Music Writer Andrew Pollard completes the painstaking task of ranking every notable Christmas hit you’re bound to hear in the next few weeks
Christmas is a time for celebration, family, gifts, and, above all, overplayed music, so it’s important to make sure that you’re at least overplaying the right stuff. With this in mind, I bring you the definitive, scientifically verifiable ranking of every classic Christmas hit that anyone cares about in the hope that, if nothing else, everyone can just stop adding crap to their holiday playlists.
To be noted: I’m listing the version of each song that I hear played most commonly, but, regardless, it’s rare that any one cover of a Christmas song is a marked improvement on any others (I do recommend Springsteen’s rendition of ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’, though).
- Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney
There is absolutely nothing enjoyable about this song. It’s forgettable, irritating, and most of the instrumental sounds like it was written after a couple of minutes dicking about on a £10 keyboard. Show me a person who likes ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ and I’ll show you a liar.
- Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
I’ll concede that ‘Christmas Wrapping’, at least, has a decent instrumental. Great bass line. Love it. But, whoopsie, they just had to start singing didn’t they. Also, this song has probably the single worst chorus of anything on the list.
- Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – The Jackson 5
Michael Jackson was obviously an incredibly talented singer, but his vocals on this track are abrasive as hell. Listening to it through headphones brings me genuine discomfort.
- Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt (with Henri René & His Orchestra)
While this is a pretty listenable tune, I cannot abide any attempt at eroticising Santa Claus. No one was asking for that. The Bublé version is good for a laugh, at least.
- Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms
‘Jingle Bell Rock’ is decent background noise, but it’s hardly a song anyone is rushing to put on. While I’d struggle to really criticise it, I also can’t think of anything good about it except that it’s not Paul McCartney.
- Winter Wonderland – Tony Bennett
‘Winter Wonderland’ is fine. I maybe even enjoy it. Who is Parson Brown?
- It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas – Michael Bublé
Even if it isn’t an especially exciting song, ‘It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas’ is fairly pretty and likeable. Riveting stuff, I know.
- Fairytale of New York – The Pogues (feat. Kirsty MacColl)
I’m definitely in the minority when I say that ‘Fairytale of New York’ is just okay. What does everyone see in this song? The violins are nice, as is the back and forth between MacGowan and MacColl, but the whole thing feels like it’s building to a crescendo that never comes, and the line about someone being a scumbag and a maggot is only going to get more uncomfortable with time.
- I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – The Jackson 5
Though more palatable than their other Christmas classic, ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ is still notably more irritating than the average Jackson 5 hit. This one gets points for having a fun concept, if nothing else.
- Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin’ Stevens
Christmas wouldn’t really feel complete without Shakin’ Stevens. This track does feel like one three-and-a-half minute verse, though.
- Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ is worthy of a smile and maybe a rhythmic foot tap. Low stakes fun, bottled.
- Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade
According to an article by Cosmopolitan, Slade get £500,000 every December from this song alone. Now that’s that true spirit of Christmas.
- Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five
This one’s a little dicey lyrically, but 70 years later it still manages to be marginally funny. You can’t knock that.
- Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Frank Sinatra (with The B. Swanson Quartet)
‘Let It Snow’ would probably be festering alongside ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ if it weren’t for A) Frank Sinatra’s voice, and B) the great brass section. Probably the first song on here that is outright likeable.
- It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams
‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year ’ would probably be festering alongside ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ if it weren’t for A) Andy Williams’ voice, and B) the great brass section. Oh, and the backing vocals are a nice touch.
- Mistletoe and Wine – Cliff Richard
I have a personal soft spot for ‘Mistletoe and Wine’. The way it breaks out into ‘Silent Night’ for all of three seconds, the bizarre bit about putting presents on the tree, the little instrumental fills throughout; it’s just a pretty good time all round.
- I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard
This song occupies the same space as ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ in my head, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. It wins out, though, in part because the vocals are far less grating, and because bringing in a choir of children for the final chorus is just a genius move.
- Blue Christmas – Elvis Presley
‘Blue Christmas’ is one of those songs that everyone says is underrated, thus kind of contradicting themselves in the process. I won’t argue against it being great; the backing singers especially make this song favourite. Elvis wasn’t really known for writing long songs, though.
- Stop The Cavalry – Jona Lewie
‘Stop The Cavalry’ should be far more irritating than it is, all things considered. Every aspect of this song is so nearly crap, and yet the whole thing comes together into something quite laid back and catchy. Colour me impressed.
- 2000 Miles – Pretenders
Even if some of the vocal melodies are completely baffling, ‘2000 Miles’ works partly because it doesn’t lean too hard on the Christmas aesthetic; ditching bells and carollers for, wait for it, a nice guitar section and good storytelling. This isn’t to say every Christmas song should take this approach, but it makes ‘2000 Miles’ something you can honestly listen to all year round.
- Lonely This Christmas – Mud
‘Lonely This Christmas’ follows the same lines as ‘Blue Christmas’, but it’s lyrically more interesting and I like to imagine that when Les Grey says ‘Merry Christmas, darling’ at the end, he’s referring to me specifically.
- Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid
‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ is one of the most hilariously poorly executed attempts at a serious message I have ever heard, and it brings Christmas joy because of it. So incredibly 80s in the way it patronisingly collated all the nations of Africa into a single amorphous blob that desperately needs food, but, at the same time, so sincere in its conviction to help. It’s impossible to dislike. Bono singing ‘Thank God it’s them instead of you’ will never not be weird, though.
- All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
Your mileage on this song really depends on how much you’ve been worn down by Christmas markets that seem to play the thing on loop at all times. Do I still enjoy listening to this song? Not really. Is it still a total banger? Unquestionably.
- Stay Another Day – East 17
‘Stay Another Day’ is a Christmas song only in the sense that people play it a lot in December, and because East 17 are all wearing massive winter coats in the music video. The entire song is ridiculously over-dramatic, crammed full of wedding bells and disembodied voices crying ‘Stay now!’, and I love it for this.
- Driving Home For Christmas – Chris Rea
‘Driving Home For Christmas’ is the apotheosis of pleasantness. There’s absolutely nothing to complain about here. I’m not trying to claim that it’s some kind of masterpiece but, at the same time, I might be.
- Mary’s Boy Child / Oh My Lord – Boney M.
How do you write one of the best Christmas tunes ever made, and then have it switch into a completely different, equally great bop halfway through? This is also the only song on the list that actually talks about Christmas as a religious celebration, making this pretty much the best hymn ever written.
- Feliz Navidad – José Feliciano
‘Feliz Navidad’ invokes the same unassailable joy as ‘Driving Home For Christmas’, but with a Spanish twist that somehow makes it even jollier. Even José Feliciano sounds like he’s grinning through it.
- Last Christmas – Wham!
‘Last Christmas’ is the reason people think sad Christmas songs are the best. There are few songs that anyone could hear as many times as this and not be completely sick of, and yet ‘Last Christmas’ prevails because it manages to be relentlessly catchy without feeling trashy. I don’t believe that anyone truly hates this song.
- Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) – The Darkness
The world does not deserve ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’. It’s too good to be a Christmas song. Even ignoring the fact that the song is hilarious, being built from the ground up to allow Justin Hawkins to repeatedly sing ‘bells end’ on daytime radio, no other festive tune comes close to melting as many faces as this. That said, ‘Christmas Time’ misses the top spot because it’s simply too loud to put on during Christmas dinner, or when elderly relatives are in the room.
- Step Into Christmas – Elton John
‘Welcome to my Christmas song,’ declares Elton John at the opening of what can only be described as holiday perfection. ‘Step Into Christmas’ has everything: it’s goofy but grounded, lively but accessible, catchy but not obnoxious, wholesome without seeming soppy. The commitment to raising this song above the average dime-a-dozen Christmas cash-grab is palpable in all the subtle instrumental nuances throughout its build and upshot is probably the most danceable Christmas tune ever made. Hark, now hear the angels sing, ‘Glory to Elton John.’