Right. I’m ready. Big challenge, but I’m going to review and rank the Christmas pop canon. Don’t ask how I decided what was and wasn’t on the list – my methods were arcane and terrible. Just know that they were also very correct.
45. Gary Glitter – Another Rock n Roll Christmas
Obviously it’s a catchy song and obviously it evokes that period of musical history where we came to associate glam rock with Christmas (though it came out in 1984, well after the glam era was over) and obviously you used to hear it all the time BUT, and it’s a but so big even Sir Mix-A-Lot might find it daunting, Gary Glitter. Yeah. So. Fuck off.
44. Band Aid 30 – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
But Thom, how can you hate Do They Know It’s Christmas? It’s for charity. Disliking charitable ventures is a punishable offence. Well. Here we are. This is really bad, like the worst of the Band Aids. This is about Ebola, or something, and changes the words loads so they’re a bit less “Fuckin’ ell, lads, better them than me”, but they’re if anything a bit worse? I dunno. And when you’re at the point of recruiting non-singing YouTube stars to boost it… Nah.
43. Band Aid 20 – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
I like the little bit of Dizzee just popping up like a wee idiot, but other than that this is the beigest of the Band Aids. Like, watch the video, it’s all just desaturated Earth tones, super boring and earnest. And this is Band Aid! Earnest is part of the brief, but they took it too far. Also Bono at his Bonomost.
42. Band Aid II – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
The Stock Aitken and Waterman remix, with Cliff doing 90% of the heavy lifting and a fucking drum machine replacing Phil Collins. Embarrassing at the time, appalling now.
41. Aled Jones – Walking in the Air
Don’t hear this as much now, do you? It’s just such a chore to get through, I doubt any shops play it. Anyway, I never watched The Snowman as a kid and I thought Aled Jones was a weird dickhead at the time. Imagine putting this on at a Christmas party, or even during Christmas dinner. Fuck me, what a mood killer.
40. Mud – Lonely This Christmas
NO IT’S NOT ELVIS says the TOTP2 caption again. Yeah, I know, give it a rest. It’s not good, either. Is it? This is the Funko Pop Elvis. A dead-eyed joke song that somehow glommed on to the season and no one has the guts to jettison it.
39. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – The Power of Love
Not even the best song with this title released in the mid 80s, this is one of those “Yeah it’s not a Christmas song but we’ll put some shit in the video that makes you think it is” deals. Another chore of a song, with Holly Johnson straining away to sound soulful and moving while the band just disappear into nothing. Do I hate it? Not exactly. Do I like it? Not in the slightest. I just want it to be over.
38. The Pogues ft Kirsty MacColl – The Fairytale of New York
The Christmas song for people who don’t like Christmas songs, for people who are too edgy for Wham! and too cynical for Slade. The tune is fine, but I got bored of it about ten years ago and once you’re bored of a song you can’t go back. And the people who like it are the worst, just the absolute worst, so that puts me off. Plus now we get the annual “Actually faggot means something different” debate, and it definitely doesn’t, it’s a homophobic slur and WHY are you ok defending that? Just dip the sound when it comes on. We know it’s there. Kirsty MacColl recognised this, why can’t you? Anyway, this song is done now. It’s adding nothing to my life, get it in the bin.
37. Bing Crosby – White Christmas
Don’t tell me it’s from Holiday Inn, why do people always feel the need to tell you it’s from Holiday Inn? It’s an entirely useless bit of trivia I feel gets hammered into the ground whenever this comes on. Anyway, it’s a syrupy dirge that just points out how shit Christmas is, weather-wise. It’s always grey, Bing. Mate. It’s dull.
36. East 17 – Stay Another Day
This is actually kind of gut-wrenchingly sad (Tony Mortimer wrote it after his brother took his own life) and we just think of it as that song with E17 in big hoods. Which, to be fair, is all it is presented as when we consume it. There’s even bits in the video with them larking about in the studio. Slap a few dingly bells at the end, though, and you’ve got a nailed-on Christmas classic and one of the last undisputed entries in the Christmas canon. Fair play to the boys, I hope they make a shitload of money from this every year because baked potatoes don’t buy themselves. I just don’t like it.
35. John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band – Happy Xmas (War is Over)
Starting to feel a bit more like a proper Christmas song now, with a children’s choir doing a lot of the work, but it’s still not a song I listen to voluntarily. It plods and lumbers through its relatively short run time and even a Phil Spector production job can’t make it thrilling.
34. Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby
Very traditional, sure, but it doesn’t do a lot with itself after a while and just sort of chunters on as a list. Obviously Eartha’s inimitable delivery gives the song a bit more interest than it might otherwise have had, but I just find it a little airless these days. And this isn’t even mentioning Michael Bublé’s legendary reworking, which I’m listening to right now and honestly it’s hilarious. Santa buddy. Rest assured, Michael is not going to fuck Santa (it’s on the cards for Eartha, obvs, and why not? Santa is probably an excellent lover). OH MY GOD the “come and trim my Christmas tree” line ends with “with decorations bought from MER-CE-DES” that’s incredibe I’m sorry this is my first time listening to it HE IS SO HETERO that is incredible. Nothing wrong with Tiffany, Mike. My wedding ring is Tiffany. Ease up. Sorry, this became more about Mickey Bubbles than Eartha Kitt.
33.Bobby Helms – Jingle Bell Rock
This really doesn’t seem to be much more than a straightforward 50s rock n roll tune that happens to be singing about Christmas, but it’s still got a bit of atmosphere to it and you’re not going to complain if it turns up on a Christmas playist, are you?
32.The Wombles – Wombling Merry Christmas
Peak novelty Christmas bollocks, it’s terrible on several levels except the one that really counts – it’s impossible to be sad when you’re listening to it. Unless your husband was killed by a Womble, I suppose. I’m sorry for your loss, like, but for everyone else this is a good time. Tried to explain the Wombles to my daughter this year, but she just looked a bit baffled and wandered off. Seems fair, they’re a bit weird.
31. Chuck Berry – Run, Rudolph, Run
This is mainly just Chuck Berry doin Chuck Berry stuff but it’s about a reindeer. Yeah ok. Like Jingle Bell Rock, I’ll allow it.
30. Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
The original and best, for all that this is a very low bar. Slapped together in haste, it has a charmingly ramshackle feel to it that is right there in the video even, with half the artists turning up looking hungover as shit. Recently read a thing that says the money basically paid for a massacre in Ethiopia so that’s fucking marvellous, isn’t it? Despite all this, those opening notes let you know that you’re in for some very heavy Christmas shit and I’d miss it if it was gone. And Bono can’t escape his line, he cannot.
29. Cliff Richard – Saviour’s Day
I’m not including Millenium Prayer, nah. But Saviour’s Day is Cliff at his devotional best, managing to cram a bunch of Jesus stuff into a decent enough sway-along pop tune. But it definitely feels like the difficult second hit after Mistletoe and Wine, doesn’t it? Like, ooh, must do a Christmas song. Um, um, um, ok, how about a call to prayer? Sure, Cliff. Distinctly unfestive video on a cliff edge omg I just got that. Bloody hell.
28. The Beach Boys – Little Saint Nick
Absolutely not a Christmas song, absolutely perfect nonetheless.
27. Sia – Candy Cane Lane
No but look, it should be. Just because you don’t know it doesn’t mean it’s not a perfect fit for the canon. It’s got jingly AND bongly bells, it’s got warm brass, it’s about Santa, it’s super catchy, it’s perfect for singing when you’re a bit drunk. Honestly, we need to start accepting newer songs into the canon and this is my submission.
26. Johnny Mathis – When a Child is Born
OBVIOUSLY this is a good song because it was number one when I was born, as a child, just like in the song. That’s… probably bumped it a few places higher than it should be. But what the hell, it’s Christmas. This is is still a nice song, though. I like that you can see it as Jesus is ace, or just that babies are an amazing thing and it’s incredible when one is born. Which it is!
25. Mel and Kim – Rocking Around the Christmas Tree
Well, yes, please, this is the definitive version excuse me.
24.Elvis Presley – Blue Christmas
This actually IS Elvis, and is actually kind of great. This was during the period of Elvis’s career when he was exclusively producing Chirstmas-themed content and is included on one of the 27 Christmas albums he produced over three years. The only person to have recorded more Christmas albums is Dean Martin, who has more festive songs in his back catalogue than songs about being a jolly drunken Italian man who likes tits.
23. Vaughn Monroe – Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!
Dean Martin recorded a version of this, too, you know. Unstoppable. Anyway, this is the song that settles the question “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” because if it isn’t wtf is this song doing on the soundtrack? Hmm? Like White Christmas this is really about wanting it to be nice and snowy outside but you’re an idiot who has moved to California and now Christmas is baking hot. Only this one is good, and White Christmas is bad.
22. Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis
The Die Hard factor strikes again. Hip Hop doesn’t get enough outings at Christmas so it’s nice that Run DMC gave us an unarguably seasonal track. Again, not inherently Christmassy per se, it still does enough to count.
21. The Pretenders – 2000 Miles
There’s a bit about Christmas in it, so it’s a Christmas song. Right? That’s how it works (this is leaned on more heavily later). It’s sort of been pressganged into being a Christmas song, poor thing, in a way that feel at once more and less cynical than, say, East 17. Like, the band didn’t intend it to be a Christmas song, but someone had a bright idea and now they make loads of money from it so no-one is really losing.
20. The Darkness – Don’t Let the Bells End
Ah, now, talking of cynicism. This is a wannabe seasonal classic that is cynical from its first notes to its last. The Darkness looked at the money you could make from getting played to death and thought “Well, we’re a novelty metal band, sounds like a good retirement plan”. And fair play to them, it’s a decent song. It’s got all the elements you need – jingle bells, childrens choirs, a video with snow in it, a dick joke for some reason – and it sits nicely in any Christmas playlist. I think it stands up, and is properly making its way into being a regular.
19. Paul McCartney – Wonderful Christmastime
You know it’s Christmas when you hear those spongy opening notes, I don’t care who you are or what you think of McCartney (can’t stand the man). This is as cosy as a woollen blanket and as festive as your Dad falling asleep after Christmas dinner with a paper hat on. I particularly like the fact that he actually sings “Ding dong”, like “Yeah, I could’ve used a bell here but I’m Paul McCartney. I make the rules.”
18. Wham! – Last Christmas
I am not a huge fan of this song in general, but a few factors mean it’s got a decent placing in the rankings. One – it’s absolutely essential, no matter what you think of it, every Christmas. Two – George Michael actually seems really sound, and the profits for this going to charity is lovely. Three – Whamageddon, which is an acknowledgement of its inescapable nature, but in a playful, affectionate way that wouldn’t work with a lot of the songs on this list. Also means I can actively avoid listening to it without looking churlish.
17. Gabriella Cilmi – Warm This Winter
Right, buckle up. So Gabriella Cilmi was the music’s answer to the question “What if Amy Winehouse, but not too much?”, and she did ok? I guess? in the mid-00s. This is a re-working of a Connie Francis song that is not, as far as I know, well-remembered. So fair game. And it was first heard on an advert for Co-op Food because *it was actually commisssioned for the advert*. But it’s slowly making its way into a Christmas regular in an organic fashion, which I am really appreciating. And it’s a good song, it’s very cosy and Cilmi’s voice is a good fit for the material.
16. Chris Rea – Driving Home for Christmas
Chris Rea is shit, let’s be straight about that. He is shit. Middle of the road songs about cars, just tepid fucking bullshit. But Driving Home for Christmas is great cause it’s basically just a tootling little song about… well, driving home, for Christmas. It is what it is. Resolutely non-Christmassy, but it fits in, doesn’t it? And it’s never too early to make jokes about Chris packing his stuff into the boot in preparation for his annual pilgrimage.
15. Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews – Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Nah, I’m with the people who patiently explain that we don’t get it in this day and age, that it’s about the woman trying to find a way to stay over and get laid, not about the man being an evil predator. They’re both up for it, basically. And if you’re going to go for a version of this song, why not go with the one that has two Welsh honkers bellowing it at each other like mating walruses?
14. Perry Como – It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
This is basically the song I start singing first, like December 1st. This is the one that kicks everything else off. Oooh, it says, look what’s happening! Fine, fine, the actual song I start singing first is “Holidays are Coming” from the Coke adverts, but this is the same sentiment.
13. The Jackson Five – Santa Claus is Coming to Town
This was written in the 30s, but let’s be honest – there’s only one version that’s worth shit, and that’s the Jacksons. It turns a frankly mean-spirited and slightly sinister song into a blast of pure joy and if this isn’t the version that plays in your head when someone mentions the title you might be a robot, please get that checked out.
12. Andy Williams – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Very nostalgic, very jolly, somewhat old-fashioned, very American, it’s the musical equivalent of hanging a candy cane on your Christmas tree. I love it, though. It swoops through Christmas like an ice skater on a Christmas card, all pink cheeks and fluffy earmuffs.
11. Elton John – Step Into Christmas
Right, we’re starting to party properly now. This is an irresistable pop bounce and honestly, it would be in the top ten if it wasn’t for the bit in the video where he shows off his season ticket like a massive fucking nerd and it makes me hate him, hate the song, hate Christmas and I can’t get it out of my head when I hear this. So this misses out on glory JUST BECAUSE Elton John loves Watford FC too much.
10. Jethro Tull – Ring Solstice Bells
Christmas need a bit of pagan seasoning to make it feel right, doesn’t it? You need the Yule log or some mistletoe or bursting into people’s houses with a horse skull, some nonsense like that. Probably all Victorian inventions, but so was 99% of Christmas so it counts, I think. Anyway, here’s Jethro Tull giving it large about the solstice. Not Christmas, oh no. Solstice, mate. Sun worship. Raging against the darkness of winter with joy and dancing and BELLS. This doesn’t feel worthy or difficult, though, it’s as easy as finishing the last of the Bailey’s, and just as intoxicating.
9. Boney M – Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord
Cheating a bit, this one, isn’t it? Sticking Oh My Lord in at the end. They’re always getting two of their songs into these countdowns. But that doesn’t matter, because they go so well together, Oh My Lord giving us an easy upbeat singalong after the more devotional disco of Mary’s Boy Child. It’s all good, though.
8. Mike Oldfield – In Dulci Jubilo
I love the regular choral arrangement of In Dulci Jubilo, but it’s not a Christmas party classic, is it? So Mike Oldfield, the Tubular Bell fucker himself, decided what it needed was to be way faster and to sound like a medieval jester was playing it while hopping around your feasting hall. WHICH IS PERFECT as that’s exactly the vibe I aim for at Christmas. Don’t we all? Why else do you think you get a crown from a cracker?
7. Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone
This is magic, somehow. A weird alchemical process has transmuted what it as cynical an exercise as The Darkness into something transcendently festive. There’s a lot of list work going into this, just basically saying stuff that links to Christmas and hoping it evokes enough seasonal spirit to make everyone feel fuzzily Christmassy and somehow… yeah, it works. Did you know he re-recorded a version in 2015 and it was super depressing and grim but somehow also lovely? Yeah. Go and have a listen. I liked it.
6= Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody
The fuck is that title, though? Well, whatever, this is like wallpaper at Christmas, so much so that we don’t really even listen to it nowadays. But do, please. Have a listen. It slaps hard. There’s a reason it’s the most popular Christmas song in the country. It’s intricate and nuanced and yet you can whistle it with ease. It’s an uttterly brilliant song that has become Christmas, somehow taken Christmas inside itself and embodies it.
6= Wizzard – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day
Everything I just said about Slade applies to this. I marginally prefer Wizzard because it has an edge to it, but then Slade is uplifiting and optimistic so it pushes it back and… nah, they’re equal. They’re both immense tracks that throb with pure Christmas energy and Christmas literally wouldn’t be Christmas without them.
4. The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
Totally different Christmas vibe, here. This is very much “Christmas as a young adult”. Having Christmas away from home. A bit colder, a bit more based around going to parties and doing slightly depressing shopping in boring supermarkets. No one here is rosy-cheeked, Santa is not coming to this town, it isn’t going to be a white Christmas. It’s a grey Christmas. The song is very dated, and it shouldn’t work at all but it does, somehow it really does. It’s a cold Winter breeze you step into when you take a break from the candlelit hall of the rest of the canon and it’s just right. It’s just what you need.
3. Jona Lewie – Stop the Cavalry
Not a Christmas song! Mentions Christmas once! Don’t care, though. The brass gives it the mellow, cheerful roundness of Christmas that you can just sink into. Stop the Cavalry is the song I associate with the fella on the Quality Street logo and no one can do anything to stop it. That is how strong its assocation with Christmas is. It’s unbreakable. Plus it’s just a good song. It’s got a gentle urgency, a strong anti-war message and an appealingly underplayed vocal. I crave it in December.
2. Cliff Richard – Mistletoe and Wine
Yessss, this is the stuff. I’m afraid critical faculties desert me when I try to explain why I love Mistletoe and Wine as much as I do. Cliff just nailed it here, gave us very nearly a hymn without making it tooooo Jesusy (a line he pushed too hard on Saviour’s Day). I’m a sentimentalist at heart, and this pushes all the right buttons for me. Peace, love, giving and receiving. Yeah, fucking right. Yeah. See? Can’t write about it properly.
1. Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas is You
The undisputed Queen of Christmas, the banger to end all bangers, the finest Christmas pop song of all. Again, very dated production does nothing to diminish the sparkle of this multifaceted gem. This is in your head right now. Sorry, but it is. If it was Mariah instead of Wham! that everyone was supposed to avoid over Christmas there would be rioting in the streets as we collectively denied ourselves the greatest joy of the season. We would charge headlong into Tesco en masse. You should neither want nor be able to avoid Mariah.