While we find it downright creepy that radio stations are flipping to all-Christmas-music playlists before Thanksgiving, it doesn’t diminish our love of Christmas pop. This list could easily stretch out to 30 tracks, but we will stick to the 15-song limit, if only to make it easier to justify our glaring omissions. We’re leaving off album titles because these songs are available on about 60 compilations each.
“Fairytale of New York,” the Pogues w/ Kirsty MacColl
May as well start with the best of the bunch, and you have to love the opening lyric: “It was Christmas Eve, babe / In the drunk tank.” The story is terribly depressing, full of dashed hopes, bitterness and drugs. But seldom has such ugliness sounded so pretty.
“Christmas Wrapping,” the Waitresses
Patty Donahue is one of the most underrated singers ever, and just try not to whistle along when the sax line comes in.
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” Band Aid
Where “We Are the World” was self-congratulatory, we’re-rich-and-that-makes-us-better-people nonsense, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s plea for assistance is heartbreaking and relentless. If you want to make your mix really special, hunt down the 12” mix, which features a bonzo drum break from Phil Collins and the stars of 1984 (Bananarama, Big Country) wishing you a happy Christmas.
“Christmas Day,” Squeeze
“Bands Reunited” need to take another crack at getting Squeeze back together. Glenn and Chris’ solo records are nice and all, but neither one of them is writing “Another Nail for My Heart” by themselves.
“December Will Be Magic Again,” Kate Bush
Filled with every ounce of pomp that you would expect from a Kate Bush Christmas song.
“Christmastime,” Aimee Mann & Michael Penn
Mann just did a version of this on her latest Christmas album, but the duet with hubby Penn (it originally appeared on Just Say Noel) is the one to look for.
“O Come All Ye Faithful,” Twisted Sister
Yes, I scoffed at the idea too, until I realized how much it fit the arrangement for “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” the band’s big hit. At that point, I couldn’t stop laughing.
“Thanks for Christmas,” XTC
Brainiac Andy Partridge keeps it simple and sweet, for a change. Funny to think this is the man that would write “Dear God” a few years later.
“Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” the Cast of “South Park”
Not to be played in front of the kids, unless you’re okay with them singing, “Jews, play stupid games / Jews, that’s why they’re lame.”
“Donde Esta Santa Claus?,” Guster
Even the Jewish kids get in on the hot Santa action.
“Twelve Days of Christmas,” Bob & Doug McKenzie
Heh heh, drunks are funny.
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/Medley,” Barenaked Ladies w/ Sarah McLachlan
As long as you have this, you can skip BNL’s Christmas album entirely. And Sarah McLachlan makes everything better, doesn’t she? She’s like caramel sauce: sweet and delicious.
“Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight),” the Ramones
You know that Joey Ramone was Jewish, right? Just making sure.
“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” Whirling Dervishes
It’s far too short, covering only the first two verses and a few choice one-liners, but it’s still tons of fun. This one will probably require a trip to Half or eBay, sorry.
“Blue Christmas,” Collective Soul
One of my wife’s all-time favorites, which is saying something since Collective Soul is otherwise verboten in the Medsker household. But their Elvis-style rave-up of “Blue Christmas” is truly special.