Music plays an important role in any holiday get-together. The right song can put guests in an even more festive mood, make spirits bright, and conjure up warms memories of holidays past.
It is safe to say that none of the songs listed below are the right song.
No, the baker’s dozen of musical monstrosities below are quite easily the worst possible holiday tunes you could play at your next festive gathering. Hearing just one of these songs would be enough to turn even the stoutest men and women of good cheer into hard-hearted grinches. Listening to all 13 songs in succession? It’s beginning to look a lot like madness.
And every song listed below is available for download from Apple’s iTunes Stores. That means for less than $20, you could get started on building the world’s foremost collection of demented holiday music, the auditory equivalent of Aunt Gertie’s inedible fruitcake. I list them here as a warning to others—a sort of no-fly zone for holiday merriment which you should avoid the way Santa shuns naughty kids. Or, if you’re the kind of person who likes to pipe audio throughout the house for your seasonal gatherings, these songs will help clear out the room quickly, should your guests linger.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
If you watched John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John ride off into the sunset at the end of Grease and thought “I hope those two are headed to a recording studio to make an album of Christmas tunes together,” I have some delightful news for you. If you did not, then the news I have for you is quite chilling. Yes, the two have come out with a holiday record, and it takes just the first track to realize that this later collaboration is closer on the spectrum to the duo’s lackluster 1983 rom-com Two of a Kind than it is to Grease.
That first song is “Baby It's Cold Outside,” a dubious choice to begin with, as the song is little more than a tribute to romantic assignations turned sinister. (“Say! What’s in this drink?” one of the lyrics demands. Everlasting regret, more than likely.) Newton-John and Travolta turn the song on its head, with her assuming the role of the remorseless sexual predator and him her quivering prey. Ratcheting up the ick factor by roughly a billion percentage points is the fact that Mr. Travolta speak-sings his part in a tremulous whisper, guaranteeing that this song will be on the playlist at every cartoon supervillain’s holiday get-together.
Perhaps no act in musical history embraced the concept of “dance with the one that brung you” quite like The Royal Guardsmen. The group enjoyed some success in 1966 with the novelty song “Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron,” in which Charlie Brown’s dog wages battle against Manfred von Richthofen. So when it came time to whip out a holiday tune, The Royal Guardsmen came up with “Snoopy’s Christmas,” in which Charlie Brown’s dog wages battle against Manfred von Richthofen and Christmas figures into the proceedings somehow. The Red Baron would return in The Royal Guardsmen’s 1967 follow-up “The Return of the Red Baron,” but be dropped from the band’s 2006 effort “Snoopy vs. Osama,” in which the beloved comic strip dog squares off against the decidedly-less beloved leader of Al-Qaeda.
A mitigating factor: “Snoopy’s Christmas” did inspire The Kustard Kings to mash that song up with the 1980s charity staple “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” giving the world the completely sensational Do They Know It’s (Snoopy’s) Christmas?” So at least there’s that. Oh, and speaking of that other song…
Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for charity. (The song originally came about as a way to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.) I don’t mind that there have been at least two subsequent re-recordings of this song, since a new generation of British pop stars should get their own chance to trod where giants like Boy George and Duran Duran have stood before beginning their own slow fade into obscurity. I don’t suppose I can even blame Bob Geldof and company for the fact that this song is played on continuous loop in shopping malls and on all-holiday-music-all-the-time radio stations throughout the month of December.
It’s the lyrics, though. Oh man, the lyrics. The lyrics of Do They Know It’s Christmas?” are as deep as a rain puddle, as trenchant as a beauty pageant contestant’s answer on how to bring about world peace. To try and deconstruct lyrics such as “And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas”—hardly surprising, since a not insignificant part of the continent is in the Southern Hemisphere where it is, in point of fact, summertime—is to come face to face with mind-bending insanity. Perhaps we should best move on.
Though I would suggest that Bono would be 72 percent less insufferable these days if someone back in 1984 hadn’t let him get away with his phrasing on “Tonight, thank God, it’s them instead of you.”
I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
At some point during this holiday season—perhaps as you are reading this very article—someone will post a YouTube clip of the nauseating earworm “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas on your Facebook timeline. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but you should probably unfriend that person before they strike again.
O Holy Night
Recently, scientists concluded what most of us suspected for years: There are only 37 people in the United States capable of singing “O Holy Night,” a lovely-yet-challenging Christmas tune. As you might suspect, many of these 37 people have allowed this specialized skill set to give them a bit of a swelled head. As such, many recordings of “O Holy Night” are not really about capturing the quiet contemplation of the Nativity so much as they are about celebrating the singer’s ability to trill, scoop, and belt out the lyrics with the sort of bombast that a Broadway showman would find over-the-top.
Mariah Carey’s recording of “O Holy Night” is a particularly jarring example of this phenomenon. “Oh, peace on earth and goodwill toward man is all right, I suppose,” Ms. Carey seems to be saying as her voice slides into yet another higher register. “But I think we can agree that the true miracle is my five-octave range.”
Oh, are you not familiar with “Cat Carol?” Allow me to summarize the plotline of this song: Unfeeling pet owners leave a cat outside in the driving snow. The cat comes across a mouse, also freezing in the blizzard, and curls up to protect its new mouse friend from the elements. When Santa arrives, he discovers—as his reindeer sob—that the cat has died in the snow, but that the mouse lived. “I’m sorry mouse, but your friend has died/there’s nothing more we can do,” is an actual lyric sung by Santa, who then digs a grave for the cat in the sky, so that the mouse can look up and see his savior twinkling in the heavens.
Let us set aside the fact that all the great holiday tunes—“Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “The Carol of the Bells”—feature a stirring death sequence. I can say, as a cat owner of two decades, that the entire premise of this song is a laughable fraud. In reality, Santa would find the cat wearing the mouse’s skin as a hat after downing the rest of as sort of Christmas Eve amuse-bouche. In this version, the reindeer would probably still cry, though.