10 awful Christmas songs (and what to listen to instead!)

10 awful Christmas songs (and what to listen to instead!)

 · 11 min read

And the bells, were ringing out, for Christmas Day. But maybe you’d rather they didn’t? So here are 10 of the most shocking Christmas songs around and a few ideas for what you might want to listen to instead. Merry Christmas!

Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Age Times. Commissions do not affect our writers’ or editors’ opinions or evaluations. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.

1. The Christmas Shoes - NewSong (2000)

This abomination has nothing going for it except that it stops after a gruelling five minutes. The narrator tells us how he is doing his last-minute shopping when he sees a young boy who wants to buy a pair of shoes for his terminally ill mother. Unfortunately, the boy is short of cash. So the erstwhile jaded narrator buys the shoes and recaptures the spirit of Christmas. Exploitive and manipulative, it can’t get worse.

Instead, listen to…

The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole (1961)

In the unlikely situation that I had only one Christmas song I could listen to, this would be it. Nat first recorded the song in 1946, but the 1961 stereo take is considered the definitive version. His voice is as smooth and rich as brandy butter. With a delicious orchestra arrangement conducted by Nelson Riddle, this song can’t be bettered.

2. Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas) - John Denver (1973)

John Denver was the purveyor of clean-cut, outdoorsy songs until he released this monstrosity. It was featured on an album called Farewell Andromeda and might have just been another depressing country song had he not put it on his 1975 Christmas album. Regrettably, the title reflects the content. The eight-year-old tells us of how Daddy made Mamma cry and how Daddy passed out under the Christmas tree. Sounds like a typical Christmas Day to me.

Instead, listen to…

Fairytale of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl (1987)

Most lists put this song at the top, and it remains many people’s Christmas favourite. In a few ways, is it a traditional Christmas song, and this is the appeal. Despite having several distinct parts and using two different tempos, it is an extremely cohesive piece of music with sections everyone can sing along with. The lyrics were criticised as being ‘nasty’ and have been cleaned up, but it’s still a long way from ‘Silent Night.’ One thing is for sure is that it’s kept Shane MacGowan in Baileys over the last three decades.

3. Christmas Tree - Lady Gaga (2008)

Puerile can be funny when it is self-consciously puerile. This isn’t. It’s trudge through half a dozen Christmas songs sampled and delivered as turgid hip hop. The lyrics are crammed with sexual innuendo (‘Christmas tree‘ is a metaphor for Lady Gaga’s…No, listen to the track) and are about as unsexy and unfunny as haemorrhoids. Unlike the first two horrors, I’d recommend giving it a listen, if only to find out how bad it can get.

Instead, listen to…

River - Joni Mitchell (1971)

This song is set at Christmas in a place with no snow. Yet they are “cutting down trees and putting up reindeer.” There are sleigh bells and a wintery piano accompaniment to lyrics about being bereft, guilty, and full of remorse. The singer wants to skate away. You can listen to River at Christmas or on the beach in August, and it still sends a shiver down your spine. Hauntingly beautiful.

4. Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Any version!

Always a little controversial (a woman wants to go home while her lascivious male friend implores her to stay) and in the age of woke, even more problematic. It might just get away with it were it not for the line “Hey, what’s in this drink?” I’ve read it described as ‘watching a protracted date-rape in progress.’ The BBC agreed and axed it. Political correctness gone mad? Check out the 1999 big band version by Tom Jones and Cerys Mathews and see what you think.

Instead, listen to…

The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping (1981)

When this song was released, rap was just starting to enter the mainstream. The composer liked the play on words and the fact that the song’s story wraps around, covering a full circle. This is about as far from your ‘contains explicit lyrics’ gangsta rap as you can get, unless Tupac or LL Cool J have ever rapped about running out of cranberry sauce. A happy, upbeat song and the perfect way to get the party started. Keep it trill!

5. Santa Baby - Michael Buble (2011)

This song is amusing because the singer is trying to seduce Santa into parting with ridiculously expensive gifts (the deeds to a platinum mine) while telling him how morally disciplined and ‘good’ they have been. This version doesn’t work because, even though ‘baby’ is both a male and female endearment, Michael substitutes ‘pally,’ or ‘buddy,’ and ‘dude,’ and so misses the point. He doesn’t want to use sexual allure, and the result is a just guy asking Santa for a load of stuff.

Instead, listen to…

Santa Baby- Eartha Kitt (1953)

No one does this song better than Eartha Kitt. Described by Orson Welles as “The most exciting woman in the world,” her stage persona of a high-living, gold-digging temptress stage is perfect, and the dusky growl of her voice and ‘come on’ fashion in which she delivers the words are make your toes curl. It is all an act, but everybody is still taken in. Santa wouldn’t have stood a chance.

6. Do They Know it’s Christmas? - Band Aid (1984/1989/2004/2014)

I know it’s raised millions for famine relief, but even Bob Geldof called it ‘the worst Christmas record ever.’ Okay, Midge Ure did a decent job writing it overnight, ready for the next day’s recording session, but Ethiopia has been a predominantly Christian country for over 1,500 years and to my mind, this makes it rather patronising. They probably do know it’s Christmas and don’t need a bunch of pop stars telling them.

Instead, listen to…

Must be Santa - Bob Dylan (2009)

No one saw this coming. When I first heard it, I thought I was having a psychotic episode. The idea that Dylan - Nobel Prize, ‘Masters of War’, Jewish - would make a manic Irish/Tex-Mex Christmas record, incorporating the names of Santa’s Reindeer and those of post-war US presidents was ludicrous. Profits from the album went to Feeding America and the World Food Programme, but, I fear, they may not have done too well. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times and still can’t believe what I’m hearing - brilliant!

7. Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney (1980)

Paul has written some sublime music, and he seems never to stop trying, but, as in the case of this song, he can pad out the lyrics with a lot of ‘la, la, la, las’ and ‘ding dong, ding dongs’. On this track, he’s like an overenthusiastic uncle steamrollering you into the party mood with the annoying repetitious “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time.” Okay, Paul. I’ll enjoy myself when I’m ready.

Instead, listen to…

Happy Xmas (War is Over) - John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band (1971)

Everybody expected Paul to write the first Christmas song when the Beatles split (he was third). However, after two years of peace activism and on the back of the popularity of ‘Imagine,’ John Lennon realised that to get his message across, he needed “a little honey.” The message ‘War is over if you want it was a call for change through unity. After fifty years, have things changed? Sorry, John.

8. Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth - David Bowie and Bing Crosby (1977)

Bowie was in his ‘Berlin period’ when he made this recording (it was released as a single five years later), and it seemed as strange at the time as it does now. The pair do a reasonable job but, why? It’s gone on the worst list for personal reasons. I think it’s pompous, and I find the tune infuriating. Worst still, once I’ve heard it, the ‘rumpa-tum-tum’ becomes the most dreadful earworm. Scarily, I hear there’s a version by Justin Bieber and Buster Rhymes that is worse.

Instead, listen to…

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Frank Sinatra (1963)

This song would have been higher if I hadn’t put another crooner on top. Judy Garland sang an even more downbeat version of the song in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St Louise, and the lyrics were changed slightly. Sinatra’s version was controversially used in the film The Victors as a backdrop as a GI is executed for desertion on Christmas Eve, and that didn’t help its gloomy associations. Unsurprisingly, the song is immaculately sung, and Sinatra’s exquisite phrasing captures the song’s hopes for a brighter future.

9. The Millennium Prayer - Cliff Richard (1999)

After starting the millennium with this, things could only get worse. Two unrelated pieces of music - with words that don’t rhyme shackled to words that don’t fit. It sounds like a desperate attempt to appeal to as broad an audience as possible (No, rap section? Missed the ‘youngsters’ there Cliff) and get his coveted Christmas hit. The thing is, it worked! In 2999 people will still be wondering how we let it happen.

Instead, listen to…

Sweet Bells - Kate Rusby (2009)

From her Christmas album ‘Sweet Bells,’ the ‘Barnsley Nightingale’ fuses the carol, ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ with the song, ‘Sweet Bells.’ The guitar, accordion and brass band accompaniment is jaunty, and the tune (which has similarities with Mike Oldfield’s In Dulci Jubilo’) jigs along nicely. This is a folksy delight from her Christmas album of the same name; it has a lovely traditional Christmas feel and is the perfect antidote to too much Mariah Carey.

10. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer - Elmo and Patsy (1979)

The story goes like this - Granma is drunk and looking for her medication. Despite everyone pleading with her not to go out, she ventures outside and smack! The next day she is found trampled to death and has hoof marks on her back. Grampa is unperturbed and spends the holiday watching football, drinking beer, and playing cards with Cousin Mel. Need I say more?

Instead, listen to…

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis – Tom Waits (1978)

Tow Waits has written a host of stonkers, but this one takes some beating. It may be better if you don’t listen to this one over the turkey. A pregnant prostitute calls an old flame and tells him about her new life. It starts bleakly, begins to offer a little hope, and then rips it away. If you need a reality check or just want to listen to one of the best songs around, listen to this.

What will you be listening to this Christmas?

Comment below or contact us on our social media channels, we’d love to know what music you’d prefer to avoid this Christmas and what are the must listens on your favourite music channels, Spotify playlist or smart speaker.

Merry Christmas!

Image Credit: mark reinstein, Shutterstock.com

Kevin Hardwicke
Kevin Hardwicke
Kevin joined Age Group in 2020. As well as sharing personal experience of trying to find a property during the Covid-19 pandemic, Kevin is an expert in cultural issues including music and film from the 1960s and 1970s onwards.