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There is a small, warm heart to Christmas – a place of family, fellowship and peace, a season of charity and generosity. Outside that cozy little home, however, are the howling winds of consumerism, best exemplified by the awful holiday tunes piped into shopping malls, car radios and elevators. In no particular order, here are ten of the worst examples.
1. Nuttin’ For Christmas – Art Mooney and His Orchestra
Here’s a paint-peeler with all the forced charm of “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” “Nuttin’ For Christmas” somehow became a million-seller in the 1950s, with five different versions appearing in the same year. What it lacks in melody it makes up for in repetition. It lists the destructive acts of a psychotic little boy who clearly needs medication, ending each stanza with “somebody snitched on me.” Oh, and Smash Mouth also covered it in a duet with Rosie O'Donnell.
2. Ho Ho Ho – Alvin & The Chipmunks
It’s Alvin & The Chipmunks again, not satisfied with their already inescapable “Christmas Don’t Be Late.” For those who haven’t been exposed to this virus, here’s the idea: a guy sings harmony parts into a slowed-down tape machine, so that when it’s played at normal speed his voice has a higher pitch. He pretends these harmony singers are chipmunks, and unleashes a decades-long assault on our better senses. With “Ho Ho Ho,” Alvin & Co. pretend to relevance with a little hip-hop scratching, but it’s really the same old stuff. They still troll their human Dave into yelling “ALVIN!” and once again we see other closed emotional loops from that era: Fred Flintstone, locked outside his house, banging on the door in vain, and George Jetson, trapped on a futuristic treadmill, screaming “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!”
3. The Christmas Shoes – Ultimate Kids
This is a perennial fixture on many annual worst Christmas songs lists. The instrumentation here is every bit as saccharine as better-known versions by Newsong and Alabama, but there’s something about this performance, no doubt sung by an alum of some off-Broadway version of Annie, that really makes a bummer story of a little boy buying shoes for his dying mother all the more hilarious. “I want her to look beautiful if momma meets Jesus tonight” is a deeply cynical lyric, and the bit at the end about this somehow all being about “what Christmas is all about” is as fake as any tinsel.
4. R2D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas – Original Star Wars Cast
There was an earlier addition to the Star Wars franchise, every bit as miserable as
"Episode 1: The Phantom Menace." It was called "Christmas In The Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album", released in 1980. Every song on this record qualifies for this list – there’s one called “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb)?“ – but no lyric is as cringe-worthy as: "And if the snow becomes too deep / Just give a little peep / We’ll go in by the fire / And warm your little wire.” A cranked-out embarrassment, still coming back to haunt us.
5. No Presents For Christmas – King Diamond
Nothing puts one in the Christmas mood more than a little Alice Cooper-meets-Axl Rose speed metal meltdown like “No Presents For Christmas.” What’s being communicated here is not as important as the general atmosphere of gleeful complaint. “There’s no presents, not this Christmas,” we are told before the indulgent guitar solo. “Tom and Jerry, drinking sherry. They don’t give a damn.” All righty, then. Let’s move on.
6. Jingle-O The Brownie – Tennessee Ernie Ford
There have been many contenders to the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer throne, but none so strange as this one by Tennessee Ernie Ford. This Jingle-O fellow works for Santa Claus, planting trees and building toys, probably getting paid under the table. You can pinpoint the exact moment the lyricist stops caring, when we hear about our hero making a trip in his red-rocket ship to spy on kids. “He’s got a great big magic eye that watches you from in the sky,” we hear to our dismay. “Jingle-O The Brownie” originally appeared on an album called “Little Klinker…The Pup That Woke Santa Claus,” which makes Ernie’s flop-sweat desperation to score a Christmas novelty hit all the more palpable.
7. Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas) – Alan Jackson
If sung as a joke it isn’t funny, and if it’s serious it’s a disaster. The party atmosphere of the sing-along at the end only makes this more of an emotionally compromised nightmare. To hear that, however, would require listening all the way through, when the title alone tells you all you need to know and is enough to elicit an uncomfortable laugh. It’s as if the song was written on a dare.
8. Gotta Be A Christmas – Shelley Duvall
Not many people know about “Hello, I’m Shelley Duvall: Merry Christmas,” probably because it contains songs like this one. Duvall, who was so good at being persecuted in The Shining, sings over Thomas The Tank Engine-style instrumentation and piping, indecipherable children’s backing vocals. Listening to this cheery failure is enervating and not recommended, even if you’re desperate to figure out what the title actually means. The rest of the record is more of the same.
9. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas – Gayla Peevey
A cloying offering from 1953 that overstays its welcome, later covered by The Three Stooges as well as The Captain and Tennille. “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas” does have a decent bridge and some funny phrasing by the then ten-year-old Miss Peevey, but has persisted largely because it’s a good example of what not to write. For a decade so insistently normal, the 1950s were deeply weird.
10. Old City Bar – Trans-Siberian Orchestra
A dreadful descending guitar line leads us to a vocal with all the gravelly self-importance of any Neil Diamond anthem. As the following dozen or so stanzas illustrate, it’s good to give without expectation of return, like buying shoes for some kid’s sick mom. In this case, a bartender redeems himself by giving all of his money to a little girl and sending her to the airport. “Old City Bar” is a ponderous and maudlin dirge, and therefore a fine example of the form.