If asked, some may peg me as more of a “Bah Humbug!” than a “Deck the Halls” type of gal. It’s true that organized religion and I had a falling out and may never reconcile, but the promise of the Christmas season has always filled me with a hope for humanity’s goodness that seems lacking the rest of the year. The music helps.
When I was a child attending Christmas mass with my family, the music director was a master at building emotion over the course of the service. As midnight approached, the lights would dim and the congregation would softly sing “Silent Night” by candle light. When the bells tolled for Christmas and “Joy to the World” was sung, that joy was tangible.
For me, traditional hymns will always rekindle the emotional response I felt each year while surrounded by family, love, ritual and magic. However, the fun, fantastical, puckish nature of the season is best portrayed through non-traditional music.
I’ve put together a list of my favorites here for you.
1. “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues. Louisiana, Dec. 1988. I was an angst-ridden teenager. Too young to have fun like the adults and too old to want to hang out with the younger kids. Enter my aunt’s best friend, Stuart Riordan, with one of the coolest gifts I’ve received: “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” by The Pogues.
2. “It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop” by Frightened Rabbit. This song captures the hope that we can all be better people — if only for one day.
3. “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt. Sure, this is a song about a woman flirting with Santa as she asks for expensive gifts. Yes, it’s rife with innuendo. But when Kitt sings, it’s not trashy. It’s sultry.
4. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. One of the best Christmas songs of all time sung by one incredibly smooth man.
5. “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Henry Rollins. Though not technically a song, Rollins takes the classic poem and turns it into a report from an urban war zone. Points for creativity.
And now, for the worst. The following songs should never be played under any circumstances. The videos are simply for illustrative purposes.
1. “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney. Worst. Song. Ever. I have threatened violence on people who think of singing it in my presence. I will not enter a store in which it is playing.
2. The Chipmunk Song. Shoot me. Or shoot the stereo. Just make it stop.
3. I discovered that Justin Bieber has a Christmas album.
4. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid. I think they’re too busy worrying about food, tribal warfare and disease to think about your Christian holiday. The sheer idiocy of this song aggravates me.
5. “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)” by John Denver. When John Prine sings about Christmas in prison, it’s funny. When John Denver sings about his drunk father and sobbing mother, it’s just depressing.
Among the best:
"Happy Christmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. This Beatle got it right.
"Gabriel’s Message" by Sting. Every time I hear this, I wish it were longer.
"Christmas in Hollis" by Run-DMC. First, they sampled the horn section from Backdoor Santa by Clarence Carter and that’s just awesome. Then they throw together an oddball storyline and have fun in the delivery of it.
Among the worst:
"Christmas Conga" by Cyndi Lauper. The saving grace is that I think I’ve only heard this travesty twice in my life.
"Funky, Funky Christmas" by New Kids on the Block. I hope they got paid well for this. I couldn’t even listen to it all the way through.
"Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" by Elmo and Patsy. Look, the rest of the world already has a bad enough view of Southerners. Our ignorant hick reputation doesn’t need any more help.
Merry Christmas to you all. Whatever you listen to, I hope it brings you joy.