Ah, so it’s that time of year again, is it?
The thirteen dark seals of Krampus have been broken and Bublé the undying has been released from his prison beneath the earth, his eyes streaming tears of burning pitch as he opens his fanged maw and sings the song of the bells that jingle.
As you might have guessed, I’m not exactly the festive type.
As the nation burns with bushfires like some Heironymous Bosch hellscape I’m getting sick of the northern insistence that Christmas is all things winter and snow. Here in the down-underverse, the entire country is a fireplace and a lump of coal is hardly a disincentive to the ruling classes.
But the worst is the carols. Oh, the carols.
An unceasing cacophony of inane ditties about bells, underage percussionists, and itinerant babies of questionable parentage. There are people who actually sing these things, of their own free will and volition, trying to infect you with their insufferable *shudders* cheer.
No, this is not my time of year.
But, you see, not all Christmas songs are bad. Most of them are, but not all. Some of them are dead-set classics. You just need to have a discerning palate and an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular culture.
Fortunately, your boi here has got you covered. I’ve done the grunt work for you and put together ten of the best – Christmas songs that don’t suck. Christmas songs you can blare loudly and proudly. Psych-up songs for the Christmas day battle as you do that which is forbidden and talk sport and politics with your extended family. Fire up your music player of choice and let these Christmas crackers free:
1. ‘Fairytale of New York’ – The Pogues ft Kirsty MacColl
This song is like The Avengers of modern music. It’s the culmination of the brilliant celtic-punk band The Pogues being challenged to write a Christmas song by their producer, one Elvis Costello, with the gravelly Shane MacGowan offset by the crystalline vocals of French and Saunders alumni, Kirsty MacColl.
Fairytale eschews the sap that most Christmas fare gets mired in. This is, in no uncertain terms, not a happy song. Where other Christmas songs might explore the concepts of love, or family, or togetherness, ‘Fairytale of New York’ is a call and response spiteful argument between two fading Broadway stars in 1940’s New York as they attack each other’s shortcomings, such as gambling addiction or heroin dependency.
And it’s freaking amazing. This is the best Christmas song of all time, with daylight second.
2. ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ – John Lennon
“So this is Christmas, and what have you done?” Every year John Lennon reaches across space and time to skewer me over my lack of accomplishment. I’m not the only one.
Half a century after its release, this song is still as relevant now as it was then. And that’s terrifying. As we wrap ourselves in our insular, festive bubble it can be easy to forget the responsibilities we have as citizens of planet Earth. War can be over. If we want it.
I’m going to briefly depart from my usual glibness here, this song should stand alone.
“Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.” We can always hope, John.
3. ‘How To Make Gravy’ – Paul Kelly
We might as well get all of the depressing songs out of the way in one hit. Paul Kelly is an adroit master at chronicling bittersweet tales of the human condition. With ‘How To Make Gravy’ he doesn’t tug at the heartstrings so much as yank at them like he was starting a recalcitrant lawnmower. Are you enjoying the festive season? Well don’t worry, here comes Paul Kelly to kick you in the feels like he was Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.
I don’t want to give anyone the impression that this is a bad song, it’s not. It’s a bloody belter. It’s just heart-wrenchingly sad.
For anyone wondering, the recipe for gravy is: flour, salt, a little red wine and a dollop of tomato sauce for sweetness and extra tang.
4. ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time For A Beer’ – The Carlton Dry Christmas Orchestra
In a big rookie performance, we have a newcomer cracking the top five and some much-needed levity because this list was nosediving fast. This is a recently-released seasonal parody by the folks over at the Carlton Dry, sung to the tune of ‘The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’, in what we in the comedy business call a ‘play on words’.
The song is an instant hall-of-famer because it accurately portrays the Christmas season here in the antipodes. We’re in the middle of a sustained media bombardment of all things cold, snow and winter, yet Christmas in Australia is all about it being too bloody hot to do anything. The only cold thing about Chrissy in this nation is the beer.
Christmas is about chilling out at the beach and towelling off with a cold one. It’s about snoozing through the heat of the day and waking up in the mid-afternoon to have a cold one. It’s about snapping at your relatives because everyone has heatstroke, then knocking back a ham sandwich and a cold one.
‘The Most Wonderful Time For A Beer’ gets it. This is a song for us. The dread feeling of people coming over to your house, racist relatives, road rage in the parking lot – Christmas is a fever and the only prescription is a beer. It is the most wonderful time, after all.
5. ‘Let It Snow’ – Vaughn Monroe
This seminal soldier might not stand out as a noteworthy Christmas ditty – it’s good, but is it great? Good question, so we’re going to need some context here.
Picture this: John McClane has just defeated the terrorist forces of Hans Gruber, dropping him from the higher floors of the Nakatomi Plaza with the dry, cool witty line “happy trails, Hans!” McClane and his estranged wife Holly kiss and make up, police swoop in the clean up the mess, the limo driver makes a grand entrance (at last) and the day is saved.
As we pan out to survey the carnage we begin to hear the faint brass of Vaughn Monroe’s ‘Let It Snow’ – probably as an allusion to how it just suddenly started raining West-German terrorists in downtown LA – and we are filled with the holiday spirit of family and togetherness.
Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all time, don’t even @ me. Yippee-ki-yay!
6. ‘Jingle Bells (Batman Smells)’ – Robert Goulet
At some point it would have been accurate to say that Robert Goulet was most recognisable for his Cliffs of Dover jawline, piercing baby-blue eyes, and his iconic interpretation of ‘If Ever I Would Leave You’.
But, to millennials such as myself, Robert Goulet is famous for his turn in the classic Simpsons episode ‘$pringfield’. Stay with me here.
When Bart decides to open his own casino just to spite the staff who kicked him out of Mr Burns’ establishment, he exacts revenge by absconding with headline act Robert Goulet. Ever the professional, Goulet plays to the crowd – in this case fourth-graders – and delivers a dulcet rendition of playground classic ‘Jingle Bells’, detailing Batman’s struggles with personal hygiene.
“Just putting ‘Jingle Bells’ in the lyrics doesn’t make it a Christmas song” you say. ‘What does Batman have to do with Christmas?’ I’m very glad you asked…
7. The Entire Batman Returns Soundtrack (ft Siouxsie and the Banshees) – Danny Elfman
The best description of what constitutes a ‘Christmas Film’ is ‘any film which takes place during the festive season of Christmas’. Batman Returns is such a film. And because of that, we can call the whole damn soundtrack a Christmas carol. It’s a Christmas miracle!
While ‘Face To Face’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees isn’t in the same league as the previous film’s ‘Party Man’ by Prince, the rest of the score is vintage Danny Elfman.
Spooky, fey, gothic, uplifting, carnival – I challenge anyone not to get chills when the big horns kick in.
8. ‘Little Drummer Boy’ – Kenny Rogers
Alright, here’s the pitch: it’s the classic Christmas carol ‘Little Drummer Boy’, but it’s sung by Kenneth Ray Rogers. Alright stop drilling, you hit oil.
I don’t think there’s anything on the planet that couldn’t be improved by the voice of Special K. The man knows when to hold them and when to fold them. He’s checking in to see what condition our condition is in. And when Kenny caresses your ears with his gossamer “pa rum pum pum pum” you can’t help but feel the Christmas spirit all up in your bones.
There is a compelling case that Kenny Rogers actually is Santa Claus.
9. ‘Last Christmas’ – Wham!
What? Wham!? But that’s right up there with Mariah Carey? Right? Wrong.
There are very few songs willing to tackle the sordid underbelly of Christmas, the inherent darkness that polite conversation steers around. This is one of them. The saccharine, bubblegum pop duo Wham! (George Michael and…whatshisname…) were unafraid to show you the perils of the festive season.
This 4min22 elegy details the tragic perils of re-gifting – where a capricious person takes a heartfelt gift they received and callously repurposes it as a gift of their own to a third party. Cold.
10. ‘Christmas In Hollis’ – Run D.M.C.
This is the delightful tale of Run D.M.C. electing not to rob Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, as they are gripped by the spirit of Christmas and agree that stealing from Santa ‘ain’t right’, even if he was careless enough to drop a wallet full of millions of dollars.
I’ll never cease to be amazed at how often Run D.M.C. managed to get away with rhyming ‘Darryl’ and ‘Carol’ and this was an opening you could drive a humvee-limo through.
There you go, ten of the best to keep you breezin’ through the season. Stay frosty and keep the brewskis frostier, it’s the most wonderful time for a beer.