Culture of Pop

The Twelve Songs of Christmas


Image courtesy of the “Bruce Springsteen ‘Santa Clause is Coming to Town’ Glendale, AZ 12-6-12 video posted on YouTube.

What are you about to read?

You are about to read the only Christmas Song Power Rankings piece that has ever really mattered.

What exactly am I ranking?

I’m not just ranking each song as it exists … I’m ranking each individual version of every Christmas song ever. Well, not every Christmas song ever. A top twelve seems fitting, right? Ya know, with the twelve days of Christmas, and all.

What are my credentials for writing this piece?

It’s a rather lengthy resume: I’ve been listening to Christmas music for eight hours a day, five days a week for the last three weeks (when I’m not banging on the keyboard I’m busy working at a sports apparel store where Christmas music is the status quo from Black Friday through Christmas Eve) … I generally dip my toes in the Christmas music pool for the first time each year in early October … Nobody I know enjoys listening to Christmas music more than me, and nobody I know enjoys Christmas more than I do, and nobody I know enjoys writing about how much they enjoy Christmas music or Christmas. I’m the only one. If you argued that I was born for this, I can’t say that I would wholeheartedly disagree with you.

What are the qualifications to be to a great Christmas Song?

There are five of them:

I: The Only Animal That Can Be A Major Part of the Song is a Reindeer
Notable Eliminated Songs: I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas: It’s such a bad song that I actually hope someday someone writes a spin-off of this song about how sad it was that this girl’s parents bought her a hippopotamus and then it ate her … Penguin, James Penguin: It isn’t even close to being as awful as the name makes it sound … The Chipmunk SongThis is quite possibly the worst thing about Christmas

II: The Song Can’t Be Overly Hokey, Goofy or Attempting to be Funny
Notable Eliminated Songs: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa ClausWho wants to imagine that Santa Claus is a homewrecker or that their mother is a floozy … Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer: Nothing says Happy Holidays like “My Grandmother was trampled by Blitzen and now she’s dead” … All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth: What’s so good about whistling, and why can’t you wish someone Merry Christmas if you’re missing two of your choppers?

III: The Song Can’t Be The First Ever Gold Digger Anthem
Notable Eliminated Songs: Santa BabyThis song is everything that is wrong with Christmas. I hope this girl gets eaten by a Hippopotamus too.

IV: The Song Shouldn’t Make You Nearly Cry Sad Tears
Notable Eliminated Songs: The Christmas Shoes: If you can listen to this song and your eyes don’t get a little bit moist I’ll give you one thousand dollars. I’m dead serious …  A Soldier’s Silent Night: Any song that involves Jolly Old Saint Nick dropping to his knees and crying is a song that I’m never compelled to listen to again

V: The Song Needs to Make You Think Deeply AND Give You A Warm and Fuzzy Nostalgic Feeling
Notable Eliminated Songs: A vast majority of songs (or versions of songs) that have been released in the last twenty years. There just isn’t as much nostalgic value for many of the new songs, and that drastically hurts their cause. Ironically, the top twelve is kicked off by a relatively new addition to the Christmas music landscape.

12: Cold December Night – Michael Buble 

As you’ll see as the list progresses, I’m not one who typically enjoys newer Christmas music. I’m like those grumpy former NBA players who whines about how the league is so much worse than when I used to play … only “the league” is the Christmas music and “when I used to play” is what I used to listen to when I was growing up. With that said, the other night my Dad referred to Michael Buble as the “King of Christmas” and that’s when I knew I had to include a Buble track in the top twelve. All of Buble’s work might lack the nostalgia appeal that many songs that came before it have, but whenever I listen to Cold December Night I’m left hoping that this is a song my future children could feel nostalgic about, and that means this song is at least trending in the right direction.

Cold December Night is without question poppy, but it’s also festive enough that it feels like an old school Christmas song, if that makes any sense (it also effectively makes me want to fall in love with Michael Buble on a cold December night , but that is beside the point). It’s something that a lot of the newer musical Christmas contributions fail to bring to the table. When today’s artists try to add their own modern twist to traditional gems it just doesn’t work. For Cold December Night it works because nobody had ever done this one before Buble, and hopefully nobody will again. Stay off of the King’s corner, everybody.

11: All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey 

If I had to venture a guess as to what the most played Christmas songs have been this year, I’d say The Grinch (I’ve got like 85 percent of the words down for this one now, which is one heck of an accomplishment considering words and phrases like “a heel”, “wasty”, “gunk”, “rotter”, “sinful sots”, “rubbish” and “crooked jerky-jockey” aren’t too often used these days), some variation of Baby It’s Cold Outside (which my friend Zak claims shouldn’t be on the radio because it is about date rape, but then again, so is Funky Cold Medina), some variation of The Christmas Song (coming soon) and All I Want For Christmas Is You, which is included in that Mount Rushmore of sorts for good reason. It may be only the 11th best Christmas song, but it’s absolutely the most fun to sing background vocals for. If you don’t regularly sing the “I’s” “Ah’s” and “Ooh’s” in the background behind Mariah you aren’t doing it right. I can never sing as well as Mariah Carey, but I do feel like I can hold my own singing background vocals.

Worth noting: All I Want For Christmas Is You was released on November 1st, 1994, meaning it took twenty years for it to feel nostalgic and feel like an old school Christmas classic even though it feels new. You see what I mean? These things just take time. Cold December Night will get there eventually, just like All I Want For Christmas Is You got there.

10: Wonderful Christmas Time – Paul McCartney 

This one is easily digestible, simple to comprehend and it almost always puts you in a good mood when you hear it. Simply put, it’s the second best Christmas Party song, but it’s no better than the tenth Christmas song overall. I do have two tiny little nits to pick with Wonderful Christmas Time though:

-Why am I instructed not to look down after I lift my glass? Am I more likely to spill my drink if I’m not looking straight ahead? Am I allowed to look up? What if I’m with my girlfriend? She’s almost a foot shorter than me, so I have to look down if her and I are having a conversation. Are we standing on the ledge of a cliff or something? I need to know these kinds of things.

-If the choir of children who have been practicing all year long sing a song that consists of lyrics like “Ding Dong Ding Dong Ding Dong” then I have no problem telling that choir that their song isn’t very good and they either need another year of practice or a different songwriter.

9: Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer – Dean Martin 

There can’t be a Christmas songs countdown without mention of the second most famous fictional Christmas character ever. Only Santa Claus trumps Rudolph, and no other version of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer trumps Dino’s version, which was definitely recorded after Dean had about five glasses of Whisky and a few shots of Sambuca. It’s just so informative; we learn that Rudolph’s parents and close friends probably call him Rudy for short (or maybe that’s just a Dino thing … again, he was likely half in the bag when he recorded this song), and we also learn that Santa Claus has some sort of Eastern European accent that will occasionally show through when he’s offering praise to one of his reindeer.

You know what we don’t learn in this song, and have never learned in all of the years of Christmas? We don’t learn who the top-billed Reindeer was before Rudolph came along. Was this truly a team effort before Rudolph came along, and the crew just needed Rudy to join to put them over the top? Did it really go smoothly, or was there any jealously among the reindeer once Rudolph came along and got all of the praise from Santa and everybody else? Did Dasher get upset that his role was reduced? Did Prancer demand to be traded to a different crew of reindeer? I need to to know these things.

8: Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives 

You could make an argument that Wonderful Christmas Time comes from the same mold as Holly Jolly Christmas. There is quite a bit of Ding-Dong-Dinging in both songs … The lyrics don’t paint a mental word picture or really serve any purpose other than to hyping the appeal of Christmas as a day of fun and celebration … Paul McCartney wanted us to raise our glasses and not look down while Burl Ives implored us to have a “Cup of Cheer” regardless of if there is snow or not. And hey, what’s a cup of cheer? Is this an actual liquid? Is it a metaphorical cup? Is there a bar somewhere that whips up a Christmas themed cocktail each year and calls it a “Cup of Cheer?” Truthfully, when I was living in frozen tundra that is western New York, I was just happy when I had a cup of hot chocolate. Once again, these are the things I need to know.

Also, a few days back I came up with a theory … it can’t possibly be that difficult to write a Christmas song. All you need are some rhyming Christmas themed words (Holly/Jolly, Very/Merry, Present/Pleasant, Santa/Atlanta, etc.) and nothing else matters so long as you have some catchy ringy-dingy music in the background. With that said, I’m excited to tell you all that next year at this time I’ll be debuting my very own original Christmas song. That’s right! I’m going to write a Christmas song and never have to work another day in my life after I sell the rights to it to the highest bidder. Actually, I’ll work one more day after that. I’ll revise this list, put my own Christmas song as number one and then never be heard from again. Stay tuned.

7: White Christmas – Bing Crosby 

If you can whistle the ten second snippet of this song that starts at the 2:12 mark of the video without making a single mistake I’ll shake your hand and give you a thousand dollars because I’ve tried somewhere between 250 and 300 times in my life and I’ve never come close.

6: Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon 

War Is Over has been a personal favorite of mine since I was just a young lad, but John Lennon’s anti-war anthem actually highlights exactly what the message of Christmas should be. It’s not about the gifts or Santa Claus or having one too many cups of cheer … it’s about realizing that there is no better time than Christmas to preach and spread peace and love and equality, and if we can do it during Christmas time why can’t we do it all the time?

So what else makes War Is Over so good? As far as I’ve been able to tell, it’s the only song or any other pop culture medium that taken a stand for “Happy Christmas” over “Merry Christmas,” and going even further, it’s gone all in with “Xmas” as opposed to the fully spelled out and more politically correct “Christmas.” The words are really easy to learn, and they’re slow and simple enough that this has become one of the best Christmas sing-songs. And via the internet, I found that John Lennon said he was partly inspired to write this song because he was “sick of White Christmas,” so I’m sure he’s in heaven giving Bing Crosby some shit because I have Happy Xmas one spot higher on the list.

5: Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band 

Here we have the best Christmas Party song ever. Nobody has ever blended rock music, pop music and Christmas music into a better and more natural mixture than “The Boss” did with his version of Santa Claus is Coming To Town. Amazingly, he did so with a song that is better suited for a younger, child-centric audience than the one that typically follows the work of Bruce Springsteen.

Aside from the “get up and dance” appeal of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, there are a number of subtle touches throughout the song that put it near the top of the list. Bruce’s playful back and forth with the E Street Band before the song is a nice touch (it makes me think about an alternate reality where Santa actually brought Clarence a new saxophone), as are the “Ho Ho Ho’s” that come near the end of the song, the deep-voiced “Better be good for goodness sake,” and Bruce’s unexplained laughter late in the song when he’s telling us Santa Claus is coming to town. All around, it’s just a terrifically fun Christmas tune.

4: Do You Hear What I Hear? – Whitney Houston 

The gap between Whitney’s version of Do You Hear What I Hear? and any other version of the same song is probably the largest between any two versions of any single Christmas song. It’s so good, so powerful, such a tour de force, that it should just be forbidden that anyone, male or female, tries to cover this song ever again. We maxed out with Do You Hear What I Hear? over 25 years ago, so there is no need for Michael Buble, Kelly Clarkson, Sam Smith, Fetty Wap or anyone else to try to top it. Just give up on it and take a swing at Jingle Bell Rock or Winter Wonderland.

For my money, this is the best Christmas song ever recorded by by a female artist. It’s the female Christmas song version of Steph Curry’s current NBA season. It’s the female Christmas song version of my Grandma’s homemade pizza. There are just no parallels or accurate comparisons you could make to it. The top five of that list goes Do You Hear What I Hear?, All I Want For Christmas Is You, Grown Up Christmas List ( Kelly Clarkson), Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee), and O Holy Night (Celine Dion). Go ahead and dispute it if you’d like. Just know that your opinion isn’t as well thought-out and researched as mine is.

3: Same Old Lang Syne – Dan Fogelberg 

An under the radar pick for a top five Christmas song, if only because it wasn’t originally released as a Christmas song. How crazy is that? Same Old Lang Syne is like when a kid doesn’t touch a basketball until he’s like 17 years old and then he ends up in the NBA because he played soccer for twelve years and his footwork is impeccable. Basically, Same Old Lang Syne is the Christmas equivalent of Hakeem Olajuwon’s NBA career. It is an auditory masterpiece: brilliant vocals placed over lovely music that is one third seasonal, one third poppy, and one third heart-warming delight. And the lyrics … holy eggnog the lyrics!
You could argue that Same Old Lang Syne a song about remembering, or re-kindling an old romance, and you definitely wouldn’t be wrong. The lyrics of Same Old Lang Syne don’t just create a song … they tell a heart-breaking, and startlingly vivid love story that could be a Nick Sparks love story. In just over five minutes we hear about old lovers meeting again on Christmas Eve and how, and it’s pretty evident that this meeting would forever change their lives moving forward. She doesn’t love the architect, but for the rest of her life she has to deal with that as a reality. Sure, he keeps her warm and safe and dry, but her doesn’t make her feel like Dan Fogelberg did and still does. If that doesn’t break your heart then you just don’t have a soul.
I think Same Old Lang Syne is such a great holiday song because if you boil it all down you’ll see that at its core its really about appreciating those who are in your life now and remembering those who once were and aren’t anymore. And really, is there anything more important during the holiday’s than that?

2: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Frank Sinatra 

It’s hard to get any more “Christmas” than Sinatra’s version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. I have three favorite things about this song:

A. First, it’s Sinatra, and Sinatra is arguably the greatest musician of our lifetime or any amount of lifetimes before ours.

B. Second, I like how Sinatra adds to the Christmas mystique by saying “Through the years we all will be together … if the fates allow.” It’s like, we might not always be able to control where we are, so let’s hope fate is kind to us and allows us to have this one together. I dig that.

C. Third, and most importantly, I love how Sinatra implores us to have a Merry Little Christmas now. Like why wait until later? The only reason why you should possibly put off having a Merry Little Christmas is if someone is in the other room making you a cup of cheer and you’re just waiting until you get that cup to start having a Merry Little Christmas, and even then, why wait?

1: The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole 

This is the only Christmas song called The Christmas Song, so get the actual fuck outta here if you don’t agree that this is the GOAT. Merry Christmas, you crooked jerky-jockeys.



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