by Abe Asher
Christmas music is a part of the furniture of the holiday season. If you’re gearing up to be anti-Christmas music, don’t be. If you already are anti-Christmas music, it’s time to examine why and what that says about you.
In the Asher household, there’s a full-fledged competition around Christmas music that takes place on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th of the month. Each song amasses points based on how many times it’s played on the radio multiplied by the average of 1-10 ratings assigned to each song by each member of the family.
It’s like March Madness, but more intense. There have been rule controversies. Each song has carved out its own reputation. We’ve seen preseason favorites fall from grace (hello, Last Christmas in 2013!), and seen fledgling underdogs make thrilling runs to the championship (Carol of the Bells, 2011!).
Mostly, everything is intense when you hear Frosty the Snowman played 25 times over the course of three days.
And no, the competition didn’t originate because I want to turn everything into March Madness.
You’ll see references to that tradition over the course of this ranking article which definitively categorizes every Christmas song of consequence.
There are a few criteria to be aware of before we launch into the song rankings.
1. To be considered for this article, songs have to get airtime on K103. Like it or not, that’s where the big boys play in December.
2. Songs are not judged on individual versions, just their most popular and well-known version. That means that no, Cyndi Lauper and Justin Bieber can’t torpedo perfectly good entrants.
3. Each song is graded on an A-F scale. In case you couldn’t figure that out or something.
4. Of course there is some personal bias here. If you disagree with my rankings, post a comment below.
Here we go!
1. The Old Religious And High-Brow Standbys
Do You Hear What I Hear: The little lamb and the shepherd boy! A real classic. Like a Scotland in 1741 classic. A+
Pachelbel’s Canon: Maybe the best piece of music in the field. The problem is that they hired a singer to sing this song and the singer does in fact sing. It messes everything up. A-
O Holy Night: Pretty. Real pretty. Just let Josh Groban take you away, mere mortals. A-
The First Noel: It’s sort of a rough journey to get the chorus of this song, and overall it pales in comparison to many of its counterparts on the Unabashedly Preachy wing of this group. B
Little Drummer Boy: There is apparently a groundswell of hatred for Little Drummer Boy, which has recently included two faculty members savaging the song with no provocation. I, for one, love this song. I think it’s beautiful and tragic — even in its name, and since I’ve heard it in this context, I’m not budging. A
Oh yeah, instead of watching A Christmas Story again this year, watch In Excelsis Deo from The West Wing. You’ll thank me later.
Hark The Harold Angels Sing: If your song is from about the 16th century or before, I’m pretty much going to like it. This is an especially good one. A-
Silver Bells: I’m a big fan of Silver Bells, and I don’t think it gets enough run. This song goes perfectly with images from The Polar Express, and frankly, I thought The Polar Express had it all. A
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: I particularly like songs where you could insert “and the cat jumped over the moon” into the middle and it would seem normal. A
Silent Night: This is a stunning song that never, ever gets played enough. A+
Joy To The World: I love this song. Adam Steele can give you the technical term for that, I think. A
O Come All Ye Faithful: To hear this song! A
2. You Just Had To Be Mediocre, But Instead You Were Offensively Bad
Need A Little Christmas: I can only see one person singing this song, and I don’t like that person. The whole song is too hyper. What I want is George Carlin to come on the radio after they play this song and rip it to shreds in his special way. D
I Saw Momma Kissing Santa Claus: This song is as cloying as it is dumb. It’s cutesy in that special way that makes you want to throw up. So here’s to I Saw Momma! F
Santa Baby: If you’re going to go this route with Old St. Nick, you’re going to want to do it a lot more subtly than Santa Baby does. If only Marilyn Monroe had sung this to JFK instead of Happy Birthday Mr. President. Jeez. F
Little St. Nick: Nice try, Beach Boys, but you were meant to have a Christmas hit. Or any other kind of hit, really. D
Chipmunks: Yes, I know you loved the Chipmunks when you were nine, but this song is just bad in a confusing sort of way. I mean, listen to those voices! D+
3. The Slog
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year: This song was made for this group: Perfectly mediocre. Not particularly evocative or offensive. It’s just there. C+
Let It Snow: Christmas music gets a bad rap because people think of this song and then think about how they feel when it’s been played seventeen times a day for a month. C
Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time: It’s sort of got techno thing going, I guess. B-
Winter Wonderland: This song is really close to Classics That We Actually Really Enjoy, but it falls short for two reasons. One, there’s a buckling naiveté about this song. Two, when was the last time you heard someone say that they really loved this tune? B-
Jingle Bell Rock: A little corny, but not too bad. Problem is, this song and songs like this have a max grade of about a B-. There’s just not much to get excited about. C
Blue Christmas: Like White Christmas, but worse! B-
Holly Jolly Christmas: You know there’s a problem when your demographic sweet-spot is five-year olds. C-
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree: There’s also a line about Pumpkin Pie in this song. Unless I’m missing something, Pumpkin Pie is something we only pretend we tolerate on Thanksgiving. C
Jingle Bells: You know who liked this one? My old PE teacher. She had a dance to go with it and everything. At least this song feels like it belongs each Christmas. The same can’t be said for Jingle Bell Rock, it’s younger and better-looker but infinitely more annoying cousin. C+
Slayride: This song is much better in theory than it is in practice. Sort of like the Always Open slogan. C
There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays: A pretty solid entrant for this burgeoning category. I’ll give it points for throwing in a little geography lesson in the middle of the song too. Unfortunately, this song particularly lends itself to nails-on-a-chalkboard covers by peppy people. B-
Happy Holidays: This one is growing on me. Maybe next year it pulls into the enjoyable range. B-
We Wish You A Merry Christmas: The majority of this song is devoted to a horrifying substance referred to numerous times as, “figgy pudding.” C+
4. The Pop Hits
All I Want For Christmas Is You: Is there any question that this is the best Christmas song? It’s almost addictive starting with the first note. Without this song, Mariah Carey’s lasting music legacy is next to nothing, Love Actually doesn’t have its defining moment, and the only real pop Christmas hits are all depressing. It’s catchy, powerful, and provocative. A+
Feliz Navidad: A lot of people really hate this song, but I can’t figure out why. It’s just a happy little guy singing a happy little song. What’s the problem? B
Happy Xmas (War Is Over): I don’t know this Lennon fella, but it seems like he had a bit of talent and a few important things to say. A-
Do They Know It’s Christmas?: This song puts me in a constant state of conflict. On one hand, it’s really good song. Really good. It was also produced for a good reason, and has a good and well-intended message. But then again, it’s jaw-droppingly patronizing. Oh, those poor African people! Do they even know it’s Christmas? I mean, they don’t have twelve Macy’s to shop at! Thank god it’s the Africans who are suffering, and not you! If you are completely at peace with this song, good for you. A/D+
Last Christmas: George Michael, frontrunner in my competition for Most Interesting Wikipedia Page, also takes the crown as Aging Pop Star My Mom Is Always Worried About. Thing is, George is okay because Last Christmas is a sensational song that and an instant classic with an intimacy other Christmas songs can only dream of. Wham! A
Underneath The Christmas Tree: It’ll be interesting to see if you hear this Kelly Clarkson song this year. It had a strong release last year, and it could become the most contemporary song to reach classic status. B+
5. Classics That, When Played More Than Twice, Make You Want To Put Your Fist Through A Wall
Frosty The Snowman: Even the Jackson 5 couldn’t save this song. It’s nothing against Frosty, it’s just that his song is grating. D-
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town: This song sucks, but Liam’s impression of Springsteen doing this song is really funny, so you should ask him to do it for you. And in the other version of this song, the singer sounds like Kristin Chenoweth on a bad day. D+
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: He had a very shiny nose, and blah blah blah. This song has a certain plastic feel about it and it’s really not appealing in any way. D
Run Run Rudolph: The bad sequel. D
12 Days Of Christmas: And on the third day, I strangled my cat! D+
6. Classics That We Actually Really Enjoy
Carol of the Bells: This song is to Christmas what Sandstorm is to college football. Especially when performed without words by Mannheim Steamroller, it gets your heart racing. Let’s make it the school fight song or something. A
It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas: There may be no opening in the business more pleasant than the first line of this song. A-
I’ll Be Home For Christmas: If only in my dreams. B
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas: This is a very pretty song, and it was the soundtrack for one of the best ever Christmas commercials that pretty much stole the show in 2013. A-
White Christmas: For the baby boomers! B+
Chestnuts: A real sidewinder from Nat King Cole. A real sidewinder. And as an aside, anyone named Nat King Cole is going to kick butt at whatever they want to. A-
Baby It’s Cold Outside: If this song makes you the tinniest bit uncomfortable, that’s fine. But it’s got a lot of gusto, and is a really good old-fashioned duet. Read into it what you want. A-
Please Come Home For Christmas: There’s a lot of Eagles moxy in this song. Good stuff. B-
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home): Absolutely nothing like the song above with a similar title, this song has a really ugly history behind it that you can look up if you want – but who cares! It sounds like a rollocking gospel service! A-
Christmas Time Is Here: I just wouldn’t expect the Christmas outing associated with Charlie Brown to be so monotone and drawn out. It throws me off a little bit every time. B-
Here Comes Santa Claus: I have a warm place in my heart for this song because of its role in Fred Claus, which is well worthy of its place as the second funniest Christmas movie behind Elf. I could watch that scene with Vince Vaughn and the DJ all day. B-
O Christmas Tree: Unfortunately, the tune to this song often winds in my mind into a rather brutal Timbers Army chant involving the referee and weed. So there’s that. B+
Grinch: Seriously, look at the lyrics for this one! My three favorite lines?
1. “I wouldn’t touch you with a 39 and a half foot pole!”
2. The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink! Stank! Stunk!”
3. “…With arsenic sauce!”
If you don’t like this song, you’re just not having enough fun. A+
Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy: Tchaikovsky obviously couldn’t write decent music to save his life, but boy could he pen a title! I mean this song is actually called Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy! A-
Auld Lange Syne: Prettier than a Robbie Keane cartwheel. This is what Great Expectations would have been like if it was Irish and like 1,000 times better. Lands down here because it’s not really – or at all – a Christmas song despite the fact that it always pops up. A+