And now that my temper is up, I may as well go on and abuse every body I can think of.
— Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
Is that headline a contradiction in terms? Should it be, “Bottom Five?” Or would saying that, with “Worst” — which I feel compelled to use — be redundant?
But before I get to my list, allow me to complain that we are not in the Christmas season. This is Advent. Even though I was sick at home with a cold the first Sunday, and late the second Sunday, and therefore missed the candle-lighting ritual at Mass both times, I know this is Advent. You know how? I can read a calendar. Christmas starts on the 25th (remember how we used to call it Saturnalia, o fratres mei?), and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany.
Oh, you say only the Church calls it that? Well, let me clue you in: The Church invented Christmas. In fact, Protestants refused to celebrate it for generations because it was seen as so Catholic. Even Santa Claus is a saint. So there.
Speaking of which, one category of song you won’t see represented here is the kind that isn’t really a Christmas song at all; it’s really a winter song. Take “Jingle Bells,” please. (OK, I don’t really hate “Jingle Bells;” constant repetitions of it when I was a small child conditioned me to associate it with festivity. It’s just an illustration of my point, so bear with me.) Does it say anything about Christmas? No, it doesn’t. OK, there’s the sleigh — but it’s not, specifically, Santa’s. It’s a run-of-the-mill sleigh. It’s drawn by one horse, not by reindeer.
Or, worse yet, “Frosty the Snowman.” Is there a single Christmas allusion in it, direct or indirect? No, there is not. It’s about winter. Ditto with “Let it Snow,” which was thrust upon me one morning this past week.
Moreover, it’s about winter as we in South Carolina seldom experience it. Oh, sometimes we get a dusting of snow — in February. I, having spent most my life in the South (or in the tropics), have never experienced a white Dec. 25th. Granted, we had a nice blanket of the stuff fall on the second or third day of Christmas in 2010, but that’s an exception that proves the rule.
Songs like that are about winter in a particular part of the world, which is not here. So where’s the relevance?
Mind you, it’s not that songs must contain Jesus, Mary and Joseph, much less the Three Kings (who in any case should not be heard from before Jan. 6) in order to make the category. I’m happy with Santa, or the elves, or the reindeer, or a Yule log, or a tree… something, anything, that relates it to the actual holiday.
But enough about what the list is not.
Here’s the actual list:
- “The Little Drummer Boy” — OK, you’re thinking, how could anybody hate “The Little Drummer Boy?” Well, I have since I first heard it, sometime in the mid-60s. It had been around since 1941, but I first heard it in about ’65 or ’66 (I remember being puzzled by it when we lived in that old converted barracks in New Orleans) — and then heard it and heard it and heard it. Everybody covered it; it was in everybody’s special Christmas album, and seemed to turn up on every Christmas special on the tube. What’s wrong with it? Let’s start with this: Where did a drummer boy come from? I’m not demanding that everything have a biblical basis — after all, I’m a Catholic. But how does a drummer boy make sense? Maybe a shepherd boy with a lyre or Pan pipes, but a drum? Who brings a drum into a home — or temporary quarters — where there’s a newborn? Mary didn’t have enough problems with having to give birth in a shed, and having to lay her baby in a filthy feeding bin, and all these strangers tramping through the place? The song suggests Mary and the baby dug the drumming. Yeah, right. Had I been there, I’d have been the third shepherd, the grumpy one, raising his crook menacingly and saying, “Go ahead, kid. Say ‘pa rum pum pum pum” one… more… time…”
- “Wonderful Christmas Time” — You know, “Simply… having… a WONderful Christmas time…” The greatest offense against music ever committed by Paul McCartney. He is absolved by all his really great stuff, but this monotonous bit of tinsel should never be heard again.
- “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” — Do I have to explain? Yeah, it’s satire. But I’m pretty sure I thought it was bad satire the first time I heard it. And every repetition grates a little more.
- “Santa Baby” — When I was a young lad, they used to have these cartoons in the December issue of Playboy — in those days, as you may have heard, it was filled with interesting articles — that would feature these mostly or entirely nude, extremely pneumatic bunny girls in some sort of sexual situation with Santa Claus. And I always found that offensive. It felt like a form of libel of a beloved figure. Santa should be nothing if not G-rated. “Santa Baby” has always seemed like the musical counterpart of those cartoons. Not to mention the fact that it’s probably the most materialistic of all “Christmas” songs.
- “Santa’s Super Sleigh” — OK, I’m cheating here. But I was having trouble coming up with a fifth — I’m really not as much of a Scrooge as I’m letting on to be here — and in tribute to Nick Hornby I always try to do Top FIVE lists. But I think this is OK because Nick himself invented this song for his novel About A Boy, and it was recorded for the film version. It’s a deliberately bad song that the protagonist hates to hear (even though it’s the reason he doesn’t have to work for a living). But I believe if the actual song marketplace had come up with it, rather than it coming from a novelist’s imagination, I would still dislike it.