Inspired by recent TK references to ‘Fairytale of New York’, I thought I’d present my abridged list of Top 100 Christmas Songs. I’m ranking these according to a combination of (a) how good I think they actually are as songs and (b) holiday cheer factor:
1. ‘Good King Wenceslas’, Traditional. The class of the field in terms of Xmas carols. Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither! Bonus points for: establishing GKW as the most recognized Czech person in history. Loses points for: creating syllabic confusion about whether it’s ‘Good King Wenceslas looked out’ vs. ‘Good King Wencles last looked out’.
2. ‘Fairytale of New York’, Pogues. A close second— manages to be both heartwarming and bitterly cynical at the same time, which is quite an accomplishment. I’m embarrassed to admit that for a long time I had mentally combined Kirsty MacColl (the woman who shares vocals here) and Kylie Minogue into one person. This was before the latter became really famous; suddenly, when ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ was playing everywhere, I struggled to understand how this could be the same person who had once called Shane MacGowan a ‘cheap lousy faggot’. Only then did I realize the mistake behind my Krystie MacPogue confabulation.
3. ‘Jesus Christ’, Big Star. Here’s a good idea: once you strip the Nativity of all its religious gloss and worn-out piety, it just becomes a really rocking, kick-ass thing to write a song about. Which- hey- it was. Bonus points because you never know to what extent Alex Chilton is being sarcastic here.
4. ‘Christmas Wrapping’, The Waitresses. Another good idea: treating the holidays with New Wave’s signature attitude of cool detachment. Fun, dorky, smart.
5. ‘Christmas In Hollis’, RUN D.M.C. ‘Oh my god, it’s an ill reindeer’. Bonus points for: definitively being first holiday hip-hop track ever. Loses points for: the reality that a rap song can’t ever really put me in a holiday mood.
6. ‘Last Christmas’, Wham! Delightfully terrible from the moment George Michael hisses ‘Happy Christmas’ at you and the beat comes galloping in. Infectiously puts me in a holiday mood even as I desperately wish it didn’t. Simply the mention of this song would have earned this post the “actually good or just ironically ‘good'” tag if the speculation about Alex Chilton above hadn’t already put it in the running. Bonus points for: god-awful video, where the social norms of the 80s forced the Wham! lads to partake in a sham version of a prototypically heterosexual ski weekend.
7. ‘Ivan Meets G.I. Joe’, the Clash. Not a holiday song per se, but starts off with a few moments of what sounds like holiday shopping. And can loosely be construed to relate to Xmas in that it describes the Cold War and – thus, indirectly – our attempts to protect our holiday consumer culture against a Xmas-less enemy.
8-80: This is the part where I list songs that don’t actually do much for me but are about the holidays and are by bands that I like, so I have to mention them to prove that I’m not some idiot who sits around listening to Wham! all day. So: dBs, Beck, Belle & Sebastian, the Ronettes, Flaming Lips, XTC, etc.
81-98: This is reserved for holiday songs by artists I don’t care about at all, but who are worshipped by tons of people I know and like. Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire, come on down!
99. ‘Let It Snow’, Gloria Estefan. The ultimate Starbucks holiday jingle set to a demented Casiotone-sounding rumba. Rum-blegh.
100. ‘Silent Night’, Traditional. I had an extended conversation with my father a few months ago about how much we both dislike this song. Especially the sanctimonious lilt at the end of the verse (‘sleep in heavenly pe… eeeeeeeeeeeeeace!‘) Plus, it was composed by a slave trader (OK, I made that up). Get bent, ‘Silent Night’.