(Didn’t make the cut)
It’s that time of year again when people put up their Christmas lights and garlands and, in the case of Los Angeles, fake snow (it’s 75 degrees as of press time). One of the most beloved traditions of this time of year is the rash of Holiday music that takes over the radio. For four weeks, radio formats go out the window, and we get a nice smattering of oldies and cheesiness instead. Many people adore the traditional carols and the classic standards, but I’m partial to the modern holiday tunes. In fact, sometimes I think they don’t get the recognition they deserve. That’s why I’ve decided to rank the thirty best modern holiday songs. I’m sure the choices and order will ruffle many feathers, but hey, that’s the fun of the blogosphere, right?
The list after the jump…
The qualifications for this list were simple. I simply ordered the songs by how excited I’d be to hear them come on the radio.
30. “Christmas For The Jews” By Darlene Love
This parody song from Saturday Night Live doesn’t actually get played on the radio, but it’s surprisingly really good. Then again, there’s not much Darlene Love touches that doesn’t turn out well.
29. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by The Muppets
The Muppets. ‘Nuff said.
28. “Dominick The Donkey” By Richard Allen
I’m always surprised at how many people have never heard of “Dominick The Donkey.” In New York, the radio stations play it all the time. Then again, this tribute to the “Italian Christmas donkey” probably wouldn’t resonate as well in Minnesota as opposed to, say, the Jersey Shore. Either way, it’s a strange but cute song, and you will certainly find it stuck in your head at the most inopportune times.
27. “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever” by Sufjan Stevens
Who said Christmas had to be fun? Perennially moody folk singer Sufjan Stevens tells a beautifully depressing tune about an abusive father who burns his kids’ toys. Merry Christmas!
26. “The Chanukah Song” By Adam Sandler
Representing Chanukah every year is the “The Chanukah Song,” which Adam Sandler first debuted on Saturday Night Live. It reappeared later on his comedy album but didn’t make the nationwide splash until he performed it live at Brandeis University. The song was both hilarious and cute, and hearing the largely Jewish audience respond excitedly was half the fun. In the mid ’90s, the song was the coolest thing ever. Unfortunately, the novelty has faded over the years, and radio stations tend to play a rowdy, less-funny, and non-accoustic version now. It lacks the charm of the original, which is why this once awesome song isn’t higher on the list.
25, 24, 23. “Holly Jolly Christmas” By Burl Ives / “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” By Brenda Lee /”Jingle Bell Rock” By Bobby Helms
Pushing the limits of the term “modern,” these classic numbers always gets people boppin’. I lumped them together because, well, to be honest they sound pretty much the same. I don’t know about you all, but when I hear them, I always feel like I’m at some drunken office party that’s about to go way out of control. We’ve all been there. (viz. Ali Larter in Obsessed).
22. “Little Drummer Boy” by David Bowie and Bing Crosby
Technically, this song is a traditional Christmas carol; however, as performed and reinvented by the unlikely duo of Bing Crosby and David Bowie, it’s lived on as a contemporary classic. The two are great together, even if the recording was fraught with ego.
21. “Same Auld Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg
Serving as the only New Years tune of the batch, “Same Auld Lang Syne” might not technically be a holiday song, but it’s become one over the years. It’s actually one of my favorite songs of all time as it tells the melancholy tale of the late Dan Fogelberg bumping into his old high school flame and rehashing some memories. The song perfectly captures the bittersweet feeling of New Years — excitement for the future, sadness for time passed — and if you’re in a particularly vulnerable mood, it can have you a misty-eyed by the time that final saxophone closes out the song. Not that that’s happened to me…
20. “Christmas / Sarajevo 12/24” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
This faux-heavy metal take on “Carol of the Bells” is over the top and ridiculous but also tremendously fun. I always feel like I’m in an action movie when it comes on the radio. And really, that’s all I ask of my Christmas music. Plus, there’s a nifty viral video to go with it. (For another fun version of “Carol of the Bells,” be sure to see “Carol of the Meows” as performed by Guster or yours truly).
19. “Christmas Song” – Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds
As if I could compile a list without Dave Matthews. Even non DMB fans can appreciate this sweet diddy. It won’t light up the party, but it’s not a bad one to curl up by the fireplace to.
18. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
I wouldn’t say that “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” is my favorite Christmas song, but this version by The Boss is supremely awesome. He’s clearly having a blast, and the interaction with the audience is so playful and fun, it’s hard to deny it.
17. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – U2
When I think of Holiday uplift, I don’t often think of Bono. However, he and the rest of his mates from U2 do a perfectly fine job of remaking this Darlene Love classic from the ’60s. It’s a rousing song without a trace of somber brooding to be found. A Christmas gift indeed.
16. ” Winter Wonderland” by the Eurythmics
“Winter Wonderland” has been done to death by seemingly everyone, but my favorite version is the Eurythmic’s minimalist, New Wave version. It’s only a shame Annie Lennox doesn’t go more nuts on the track vocally.
15. “Wish List” by Neon Trees
Okay, this is a little crazy because “Wish List” is only a few weeks old, but I already love it (and I’m not even a huge Neon Trees fan). Listen to “Wish List” once or twice, and it’ll be in your head for a long, long time. It deserves to join the pantheon of pop Holiday tunes on the radio.
14. “Santa Baby” by Madonna
There are older versions of this song by more well-regarded vocalists (ie. Eartha Kitt), but I actually really like the Madonna version. Sure, it’s overly cutesy, but the tune is catchy and flirty and features an always welcome dose of silliness .
13. “Christmastime Is Here” by the Peanuts gang
Who doesn’t love Peanuts? Hitler? Thanks to the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas special, our favorite animated gang of pals has often been linked with the yuletide season. That’s why it’s not uncommon to hear the signature “Linus and Lucy” theme around this time. Even better is the beautifully understated, jazzy “Christmas Time Is Here.” If there’s any song on this list that makes you want to curl up with some cocoa, it’s this one. (The instrumental is an iTunes free download this week).
13b. “When Christmas Comes” by Mariah Carey
Er, 13b you say? Well, I felt the need to update this list with this fantastic Mariah Carey song but was too lazy to renumber everything; so I just created 13b. But forget the numbers for a second. This smooth jam by Mariah is so damn cool that you can listen to it all year ’round… and I do. I’d love to see it get some more air time around the holidays. Maybe that can be Santa’s gift to me?
12. “Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano
My first introduction to Spanish came courtesy of this classic, whose simple lyrics never cease to get everyone into the Holiday spirit. Recently I saw a post somewhere that called “Feliz Navidad” one of the dumbest Christmas songs of all time. This may be true. But considering that I like a lot of dumb music (ie. “We Built This City On Rock and Roll”), I’m not gonna back down from this pick.
11. “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Al Green and Annie Lennox
The original version of “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” was just a folksy feel-good song. However, in 1988, Annie Lennox and Al Green recorded a remake that wound up on the soundtrack to the Christmas fable Scrooged. That coupled with the snowy video transformed the tune into a holiday standby. And so while Christmas, Chanukah, New Years, or really any other holiday are never mentioned, it’s still a great song for this time of year.
10. “Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time’ by Paul McCartney and Wings
Unlike many others, I do not worship at the altar of Paul McCartney. In fact, I don’t generally like much of his music. However, this funky, sparse Christmas ode remains a favorite of mine year in and year out. It’s basically just a synthesizer and some bells, but it works in the weirdest of ways.
9. “Blue Christmas” by Elvis
I generally tend to hate Elvis, but his droopy, woeful contribution to the Christmas canon always gets me crooning along. I don’t know if it’s the “oo-OO-oo-OO’s” in the background or the “huh-huh” noises that Elvis scatters throughout the tune, but it’s just an awesome song. There have been several remakes, most notably by Collective Soul (and least notably by Celine Dion), but none compare to the original.
8. “Oi To The World” by No Doubt
Serving as the lone relic of the ska era on this list, No Doubt’s playful ode to Judeo-Christian holidays is feisty, fast, and out of control infectious — pretty much what we looked for in the best ska. No joke — I’ll find myself singing “Oi To THe World” at all times of the year, not just in December. Awww… ska. *nostalgia.
7. “The Christmas Song” by The Chipmunks
Try for a moment to remember a time before the awful Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. Back then, those singing rodents were beloved, and never more so than when they harmonized about planes that loop the loop and, of course, hula hoops. I’m sorry, but I still love this song.
6. “Last Christmas” By Wham!
Forget the antiseptic Glee remake. In fact, forget all the terrible remakes of this song. There is only one “Last Christmas,” and it belongs to George Michael and… that other guy. This tale of heartbreak set against a relatively cheery pop backdrop is sort of like the yuletide sequel to “Careless Whisper,” except with more charming passive-aggression (“Last Christmas I gave you my heart / but the very next day / you gave it away / This year to save me from tears / I’ll give it to someone SPECIAL.”) Plus, the video features some sweet, sweet ski-lodge action.
5. “All Alone On Christmas” by Darlene Love
Pretty much the only thing good to come out of Home Alone 2 was this modern Christmas classic featuring one of the grand dames of Motown, Darlene Love. When you hear those opening bells come on the radio, you know you’re in for 4:15 minutes of pure bliss. Oddly enough, “All Alone On Christmas” tends to be somewhat overlooked. Radio stations do play it, but not as frequently is anything else on this list. Eventually it will get the recognition it deserves.
4. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” By Mariah Carey
There’s a reason the video for this song has over 21 million views on YouTube. It’s awesome. Don’t act like you haven’t busted out a jig to this song.
3. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon
The late John Lennon (30 years ago yesterday) left his indelible mark on holiday music with this powerful and joyous song. As the music ascends from verse to verse, you can’t help getting caught up in the melody and emotion. It’s truly an amazing song, even with Yoko’s shrill voice poking through the noise.
2. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band-Aid
Who would have thought two songs about poverty, strife, and war would dominate the top three of this list? Well, it turns out those sad topics yield amazing Christmas songs. This precursor to “We Are The World” features an all-star cast of early-’80s male British superstars, and it still sounds as totally tubular now as it did back then. And yes, I might be prone to singing “Feeeeed the wooooorld” when I’m alone.
1. “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses
A lot of people might be surprised at this pick for number one, but this sassy, funny Christmas song is just the best. Telling a story of a disenchanted woman who has a hapless, year-long love affair with a guy that ends (or begins) on Christmas Eve, this song packs attitude, mirth, and one catchy hook into five and a half minutes of off-kilter fun. Plus, quite frankly, unlike all the other songs on the list, “Christmas Wrapping” truly captures the emotional mania of this time of year. It’s about the fun and celebration but also the dread, loneliness, and simply annoyance that many people feel. But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending. You mean you forgot cranberries too?
What are your favorite modern Christmas songs?