Every holiday season we’re reminded that for every great Christmas song, there are at least ten others out there that suck. For the purpose of this list, I only went as far back as the late 1970s (John Denver, you dodged a bullet this time), and excluded a lot of novelty songs that were just too obvious (sorry, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”). The following lumps of musical coal, in no particular order, include absurd covers, cheesy originals and the strangest duet of all time. Merry Christmas, everyone — and keep these songs off your holiday party playlist!
Honorable Mention: Singing Animals
Let’s be honest, this list could have just been “Jingle Cats Greatest Hits”, and we could all go home early. But that would be too easy. However, we still must recognize the unfortunate existence of Jingle Cats, Jingle Dogs, and all their various incarnations. If you know anyone who keeps one of these albums in their regular Christmas music rotation, immediately stop being friends with them. It was never fun even in an ironic way. And yes, we should all still be jealous we didn’t think of this and make millions off it.
5. Michael Bolton — Our Love Is Like A Holiday
With apologies to Kenny G — this list just couldn’t handle so much incredible hair — Michael Bolton starts us off with this sappy love-song-disguised-as-Christmas-tune. While this technically is a Christmas song — by virtue of saying the word “Christmas” a few times — it doesn’t really involve anything related to Christmas, and easily could have been reappropriated for some other holiday currently lacking an Adult Contemporary anthem. Also, for the record, I have nothing against Michael Bolton — I enjoyed his work on all those VH1 I Love The 70s/80s/90s/00s shows — but this was an unfortunate incident.
4. Rosie O’Donnell and Elmo — Do You Hear What I Hear
Remember when Rosie O’Donnell had an afternoon talk show? The hour-long gab fest was a bubbly mix of show tunes, unrequited Tom Cruise love and puppets. Right off the bat, Rosie struck up a friendship with Elmo, thus launching the Sesame Streeter’s profile to unprecedented heights — she played a major role in the Tickle Me Elmo craze. Unfortunately, their love for each other led to a grating rendition of the already annoying “Do You Hear What I Hear” — the above video is from a Today Show appearance in 1996. For further torture, I dare you to sit through the entire three-and-a-half minute studio version.
3. Newsong — The Christmas Shoes
I was spared knowledge of this song’s existence until many years after its release (2000, aka my Dave Matthews obsession years, when no other music existed). Over the following decade, I’d heard tales of this being the worst Christmas song ever. As someone who isn’t swayed by hype (okay, you got me on the Dave Matthews thing) I didn’t buy in — and then I listened to it. Two things: first, the hype was (and still is) very real. Second, there’s nothing I can say that will ever top the great Patton Oswalt. Take it away, Patton!
2. Paul McCartney — Wonderful Christmas Time
From the “Awful Songs By Great Beatles Songwriters” department, we have this crime against Yuletide merriment, sprung from the mind of one Sir Paul McCartney. This agonizing ode to holiday cheer is highlighted by some crazed synth player who either had seizures mid-song or was just really high on coke — it was 1979, so there is a 99.99% chance of the latter being the case. Just because Sir Paul wrote some of the greatest songs in the history of mankind, doesn’t mean he gets a pass for this travesty.
1. Bing Crosby and David Bowie — Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth
Okay, I lied, this is legitimately the #1 worst Christmas song, but only because it’s a triple whammy of annoyance (nobody actually likes “Little Drummer Boy”), circumstance and historical ramifications. By 1977, Bing Crosby was the undisputed King of Christmas, if only for the fact “White Christmas” was the best-selling song of all time. Meanwhile, David Bowie was the undisputed Androgynous Ruler of Glam Rock. Naturally, it only made sense for the two to pair up for Bing’s “Merrie Olde Christmas” TV special, right?
Bowie initially refused to participate — pa rum pum pum pumming gets annoying really fast, apparently — but after adding the “Peace on Earth” counter-melody, he agreed to appear. Unfortunately for Bing’s legacy (again, the guy who has defined Christmas for generations around the world), this would be the final act of a brilliant career, as he died a month after the September recording session. The special aired posthumously, and while the world watched arguably the unlikeliest duet of all time, Bing proceeded to roll over in his grave — twice.