What to play for the holidays

By Jack Rechsteiner, managing editor

Every year the holiday season brings with it a sleigh-load of Christmas music that ranges from a few diamonds to a whole lot of coal. Personally, I am someone who gets excited every post-Thanksgiving to start giving into that annual seasonal cheer that comes with Christmastime. This is also the time of year I start dreading the overplayed choruses of carols that come belting out of every radio station and supermarket’s overhead speakers.

I know plenty of people who swear they cannot stand the sounds of the season, but I feel like they’re really just sick of hearing the same five Christmas tunes over and over. In the spirit of giving the gift that keeps on giving, I have put together my lists of holiday hits: the worst, the best and the criminally underrated.

Songs we’d rather forget:

  1. Star Wars Christmas Album by C-3PO

Yes, you read that correctly. Coming in as the worst Christmas song of all time is the entire album of Christmas songs sung by C-3PO with guest vocals from R2-D2 and Chewbacca. The whole album belongs in the trash. It sounds like an animatronic dumpster fire. I imagine if you committed arson at a Chuck E. Cheese around Christmastime this is what the house band would sound like as it burns. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy it, but it’s the same sort of enjoyment you get from watching the Star Wars Christmas special. You know it shouldn’t exist, but the terrible campiness and silliness of it is why it’s so much fun.

2. Who Would’ve Thought by Boyz II Men

This one gets a little less of an excuse from me. Sure, Boyz II Men does a very soulful rendition of Silent Night, but this song gets a little too… intimate with its soulfulness. When your original Christmas song sounds like you’re using the holiday as an excuse to make the moves on your cousin’s fiancée because you’ve had a little too much of the spiked cider, then I think it’s time to rein in your “seasonal cheer.”

3. Christmas Party by Keith Sweat

And here we have Keith Sweat doing the same thing! There are a few things as uncomfortable as an overtly sexy Christmas. This song is more along the lines of getting drunk at the company party and possibly getting into the closet with someone from HR that you really shouldn’t have. When your leading line is about getting it on like Santa Claus would, you’re not where you should be. Christmas is a time for love, not sexual harassment. Keith Sweat is simply too sexy for Christ.

4. Mistletoe by Justin Bieber

This song starts off seemingly innocently. Bieber is caroling about it being the most beautiful time of the year and spreading so much cheer, then things turn for the worst as he goes into singing about being under the mistletoe with shawty. Justin Bieber’s Christmas-themed single “Mistletoe” is the commercially successful pop successor to Nicole Westbrook’s atrocity “It’s Thanksgiving.”

5. All I Want I for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan by Kenny Chesney

The Recording Industry Association of America has given Kenny Chesney 14 gold albums, but this sultry swinger is nothing more than a lump of coal in our stockings.

The best of the best:

  1. All I Want for Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey

This song is catchier than the common cold. Originally released in 1994, this pleasing plea to be with a loved one has everything you need: sleigh bells, poppy choruses, the right amount of schmaltz and uplifting feelings strong enough to launch a jet.

2. Last Christmas by Wham!

Last Christmas and for many Christmases past, Wham! gave us their heart in this song. This iconic song from the English pop duo sounds so classic and has been covered so many times over that you can usually surprise people by knowing that this song was released in 1984. This year, listen to this song with someone special.

3. Santa’s Beard by The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys have the songwriting capability to turn Casimir Pulaski Day into a party (but they passed on it to let Sufjan Stevens write that one.) So you know that they’re definitely going to knock it out of the park with Christmas. They’ve got smiles and sweaters all over their playful Christmas album, but the best of the album’s original songs is the darkly funny “Santa’s Beard.” The song involves a kid pulling the cotton right off Saint Nick’s face in a life-altering moment of mall-bought demystification with the same vocals that led to the definitive “Pet Sounds” album.

4. ‘Zat You, Santa Claus? by Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong very well could have been Santa Claus with his ever-present jolly grin and ability to bring happiness to people all over the world. This song particularly stands out because in his gravelly voice, you can hear the fun that Louis Armstrong is having writing and playing this song. “‘Zat You, Santa Claus?” has the energy and warmth to light a yuletide fire in anyone’s house.

5. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon

Leave it to Yoko Ono and John Lennon to write one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time and also have it double as a Vietnam protest song. Even though we have (thankfully) ended our war over in Vietnam, this song lives on both in the original version and countless covers that pop up every year around this time.

The criminally underrated:

  1. Christmas in Hollis by Run-DMC

This is the most slept-on Christmas song of all time. This song is a blast of crisp, fresh holiday air, spitting verses about the holiday season in Hollis, Queens, where mom’s cooking chicken and collard greens. This song is a cultural force to be reckoned with and an essential addition to any holiday playlist.

2. Father Christmas by The Kinks

This song stomps all over the sleighing bells and tinkling pianos of most festive tunes. While still being in the spirit of the season, this song is a brutal commentary on classism and poverty. Gone are the days of wanting to open up shiny toys on Christmas morn, these jaded punks are looking for Santa to get some real presents like money to help pay the bills or getting Dad a job so he can feed the family. Nothing like a nice dose of holiday-themed cynicism to make the late-stage capitalism go down more smoothly.

3. Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Sharon Jones is PREACHING on this Christmas album. The only problem with this song is that it doesn’t last nearly long enough. That groove could go on straight through Christmas to New Year’s Eve and the rest of the year too.

4. Yule Shoot Your Eye Out by Fall Out Boy

This is early Fall Out Boy doing what Fall Out Boy does best. A soulful song directed vengefully toward a scorned lover, this is the red-and-green version of “Sugar, We’re Goin Down.” Playing on the tropes of “12 Days of Christmas” and other classics, this song is a cheery and catchy tune asking exes of holidays past not to show up under the tree this year. This is for the people that think Christmas is a little too optimistic, but still enjoy the festivities.

5. Sleddin’ Hill by August Burns Red

This slow-burn acoustic song by surprisingly seasonal metalcore alumnus August Burns Red is a cheerful tune that rivals “Carol of the Bells” as being the best instrumental holiday song of all time. The banjo elevates the homeyness of this track to one that you can imagine coming out of your grandpop’s ole transistor radio.

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