Check out the editors' picks in blurb and video form below and subscribe to the playlist on Spotify - but don't stop there, 'cause we wanna hear from you! Scroll to the end of this post to learn how to share your Unhappy Holidays track picks.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta - "Baby It's Cold Outside"
This week, everybody is up in arms about the plastic camp of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John's "I Think You Might Like It," but that's only because the duo bothered to visualize this cheese. As the only original on This Christmas - a new, wholly unexpected, not especially welcome reunion from the Grease co-stars - it's actually one of the better tunes on the record, or at least it's one that glides by on silver screen charisma. Unlike, say, the opening "Baby, It's Cold Outside," where the grinning pair smarms it up, working overtime to elicit some kind of chummy charm but instead wind up with a song as welcome as a mechanical Christmas tree belting out a tinny "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" in your local pharmacy.
The Jackson 5 - "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"
During the early '70s, the Jackson 5 were a nearly irresistible marketing juggernaut, and they dutifully cranked out more Christmas songs than any other Motown act of the time. (The full-length Christmas Album arrived in countless preteens' stockings late in 1970.) Their worst by far, both then and in undeniably queasy retrospect, was their version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." Considering the accumulated back story of the Jacksons' saga over the ensuing four decades, it stands as something less than a great repertoire decision. The YouTube comments are no less baffling / revolting / amazing than you'd expect.
"Little Drummer Boy"
Outta my way, ragamuffin! It's time to take down the schmaltziest of all the schmaltzy holiday songs. I'm not sure if it's the "parumpapapum" vocal line that drives me crazy or the idea that playing some crummy drum licks for a little baby would make the nipper smile instead of wailing like an air raid siren. I do know that almost every version of the song I've heard has made me sad, and not in the good way. Whether it's Dolores O'Riordan yowling her buns off, Boney M. doing something very creepy with a little kid, or Joan Jett murdering it on her otherwise spotless I Love Rock-n-Roll album (there's something unsavory about the way she sings the word "come"). Main offender is the Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet. I know everyone loves it because it's the legendary old fart and the young weird guy reaching across generations and coming to some kind of understanding through the power of music and the felicities of the season. Yuck! It's too bad they didn't come to an understanding that this song is awful and done something better like "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." That "peace on earth" bit always gets me though. Bowie's such a crack-up!
The Jive Turkeys - "Get Down Santa"
It's not often you see a band so well named. Fellas, Santa is not funky. Never was, never will be. He's not gonna be getting down anytime soon unless it's getting down to a huge plate of cookies. Plus, have you ever seen him dance? That bowlful of jelly move isn't much of a trick. The JT's make matters worse by interrupting a quarter-decent jam to break into every annoying Christmas melody they can think of. Truly a lump of coal. The flip side would like us to believe that Jesus was also funky. That's more believable somehow, but even He couldn't turn this watered-down track into wine.
NewSong - "The Christmas Shoes"
Everything about this song feels like a mean joke. NewSong (fake sounding band name) gives us a song that manages to be musically generic across several genres about a young urchin buying shoes for his dying mother. The narrator ends up paying for the shoes when the hobo child comes up short, suckered by his pleas of wanting momma to look beautiful when she meets Jesus. It would be depressing if it weren't so ridiculously heavy-handed from start to finish. The song was so manipulative and cliché-ridden, it actually inspired a TV movie of the same name starring Rob Lowe!
They say Christmas is the time for giving, but when it comes to songs like "Santa Baby" it seems receiving is the name of the game. Don't get me wrong; I like a great gift as much as the next guy, but "Santa Baby" serves up the same crass consumerism we're bombarded with any other day of the year (and looms more heavily every holiday season). Sure, being an "awful good girl" is worthy of recognition, but in the "Santa Baby" universe, a nice sweater simply won't do, as the sultry singer (originally the queen bee Eartha Kitt, but since covered by everyone from Everclear to the cast of Glee) rattles off a wishlist that would require ol' Saint Nick to take a trip down Rodeo Drive: "Slip a sable under the tree, for me" (Ethical grey areas aside, I guess if you've been really good, a fur coat is a nice single holiday gift); "a '54 convertible too, light blue" (So you'd turn up your nose at a different model or color?); "I wanna yacht, and really that's not a lot" (Really?!). As if that's not enough, "Santa Baby" is brimming with sexual innuendos (such as the eternal refrain, "Hurry down the chimney tonight") that suggest the coquettish chanteuse only finds Santa Claus appealing in hopes that offering her feminine wiles will net her a pile of extravagant gifts. Suggestion: a "Santa Baby" sequel, in which the singer lands a lucrative job, buys herself whatever the heck she wants, and makes a big donation to a local, woman-centric charity. If only!
Paul McCartney - "Wonderful Christmastime"
On the face of it, "Wonderful Christmastime" is nice enough, with lyrics about enjoying each other's company and good spirits. Unfortunately, those lyrics get really repetitive really quickly, and taking a cue from the onomatopoeia of "Little Drummer Boy", the "ding dong, ding dong"ing of the children's chorus described in the song turns completely inane. But the heart of my "Wonderful Christmastime" rage lies in the synthesizer riff that ties together the tune. It's hard to put into words what's so repelling about it, but it hits me on a visceral level that sends my nauseated self running to press the mute button or pull the plug -- a stark contrast to the Macca's "Maybe I'm Amazed", which serves as a direct line to my heartstrings and tear ducts.
Snark on the season in playlist form, and keep the tunes coming by sharing your Unhappy Holidays track picks. Spotify users can contribute by adding AllMusic Editors to your people list, and then sending your selections to our inbox. Not a Spotify user? Share your track picks on the AllMusic Facebook page or by tweeting @AllMusic with hashtag #unhappyholidays.