My Christmas playlist

As a genre, Christmas music is repetitive and nauseating. Even though we’re treated to it nonstop for nearly two months, its repertoire is surprisingly limited: we get endlessly insipid variations on very few songs — eighty bazillion versions of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “O Holy Night,” as Jennifer has discovered. I can’t recall a single original song in the past few decades that has entered the canon; most of the “popular” songs (read: snow and Santa rather than religious) are at least decades old.

Fortunately, the Christmas novelty songs provide some relief. Some of them are silly, some of them are filthy, and some are just as derivative as the latest forgettable pop star’s forgettable rendition of an old war-horse carol. But they’re the only things that keep me sane. And I’ve finally collected enough of them that I can offer you a playlist of them to keep you sane.

Here are the criteria I’ve used to put my playlist together:

  • No more than one song per performer (to prevent me from loading up several songs from an entire album).
  • A bona fide new song, or a new twist on an old chestnut, rather than a Weird Al-style song where it’s simply wacky lyrics to a familiar tune. (There are two exceptions on my playlist, but they prove the rule.)
  • It’s not self-referential (e.g., a comedian singing a Christmas carol using bits from his standard routine) or so in character that that it’s not funny out of context.
  • They don’t need to be offensive or blasphemous, but it doesn’t hurt; otherwise, there has to be a little bit of edge or weirdness involved.
  • If possible, they should be annoying earworms that plague your sleep without being profoundly awful (i.e., not the Jingle Cats).

So with those constraints in mind, here’s what I came up with: eight songs running about 20 minutes. Some of these will be very familiar; others, not so much. They get progressively dirtier: the first song is on a TV commercial, the last is unplayable in mixed company.

  1. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas (Gayla Peevey, 1953). Gayla was 10 years old when she recorded this whimsical little number, which I first encountered a few years ago. Residents of Alberta and British Columbia know all about this song, because it’s been used in Telus’s holiday ad campaign in those two provinces. (The ad campaign has struck some kind of nerve: hippo toys are selling out all over the place; see news coverage from the Edmonton Sun, Vancouver Sun and Hamilton Spectator; Google News.)
  2. Jingle Rock Bell (Pink Stainless Tail, 2004). MetaFilter member Pink Stainless Tail annoys his wife by singing “Jingle Bell Rock” using only the words “jingle,” “rock,” and “bell”; he recorded it for the rest of us once a fellow member provided him with a karaoke track, and we laughed ourselves senseless. Conceptually brilliant, impossible to clear from your mind, and utterly, utterly silly.
  3. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (Elmo and Patsy Shropshire, 1979; Dr. Elmo, 1992). Album: Dr. Elmo’s Twisted Christmas (Amazon, iTunes), and several re-releases. A standard of silly Christmas songs, and clean enough for your grandma to listen to.
  4. Santa’s Gonna Kick Your Ass (The Arrogant Worms, 1997). Album: Christmas Turkey. The Worms’ Christmas album is a mixed bag: some songs are hilarious, others a bit meh, but they’re all original. This one, about an angry Santa who’s had a bad year, is my favourite: while the album is assiduously secular, I love the fact that they’ve done a Christmas song klezmer style.
  5. O Holy Night (South Park, 1999). Album: Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics. Cartman gets zapped with a cattle prod every time he gets the lyrics wrong: a hilarious concept that makes this my pick from the South Park Christmas album, other songs of which are dirtier, but try too hard at it, I think.
  6. Merry F#%$in’ Christmas (Denis Leary, 2005). Album: Merry F#%$in’ Christmas (Amazon, iTunes). The best thing about Denis Leary’s Christmas special was the opening song and claymation sequence; the rest of the program was fair to middling. It’s catchy, it’s dirty, it’s Leary.
  7. Holy Shit, It’s Christmas (Red Peters, 1995). Album: I Laughed, I Cried, I Fudged My Undies. Red sings along with some perverted hamsters: think Alvin and the Chipmunks with an R rating.
  8. Hey Santa Claus (Kevin Bloody Wilson, 1985). Album: Kev’s Back (The Return of the Yobbo). It says something that when Bowser and Blue played this song on their Christmas TV show, they played an expurgated version that left the F word intact. Extraordinarily dirty language but an extraordinarily funny song.