Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best.....and Worst Christmas Songs

This year, seemingly more then ever before, has seen an abundance of Christmas music blaring from our radios. More and more staions have switched to the "Holiday Format", some earlier then ever, and with good reason: ratings just about double.

Here in the Fiddlesticks Estate, we've been at full on Holiday mode since the leftover turkey from Thanksgiving was stashed into Tupperware, thus I feel fully qualified to provide yet another in the seemingly endless supply of year-end lists. 

Listed below are My 10 Best, and 5 Worst Christmas songs.  The formula used for inclusion on the list went as follows:

{Lack of obscurity} x {frequency of hearing} / {personal level of annoyance}

It didn't seem fair to lump some of the older ones in with the more contemporary songs when compiling the "Best" list, so it's been divided into two divisions: Classic (pretty much pre-1964) and Contemporary (afterwards).  The worst, by contrast, are placed in one, heaping, steaming pile, and weren't even numbered in a countdown format.  There is no point, since the ranking of 1-5 can differ in my head often enough that whatever one currently playying usually grabs the top (or bottom) spot.  It also goes without saying that this list is solely the my opinion, and your mileage may vary.  On to the list:

Best - Classics Division

5. "I'll Be Home For Christmas", Frank Sinatra
No list would be complete with Frank, and this is his best.  Nobody could hold a note and stretch it out like Sinatra, and this is worth it just to hear the way he croons "...Youuuuu can couunnnnnt on meeee"

4. "Mele Kalikimaka", Bing Crosby
What, not "White Christmas"?  Nope, this quirky song about celebrating Christmas in the Pacific, pre-Hawaiian statehood, strikes just the right blend of old school weirdness and Der Bingle's baritone bellowing.

3. "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer", Gene Autry
The orginal, and still the best.

2. "Sleigh Ride (Instrumental), Various
No lyrics are needed to get the spirit of the season started.  Bonus points for the versions which include the whinny-ing horse sound effect at the end.  Impossible to hear this and not want to trim a tree or eat some pumpkin pie.

1. "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year", Andy Williams
It simply ain't Christmas around here without this one.  In fact, just about any song from The Andy Williams Christmas Album could have been chosen as #1.  Going with this one for the great energetic arrangement and the overall feeling it provokes.  Try and listen to this and not be excited for Christmas.  No, go ahead.

Best - Contemporary Division

5. "Little St. Nick", The Beach Boys
Points here for the simple fact that Brian Wilson wrote a Chiristmas song that didn't involve "Surfin' Santa", or Rudolph catching a wave.  The signature sound of the group is apparant from the second the vocals kick in, and the song is short and catchy as hell.

4. "Another Christmas Song", Steven Colbert
Cobert expertly mocks the concept of starts cashing in by perfroming a holiday song perfectly.  Funny as hell, and best heard while watching the accompanying video, shown below.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Colbert Christmas: Another Christmas Song
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

3. "O Holy Night", Josh Groban
Speaking of holding notes, young Mr. Groban can extend a lyric with the best of them, and he makes it seem so effortless.  This is a perfect combination of a sweeping, epic song with the perfectly suited voice.

2. "Jingle Bell Rock", Hall and Oates
I chose this one over the original for two reasons.  One, Daryl Hall is a much better vocalist, and hits just the right tone here, and Two, the backing band led by G.E. Smith is as tight as a drum.  Enjoy it despite the cheesy awfulness of the video:

1. "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo", Trans-Siberian Orchestra
It's odd, because I was never a big Prog-rock fan, but talk about Epic!  This is the angriest, awesomest, rocking-ist, most epic, bombastic holiday song of them all.  Anytime you can hear a Christmas song and want to scream "MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!" at the top of your lungs and maybe break something afterwards, well, you've earned my vote.   Bonus: the light display set to this song is one of the coolest things you will ever see:

The Worst
In no particular order, as garbage tends to pile up.

"Grandma Got Runover By A Reindeer", Elmo and Patsy
See, it's funny because they're rednecks and the lady was kinda drunk and the reindeer didn't see her and now she's dead and Grandpa is too old/senile/indifferent to notice.  Ha!

"Christmas Shoes", NewSong
So many things are wrong with this load of manipulative heart tugger, but I really can't say it any better than Patton Oswalt:

"Wonderful Christmastime", Paul McCartney
It can't be easy being Sir Paul, what with being a legend before your 30th birthday.  Anything you do after that will always be compared to what you did before, and when you were half of perhaps the greatest songwriting team, well, ever, it can be a rough go.  Writing a Christmas song, however, ups the ante, as you know it will be played ad nauseum for a solid month every year.  Knowing all that, what in the hell posessed Macca to write this throwaway?  It sounds like the lyrics were improvised during the recording session, and that squeaky cheeseball synth riff is the stuff of nightmares.  Pathetic.

"Baby It's Cold Outside", any pairing
Technically not even a Christmas song, just a Date Rape Anthem which happens to take place on a cold evening.  It doesn't matter who gets paired up to sing this, it always comes out as just plain creepy, however the ultra-creepiest version is from the Elf soundtrack, performed by Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel.  Think about it, when they recorded this in 2002, Redbone was pushing 60 while Zooey was all of 22.  Please stay, he seems to be telling her, because who else can get me my Metamucil?

"Snoopy's Christmas", The Royal Guardsmen
As I get older, I'm really failing to understand exactly what is was about "Peanuts" that was so appealing.  Don't believe me?  Try watching one of the specials today, then, look for the jokes.  Not only are they not funny, they're sad.  It is the most depressing crap I've ever seen - a miserable main character surrounded by mean, crazy, or stupid people.  The highlights, it seems, were the Snoopy and Woodstock segments, which is what makes this attempt to cash in by someone called the Royal Guardsmen all the more depressing.  Snoopy's Red Baron fantasy sequences were somewhat interesting, but trying to make them into a Christmas song where the main message amounts to "Hey, enemy, I would have killed you today but since it's Christmas I'll let you live!  Merry Christmas, my friend!"  Layer that warm message over some by-the-numbers late 60's instrumentation and you've got yourself a "winner".

Happy Holidays to all, and remember, once December 26th arrives these stations will all revert to whatever bland format they adhere to the other eleven months of the year.