I love all forms of Christmas music — traditional/religious carols and poppy secular songs alike. It was too difficult to make a Top 5 list that drew from the entire Christmas songbook, so here are the poppy ones first.
5. ‘The Little Drummer Boy’/’Peace on Earth,’ Bing Crosby and David Bowie
OK, so this one is pretty much traditional as most people would define it, but I think the fact that it’s a David Bowie and Bing Crosby duet, complete with cheesy banter at the beginning, puts it into post-modern pop territory. For a while, you think Crosby is going to overpower Bowie, but then the Thin White Duke pipes up, and … wow, that’s some beautiful harmonizing there.
From as early as I can remember, “The Little Drummer Boy” has always gotten to me. There’s something I’ve always found moving about stories like the drummer boy’s — people of modest means offering up all they have. Blah blah blah.
4. ‘Fairytale of New York,’ The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
This one is less a Christmas song than it is a song that mentions Christmas, but I like to break it out at this time of year anyway. It’s a nice antidote to the relentless holly-jolly cheer and jingle bell rock. It’s also quite moving in a sort of co-dependent, abusive-partner, drunk/junkie kinda way. It’s like a Christmas song from an early Gus Van Sant film.
3. ‘Last Christmas,’ Wham!
OK. So now we move into 106.7 Lite FM territory — you know, the station here in NYC that plays Christmas music nonstop from just before Thanksgiving until the night Santa shows up. I think the Pogues/MacColl and Bowie/Bing songs have more artistic merit to them, but they’re only good in small doses. This one, and the next two, really stand up to repeated plays.
I pretty much love ’80s cheese-synth and most of Wham!’s and George Michael’s hits, so that explains this one. I love the sleigh bell that picks up in the chorus and the stutter drumbeat — and the falsetto “Once bitten, twice shy” line.
2. ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You,’ Mariah Carey
OMG. How can you NOT love Christmas Mariah? Did you see her special on ABC last week? She was so cute. It’s clear that this woman LOVES Christmas — either that or she’s a great actress, milking the Christmas thing for a steady stream of royalties. … Naw, she loves Christmas, and it’s infectious. This video is great — it’s like a Super 8 Christmas memory.
1. ‘Christmas Wrapping,’ The Waitresses
“Christmas Wrapping” is No. 1 because A) it’s awesome and B) if you didn’t listen to the lyrics, you’d just think it was just a great early ’80s New Wave hit. I think that, all in one song, it combines “artistic merit” (whatever that is), an insane amount of catchiness, and enough of the Christmas sentiment to qualify as a true Christmas ditty. Bonus, too, for the fact that it starts a little grinchy but has a sweet ending, thus touching on the season’s disappointments but eventually lifting us out of them.
Also, this video? Whoever synched their Christmas display to this, well, good call.