has my three favorite honest-to-goodness Christmas songs: "What is this Lovely Fragrance Stealing?", "Quoi, Ma Voisine, Es-Tu Fachee?", and "Are you Burning, Little Candle?"

Tom Lehrer's "Christmas Carol" runs them close, though.

Posted by: Kieran Healy at December 10, 2003 04:44 PM

Xmas songs? Hate 'em all. Are there any that aren't overplayed?

Once went to China in hopes of evading fucking Xmas. No luck even there. Gave up and went to Hong Kong, where I got mysteriously ill on the eve and had to endure the Snowman on the TV.


Posted by: scrooge at December 10, 2003 05:23 PM

Amen about hating the Two Front Teeth song! Other least favorite songs: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Little Drummer Boy (except the version with David Bowie was alright), 12 Days of Christmas, Santa Baby, and any R & B versions of Christmas songs should be punishable by death!
Favorites: Last Christmas (George Michael/Wham), Christmas Time is Here and other Vince Guaraldi (sp?) jazz songs from Charlie Brown Christmas, Sleighride (instrumental), Father Christmas (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Christmas Song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Christmas Time All Over the World (Sammy Davis Jr.), There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays, and Elvis's Blue Christmas.

Posted by: Cat at December 10, 2003 06:09 PM

Oh could I forget one of the world's worst Christmas song ever: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.
The joke wore off of that one the second time I heard it.

Posted by: Cat at December 10, 2003 06:11 PM

Loved: Fairytale of New York (Pogues) and 2000 Miles (Pretenders). I actually liked all the traditional Christmas hymns when I used to go to church, but not outside that context.

Well, not "We Three Kings", because the parody version is better. "We three kings of orient are, puffing on a rubber cigar...."

Hated: "Little Drummer Boy + Do You See What I See" medley. When I go to hell, that's what will be playing constantly (along with Abba's greatest hits.)

"Little Drummer Boy" has the essential ingredient for being really, really bad -- it's catchy and you can't get it out of your head. I used to imagine the little drummer boy dying in battle like Gunga Din.

Posted by: zizka at December 10, 2003 07:17 PM

Count me in with The Pogues "Fairytale of NY" (we are showing our ages, aren't we?). And that Eurythmics version of "Winter Wonderland." And Bill Evans playing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" -- ah, beautiful.

Posted by: Chris at December 10, 2003 07:43 PM

Uh-oh. I liked "The Little Drummer Boy" when I was a kid. But I'm Jewish, hence the bad taste in Christmas songs.

"Silent Night" was always a puzzler, since I couldn't figure out all the verses. I mean, what did "Runyon version" have to do with "Mother and child"? :)

By default, I guess I'm stuck with the Song Otherwise Known as the Chanukah Song. ("Chanukah, oh Chanukah, come light the Menorah...")

Posted by: Miriam at December 10, 2003 07:58 PM

Silent Night" was always a puzzler, since I couldn't figure out all the verses. I mean, what did "Runyon version" have to do with "Mother and child"? :)

It's "Round John urging Mother and child," which makes perfect sense.

Posted by: Kieran Healy at December 10, 2003 08:54 PM

best loved: New Years' Resolutions by Otis Redding; White Christmas by Bing Crosby
most hated: everything else. not much of a holiday song lover. alas. the coffees shops drive me insane this time of year with sappy, precious tunes.

Posted by: karrie at December 10, 2003 08:56 PM

No guys, it's "round yon virgin". So Mary was obese.

Similarly, "Fielden Fountain, moor, and mountain" describes the Three Kings. One of them a WASP, one of them black, and one of them obese.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned at December 10, 2003 09:18 PM

Well, for me, Mannhiem Steamroller (and yes, I need a spell checker) for both categories. I love it, except when I hear it too much. Then it is like Little Drummer Boy, redux.

Posted by: Steve at December 10, 2003 10:03 PM

Liking "The Little Drummer Boy" isn't as bad as poisoning wells.

Posted by: zizka at December 11, 2003 12:44 AM

Loved: To Drive the Cold Winter Away; Voici l'etoile de Noel; Noel Nouvelet

Hated: Josef Lieber, Josef Mein; Up on the Housetop; Here We Come A'Wassailing

Posted by: Jane at December 11, 2003 02:11 AM

"Feed the World," anybody? Crap, crap, crap, crap. Instead of donating money their money to legitimate charities which might have done something, a gaggle of celebrities (how the jingle bells did Dan Ackroyd get included?) engaged in aural onanism and sent the already seasonally stressed pap-and-tripe meter spinning into overdrive.

Posted by: Dan at December 11, 2003 07:33 AM

Like: "I Believe in Father Christmas" -- ELP (with an assist from the classical composer that they swiped the riff from at the end -- a stock ELP tactic.)

"Father Christmas" -- The Kinks

"I Wonder as I Wander" -- I'm partial to Joan Baez's version (Hey, music rises above politics), but just love the song any way I hear it.

"Uncle Bernie's Farm" -- Frank Zappa (when I'm feeling even more cynical than the ELP guys).

Dislike (OK, Loathe):

"Grandma Got Run Over etc." -- Patsy and Elmo.

Posted by: WM3 at December 11, 2003 08:57 AM

In an '80s vein, "Feed the World" is sappy but I like the chimes in the chorus. But one song from that period I love is "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses: it kind of captures the magic of the unexpected.

Posted by: oliviacw at December 11, 2003 09:10 AM

I've been on a quest to replace my wife's horrible Christmas music with stuff I can stand (I'm Jewish, she's Lutheran).

Louie Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald both have wonderful Christmas albums.

The Edge of Christmas contains most of the New Wave Hits mentioned (including Pretenders, Pogues, and Waitresses, and Bowie/Crosby if memory serves)

Cyndi Lauper has a really, really good Christmas album, nice mix of jokey and serious.

There is a Canadian Christmas album that leads with a Sarah Maclachlan/Bare Naked Ladies bass and vocals version of We Three Kings that completely redeems that song. It also ends with a 20 minute monologue by the Canadian Garrison Keilor that is one of the funniest things I ever heard. There is some really good stuff in between.

And A Very Special Christmas (1 or 2)is worth owning just for Run DMC's Christmas in Hollis.

My wife is a sap for the Muppets and John Denver Christmas album but I don't get it.

And the Blind Boys of Alabama have a Christmas CD that seems like it is really good (I only have heard two tracks).

Steve Earle's Christmas in the Neighborhood (I think) if you can find a Dixie Chicks version w/out Rosie whatsherface on it so much the better.

Dislikes: most Christmas R and B, Sleigh Ride (can't anybody find an original way to do this song?) the Christmas song (ditto), little drummer boy (even Joan Jett let me down, although the Bowie version is OK b/c it is a backdrop for another song). John Lennon's So this is Christmas (ugh!). Anything by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and stilted un-gospelly arrangements of Go Tell it on the Mountain.

Posted by: David Salmanson at December 11, 2003 10:18 AM

I love "Do you hear what I hear?" and "Joy to the World" but my favorite is a duet that was sung at the midnight service in the church I went to growing up. It's called "Watchman, Tell Us of the Night" and is between two men, the Watchman (at the front of the church) and the Traveller (who starts at the back of the church and walks in).

Also, Robert Downey's version of "River" (or is it "The River") is great. And Vince Gueraldi's versions of "O Christmas Tree" and "What Child is This" (aka: "the Charlie Brown Christmas music") which I can play reasonably well on the piano. And Ottmar Liebert's Poets and Angels album.

This is really much more fun to think about than my dissertation.

Posted by: af at December 11, 2003 10:43 AM

Hate hate HATE: 12 Days of Christmas. Hate it EVERY way it's performed, with or without dramatic pauses and huge (idiotic) emphasis on 5 GOLDEN RINGS.

Love: Joni Mitchell's "I wish I had a river I could skate away on" -- whatever the name is of that song. Also, two Christmas Revels albums from the early 1980's -- don't know if they've been reissued on CD.

Great thread. I'm gonna be listening to some new music this year!

Posted by: Nancy2784 at December 11, 2003 10:44 AM

Ah, the level of cyncism I'm seeing here warms the cockles of my heart.

Perhaps there's hope for academia after all!

Posted by: J.V.C. at December 11, 2003 11:05 AM

David (no. 24), some comments:

1) Garrison Keillor isn't Canadian; he's a Minnesotan. Close, admittedly, but not the same. His politics are essentially Canadian though, if that counts.

2) The Run-DMC Christmas rap is on Very Special Christmas No. 1 (the best of the lot, in my opinion).

3) I'm with your wife; the John Denver/Muppets Christmas album is wonderful. Sappy at places, sure, but nicely balanced out by the natural mania of the Muppets. And Rowlf the Dog's duet with Denver on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is damn near the definitive version of the tune.

4) You're right about Armstrong and Fitzgerald. Ella's cover of "Frosty the Snowman" is scatting, toe-tapping genius.

5) I kind of like Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," but like it or not, we can surely agree it beats Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime."

6) Don't knock the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They try hard.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox at December 11, 2003 11:34 AM

Like: "Holly and the Ivy" because it's peaceful-like. "God rest ye merry gentlmen" and that one with the line "don we now our gay apparel"--the season is about partying, after all.

Dislike: Spike Jones' Xmas novelty tunes like "All I want for Xmas is my two front teeth" and the excruciating one where the little devil is going to be an angel in the Xmas play. These make me wonder "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"

Posted by: Harv Brickstone at December 11, 2003 11:41 AM

For Chanukah (although I'm not Jewish) I love the Adam Sandler Chanukah song.

Fairytale of New York, the Coventry Carol, most all of the songs on the Chieftains' Bells of Dublin -- not always those versions, but a great selection of traditional stuff, Grinch songs, Charlie Brown Songs, Crosby/Bowie -- a very interesting juxtaposition, The Corrie (sp?) Band's Stop the Cavalry and anything that actually resembles the Christmas spirit, including Happy Christmas from the Family and The Christians and the Pagans.

Almost every song that talks about Santa Claus -- except for The Kinks' Father Christmas (that's a big like)
Do they Know it's Christmas? probably not, Bob -- the starving children were mostly Muslims and animists, AFAIK
Patsy and Elmo
Sleigh Ride
All I want for Christmas
Winter Wonderland -- except when used as a tune for amusing football chants
Jingle Bells

Posted by: Another Damned Mediaevalist at December 11, 2003 11:48 AM

Garrison Keihler's ancestors were Canadian (Loyalists who fled the American Revolution). He has a conflicted identity.

I haven't heard much of Phil Spector's Xmas album, but I liked the Roni Spector's sleighride song. What a creep that man was, though.

Iggy Pop should do a Christmas album, don't you think?

Posted by: zizka at December 11, 2003 12:03 PM

Favorites: "Silver Bells," "2000 Miles," "River" because I love Joni Mitchell, but it is depressing.

Least Favorite: "We Need a Little Christmas" (lyrics here if you don't know that one). I hate it because we had to sing it over and over one year when I was a child for a Christmas show for the parents. The chorus director kept calling the song "Haul out the Holly," because that's the first line, but IT'S NOT THE TITLE OF THE S0NG! and I remember being very annoyed by that as a third-grader. I also hate the "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" song, which I believe is just titled "The Christmas Song," "O Christmas Tree," and "Let There Be Peace on Earth." That song was the big finale of that same Christmas pageant; we had to put our arms around each other's shoulders and sway from side to side as we sang it. The parents were all sobbing, and I thought the whole thing was so saccharine that I could have puked.

Posted by: Clancy at December 11, 2003 12:28 PM

I hate Christmas music in general, but "Jingle Bell Rock" has to be the absolute worst of all time.

I have a soft spot in my heart for "Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey". Once a year. ONCE.

There is one version of "The Little Drummer Boy" I enjoy - it's sung by the talented trio of Tonto, Tarzan, and Frankenstein.

And (in a similar vein), the best Christmas song ever is "O Holy Night", performed by Eric Cartman.

(No, I'm not kidding. I don't like Christmas music that doesn't make me laugh.)

Posted by: me at December 11, 2003 12:33 PM

Sorry, to clarify, I meant the Canadian version of Garrison Keilor (that is someone who talks amusedly and calmly about small town life to audiences who listen in rapt attention).

Nancy, Nancy, Nancy (#26). Twelve days of Christmas is genius because it provides the inspiration for the Great White North version by Bob and Doug McKenzie aka those two guys from SCTV the one who works a lot (Rick Moranis) and the other guy (Dave Thomas). Hm seems I have a strange Canadian fetish at Christmas.

Re: Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It's just so loud. Maybe they are trying too hard?

Posted by: David Salmanson at December 11, 2003 02:26 PM

OK, David #34. I've found the McKenzie Bros online; can't play the mp3 here (at work) but I will at home. Maybe, just maybe, there's a version of that idiotic song that doesn't make me want to puke.

Posted by: Nancy2784 at December 11, 2003 03:11 PM

Oh man--Bob and Doug's Twelve Days of Christmas! Haven't heard that one in a while. Those guys were wonderful. ("On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...a beer.")

Also, how about Billy Crystal's SNL-era cover of "The Christmas Song"? Sammy Davis Jr., Muhammad Ali, Joe Franklin and all the rest make an appearance. Good stuff.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox at December 11, 2003 06:59 PM

Bob and Doug McKenzie, eh? You bunch o' hosers. Who brought the two-four?

Hey, does anyone remember the Sammy Maudlin show? (which admittedly has nothing to do with holiday songs).

"Fairytale of New York" is one of my Dad's favourites (mine too).

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at December 11, 2003 07:23 PM

What specifically is a hoser? I know that it's nothing good and suspect that it has to do with urination.

Posted by: zizka at December 11, 2003 09:20 PM

Cryptic Ned (#17) : That "mountain" bit may have referred to how Mary felt at 8 1/2 months.

Favorite Christmas song: Joy to the World (the one that starts "Jeremiah was a bullfrog...") Yes, it's a Christmas song, because I say it is.

In a more traditional vein, I like Sleigh Ride. Also, for reasons I can't fathom, I like the Chipmunks Christmas song (you know, Simon, Theodore and Alvin).

Most Loathed Christmas Song: it's a tie between the barking dogs doing Jingle Bells, and Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

Posted by: at December 11, 2003 09:20 PM

Oops, post #39 was mine. Forgot the bit about the name the first time.

Posted by: Karen at December 11, 2003 09:22 PM

So many other people who love "Fairytale of New York"! I have to go listen to If I Should Fall From Grace With God now.

Most loathed song: right at the moment, it's "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," because today, outside a restaurant, I heard it being "sung" by a terrifying, almost-life-sized, robotic Santa, complete with shimmying action. (I heard someone exclaim "Oh my God, that thing is so freakin' scary!" as I went by.)

I also hate "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." And "Jingle Bell Rock." And, well, pretty much anything that they play in shopping malls at this time of year.

Songs I like: "Good King Wenceslaus" (has a good beat, and you can dance to it, sort of); "Here We Come a-Wassailing"; "We Three Kings" (both the original and the "lighting up a rubber cigar" parody version).

Posted by: Amanda at December 12, 2003 01:17 AM

Best-Loved: Silent Night still does it for me.

Most-Hated: All those friggin ads for the lame radion stations that have been playing all Christmass all the time, since Thanksgiving. Grrrr...!

Posted by: DM at December 12, 2003 02:51 AM

P.S. Forgot about the Kinks Father Christmas. It's a major like.

Posted by: DM at December 12, 2003 02:58 AM

Favorite Christmas song: Pretty much anything sung by Chanticleer. That group could make The Chipmunks version of "All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth" sound ethereal.

Speaking of favorites, I'll take The Chipmunks, too.

Posted by: SuzieQ at December 12, 2003 09:14 AM

"The Turkish Song of the Damned" technically isn't a Christmas song, I don't think.

Posted by: zizka at December 12, 2003 10:30 AM

I'll also add Snoopy's Christmas (?). It's on the flip side of Snoopy and the Red Baron and I might like it just because it was the only 45 my brothers would let me play.

Posted by: David Salmanson at December 12, 2003 10:55 AM

the anglophile (not to mention the anglican) in me loves the coventry carol and "people, look east" (which i have never heard outside of an episcopal church).

the crap-o-phile in me absolutely adores the rhino records christmas collection, circa early 1990's. includes such favorites as "jingle bell rock," "little drummer boy," "white christmas," "blue christmas" (elvis: uh-hull hah-ha-va-hah blue-hoo-hoo-hoo christmaaaaaaaaaaaaas, &c.), and (please don't hurt me) "grandma got run over by a reindeer."

and despite my deep respect for john lennon, nothing in me has any affection whatsoever for "war is over/happy christmas," or any other song including a children's chorus.

Posted by: amelia at December 12, 2003 12:48 PM

One of the occupational hazards of being from the Western world. For several years I couldn't stand any holiday music, for any holiday (maybe something about being raised Southern Baptist...), but the I became a music major for a while. I swear, I'm just a sucker for anything at least a hundred years old or which requires an ensemble, and the bigger, the better: Handel's and Haydyn's oratorios, anything on Performance Today, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, my old choir (Dr. Mac's Christmas program is always a mix of Latin music and music from Spain or Latin America... sigh, them was the good old days), well, you get the idea.

Also especially enjoyed is Santa Baby, just because it annoys my little brother so :-P

Disliked, if not outright hated, is any Christmas music that is not part of the aforementioned.

Posted by: Aramis Martinez at December 13, 2003 07:32 PM

Check out Oy to the World! A Klezmer Christmas for mild amusement.

Posted by: Clancy at December 14, 2003 04:03 PM

I like virtually any Christmas carols or musical compositions which predate the twentieth century (so, basically, up to "I Saw Three Ships"); I will sing anything in four-part harmony with a smidge of theological content, and object to most translations. In more recent news, I can enjoy a children's choir lisping through "Rudolph," but anything else is too damn cutesy. Pop or R&B "versions" are mostly right out.

There are very few Hanukkah songs which I dislike, although "I Have A Little Dreidel" also belongs in the children's-choir-only category. I take a childish delight in telling people about the vast discrepancy between "Maoz Tsur" and the "Rock of Ages" English translation, but my all-out favorite is probably "Mi Y'malel," because I enjoy singing rounds. Oh, and I have a soft spot for everything on the Peter, Paul & Mary Christmas tape, which tells you what kind of music I was brought up on. ;)

"O Hanukkah" is my least favorite, but there's much to be said for the parody version, which is All About The Latkes. ("You may not guess / But it was the latkes / that made the Syrians recoil....")

Posted by: Naomi Chana at December 15, 2003 04:40 PM

Okay, now that everybody else has spilled, I have to say that my all-time absolute favourite is Harry Belafonte's To Wish You a Merry Christmas. My parents had the record album (remember those?), which I first heard when I was, what, two? three years old? And I now have a CD, which comes pretty close, except that I miss the static and the scratches.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at December 15, 2003 09:51 PM

Re comment 50. "right out"

Nothing like a Python reference for Christmas, eh?

Posted by: Aramis Martinez at December 16, 2003 06:06 AM

Nancy #35 ... even if you don't get a kick out of the things that Bob and Doug sing about (I love the song), you will probably like it better than any other version you've heard b/c they skip over about 4-5 of the days of Christmas by the end of the song. (Too many 'first days of Christmas' beers, apparently.)

Posted by: kt at December 18, 2003 12:13 PM

I like Sleigh Ride (the original version). I played it for years in school orchestras, and it's really fun to play - there are several sections where different instruments play one note, all in a row, so the tune sort of pops across the orchestra. The group has to be pretty tight and accurate for it to work, and when I listen to it now, it's just delightful. And I get a kick out of the trumpet horse whinny at the end. Other versions of Sleigh Ride (especially if they forego the horse whinny) just leave me cold.

I like everything I've ever heard of Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and the other guy who does Carol of the Bells or Silver Bells as though it is the soundtrack to a slasher film. For some reason I get a real kick out of completely overdone synthesizer versions of simple songs.

I hate cutesy things like Santa Baby, although I enjoy Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer - I think the difference is that GGROBAR is self-mocking, while Santa Baby is too serious in its attempt to sexualize Christmas. I just know that Santa Baby creeps me out every time and GGROBAR is funny once or twice a year.

But then, my favorite T-shirt in college was "If you love someone, set them free. If they don't come back, hunt them down and shoot them."

Posted by: Teri at December 20, 2003 09:57 AM