I'm a sucker for Christmas music. So much so that, just out of affection, as you can see, I actually write it out as "Christmas" music and not "Xmas" music. That's respect. I even to listen to it for an hour or so a day. Where I am, which is the San Francisco Bay Area, KOIT-FM hurls itself into All Holiday mode this time of year, and you hear a broad spectrum of the inevitable "Sounds of the Season" thereon.
And I'm not parochial or partial about it. I love the religious stuff, for example, because it's just flat out marvelous music. Some of this work was written by real titans, mind you. Handel, the Messiah guy, wrote "Joy to the World," eh? And "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" was composed by Felix Mendelssohn, who wasn't even Christian, and in fact took a peck of shit from Wagner for being Jewish. And "The First Noel" performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir still makes me just shake my head and go wow. I know you think I'm kidding, but the fact is, I went to a Lutheran school for the first four grades--which certainly turned out to be a wasted effort on behalf of the church, bless its heart--and singing this stuff in chorus at our school Christmas fests was always one of the best things about the holiday for me, and it still activates my warm nostalgia neuron, wizened though it is.
But I like the goofball songs, as well. Who doesn't find "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" running through their head this time of year? I include the Muppets version of "The 12 Days" and yes, even the Chipmunks.
Also, the straight but secular genre, your "Chestnuts Roasting" and "Let It Snow" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and so on. Great stuff. I'll admit that I'm a bit iffy with regard to rock carols, your "Blue Christmas" and "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and the like. But I'm not ready to slam them.
The point is that it takes a truly artless and inane and phony and worthless piece of Christmas music to set my teeth on edge. There are very few of these, but as we enter this season of peace and giving and brotherhood, I think we should also take note of how even such a lovely holiday can be afflicted with the stench of raw crap. Here, off the top of my head, are the worst Christmas songs ever produced, presented in roughly ascending order of irksomeness.
"Holly Jolly Christmas" by Burl Ives. Some lyrics are so deliberately and blatantly moronic that your gag reflex revs up. For instance: "Have a holly jolly Christmas, and in case you didn't hear, oh my golly have a holly jolly Christmas this year." In case I didn't hear? You just sang the same goddam line, how could I not hear it? Do I look like a lawn ornament, or what? Yeah, it's just a silly little thing, I know, but it drives me nuts.
"Frosty the Snowman" by anyone, but particularly Gene Autry, who could have stopped with the perfectly charming "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," but oh no, couldn't let well enough alone, especially in a situation that fairly cried out for a cheap musical sequel to capitalize on the Rudolph momentum. A pure exercise in avarice. Fie on Frosty. I leave tracks of yellow on Frosty.
"Melakeliki Maka" by some kind of 1940s Don Ho vocal group. I can't vouch for the spelling, which I've made a phonetic stab at, but according to the song it's "how we say Merry Christmas on a bright and warm Hawaiian Christmas day." This just doesn't work. Hawaii and Christmas simply don't go together. Think eggnog and poi. I can't imagine that native Hawaiians ever needed a word for "merry," let alone "Christmas." This is just more missionary brainwashing at work. There exists a whole society of Christians in Lebanon, and I'm sure there's a Lebanese phrase for "Merry Christmas," but that doesn't mean you need to enshrine it in song. Same principle at work here. Shut up and surf. (And before I get accused of racism or Eurocentrism, I'm just fine with "Feliz Navidad.")
"My Grown Up Christmas List" by Barbra Streisand. I'm grown up now and what I want for Christmas is peace and kindness and humanitarianism, or as the lyrics put it, "everyone to have a friend, and right to always win, and love to never dim," and at this point you drive your car into a light standard just to short out the radio. "We snuck into Bob's Christmas and replaced Santa Claus with Oprah Winfrey. Let's see if he shits." Thanks for dragging me back to reality and its endless supply of anti-cheer.
"Christmas in San Francisco" by God only knows who, but it sounds like he probably wrote it himself. Indeed, it sounds as if a chimpanzee or parakeet could have written it. San Francisco blah blah wonderful blah blah fog blah blah greatest place on earth. The lyrics make "I Left My Heart" sound like Shakespeare wrote it. This offal would be an insult to Tulsa or Duluth, let alone S.F. In any other city in the world they would use the CD as a coaster. Shame on KOIT. (Note: this is not to be confused with "It's Christmas Once Again in San Francisco," a kind of incongruously country treatment that has a little fun with the Bay Area's whole no-sleighs-or-snowmen classic yuletide disconnect.)
"Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart" by some mooning, resentful female singer whose identity I don't even care to know. That may not be the actual name of the song, but its refrain--repeated over and over and OVER relentlessly--is, "Last Christmas I gave you my heart, the very next day you gave it away, something something tears, this year I'll give it to someone special..." Basically, she went to bed with some guy from marketing after the office party last year and he never called or even e-mailed and she's still bitter. This isn't a carol; it's not even about Christmas--it makes no other reference to the holiday than the "last Christmas" phrase. It could have been the Labor Day picnic! She's just venting! (Indeed, it's probably no coincidence, or surprise, that every year come December this woman is on KOIT, singing the same song, year after year.) And the music is even worse than the lyrics.
"Rapping at Christmas." By any rap or hip hop group or singer. I've never heard, or even heard tell of, any Christmas rap music, but I'm sure it's out there--something on the order of "All I Want for Christmas is My New Front Grillz" or "Violent Night"-- and eventually KOIT will play some. And I'll hate it.