The Five Worst Holiday Songs, Ranked

Dec 21, 2022 at 1:40 pm
Poster art for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
Poster art for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

An opinion columnist should not simply share stuff they’ve been thinking about. Readers have every right to expect an op-ed writer to purvey informed opinions; to answer the big questions of the day not with Kerouac-style riffing, but with reasoned logic supported by research, interviews, statistics and whatever else it might take to give the reader a basis to form their own informed opinions.

If not for columnists like me, people might hear one little news story about some legal or political matter, develop a half-assed opinion on it without knowing how things really are, and go blissfully about their day. My job is to insulate readers from this sort of tragedy. I dive into grim topics and bring you horrible, unvarnished truths — truths which tends to be considerably worse than you might have otherwise thought.  

And so it is with bad holiday music, a topic which is not unlike law or politics. People talk about it, they have opinions on it, they think they know something about it. But the few of us who dig a little deeper discover that reality is quite different from what they assumed. Trust me on this: Just because you have a mild distaste for “Little Drummer Boy,” or you’ve been annoyed by a rendition of “Twelve Days of Christmas” in your dentist’s office, or you’ve decided to read your own relationship issues into “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” that doesn’t mean you know bad holiday music. Here for your displeasure is a polemic on the worst of the worst.

5.“BACK DOOR SANTA” — BON JOVI There are plenty of hair-band Christmas songs that could have made this list. Danger Danger’s “Naughty Naughty Xmas,” which promises to “deck the halls with Amber and Holly and all those naughty girls,” is a notable contender, as is AC/DC’s “Mistress for Christmas,” which — I swear to god — rhymes “jingle all the day” with “grope you in the hay.” I get that some of these songs are played for laughs, but this should make them no more redeemable to discerning listeners, especially if they aren’t funny.     

This cover is more unforgivable than other misogynistic schlock because it’s a classic example of what happens when you filter a decent soul song through the pale cheesecloth of keyboard rock made exclusively by and for people of European ancestry. And gentle reader: if you are able to listen to this one without envisioning a specific sex act involving a thousand-year-old elf or a sixty-year-old rock idol, or both, you are of a purer constitution than I. 

4.“CHRISTMAS BABY SHARK” — BOUNCE PATROL The inclusion of this song on a worst-of list may seem like a cheap shot at a children’s song, or at least like lazy journalism. You might think I didn’t do the work to find something truly abysmal, so I picked this harmless-but-annoying low-hanging fruit that I am now trying to pass it off as a giant, steaming road apple. But have you listened to “Christmas Baby Shark?” ALL the way through? No, no you have not. I know you haven’t. If you had, you wouldn’t be reading this now, you’d be locked up somewhere to avoid harming yourself or those you love. This is the kind of song to which you must develop a tolerance before trying to devour it whole; it requires years of ingesting bits of grating standards like Barbara Streisand’s “Jingle Bells?” and Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne” before even attempting. 

3.“SANTA CLAUS HAS GOT THE AIDS THIS YEAR”  — TINY TIM There are holiday songs which may be considered bad from their very conception, either owing to a heinous mismatch between the artist and the song (the guy from Judas Priest singing “O Holy Night”) or because the idea of the song itself is bad (“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”), or because artist and song are both independently obnoxious and the mere suggestion of combining them constitutes blasphemy (think Celine Dion singing “Feliz Navidad”).

This song transcends those categories. Tiny Tim’s nagging soprano and pre-programmed synth would be unlistenably bad on its own, but it’s the historical context that should earn this song a place on any worst-of list. In 1986, when this track was first released, AIDS wasn’t some extra-continental novelty illness. It was a full-blown epidemic that was killing people everywhere, and was especially painful to the LGBTQ+ community — where Tiny Tim got his first big break. You think that Band Aid track about whether they know it’s Christmas in Africa is insensitive? Had this song received any airplay, it might have been a raft upon which listeners drifted into oblivion, leaving behind all hope for humanity. 

2.“CHRISTMAS IS FOR THE BIRDS” — CONWAY TWITTY As with the hair bands, there are plenty of country Christmas songs that are fucking terrible. These come in three varieties: 1) mangled classics, like Toby Keith’s “Silent Night,” which sounds like a cow getting strangled with a piano wire; 2) bizarre story songs, mostly from the 1970s, like “Billy’s Christmas Wish,” a gratuitously miserable piece in which the only thing the listener knows about any character is that nothing good ever happens to them, ever, not even the little boy who is abused by his stepfather after his father kills his mother’s boyfriend (spoiler: THE CHILD DIES AT THE END); and 3) songs featuring a positively diabolical chorus of robotic singing birds. There is only one song in this final category.   

1.“THE CHRISTMAS SHOES” — NEWSONG  In 2011, Jezebel published the readers’ poll of worst Christmas songs, and this one topped the list. For the most part, Jezebel’s readers were wrong. One simply cannot trust any list that includes the delightful “Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey” but fails to mention Joe Diffie’s “Leroy the Redneck Reindeer,” to say nothing of the other songs on the eminently superior list you are reading now (though to be fair, “Christmas Baby Shark” had not yet burst forth from the anus of its ancient demon host in 2011). 

But on this point, they were right. By now “The Christmas Shoes” is universally reviled, and for good reason. Whatever elements you might think make a Christmas song bad — overwrought sentimentality, preachiness, singing children — all of them are present here. This agonizing five-minute exercise in self-congratulation is worse than “Waffle House Christmas”; worse than Skip Ewing’s “My Name Is Christmas Carol”; even worse than the entire Goo Goo Dolls Christmas album. Imagine taking a handful of those vomit-flavored Harry Potter jellybeans and cramming them into your ears, and you’re getting close to this listening experience. It is the sonic equivalent of waterboarding, or hemorrhoids, or having your knees broken by the seat in front of you on an economy-class flight. Did you know there’s a novel based on this song? And an entire full-length feature film starring Rob Lowe? I did not read/watch these. Even I have my limits.

The good news is that you’re not likely to hear these songs on accident; you’ve got to seek them out. Let this list therefore be a reminder to be thankful for all that we have, including the usual lineup of bad-but-not-THAT-bad music. •

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