“HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER)” — JOHN LENNON
You’re gonna have Christmas music pumped into your ears every time you enter a store, pump gas or even ride in your car from now until New Year’s Eve. Too bad most Christmas music sucks. But there are a few gems I look forward to hearing every year, starting with this one, John Lennon’s paean to peace and togetherness in the face of the Vietnam War. Recorded in 1971 in New York City with the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, this little number has been covered by Jimmy Buffet, Maroon 5, N’ Sync, REO Speedwagon, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross, Celine Dion, Melissa Etheridge and the Fray.
“DO THEY KNOW IT CHRISTMAS?” — BAND AID
When Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats formed a chorus of A-list entertainers to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia, he may not have known he was creating one for the ages. Band Aid, which featured members of the Police, U2, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club, Bananarama, Wham! and Kool & the Gang, was not only a huge success, the video — which aired in pretty heavy rotation on MTV back in 1985 — was one of the defining moments of the decade.
“CHRISTMAS IN HOLLIS” — RUN DMC
If you didn’t love Jam Master Jay beforehand, the opening groove from this Run DMC classic sampled from a Clarence Carter jam will make a convert out of you. True, the rhymes of Run and DMC are a bit primitive and weak — it was a fairly barefaced attempt to cash in on holiday sentiment — but if you love early hip hop and the outer boroughs, you’ve just got to love this one.
“CHRISTMAS IS A TIME TO SAY I LOVE YOU” — BILLY SQUIER
I suppose I’m sort of stuck in the ’80s, but everyone, it seems, was hellbent on creating holiday content for that fledgling music network. Squire’s contribution was a live 1981 performance of this instant classic backed by the entire MTV staff— in a Christmas sweater, no less! Seeing Nina Blackwood while reviewing the video on YouTube gave me weird chills.
“CHRISTMAS WRAPPING” — THE WAITRESSES
Another from the Golden Age: The Waitresses rode the new-wave movement for a hot minute in 1982, with the hit “I Know What Boys Like” and performing the theme for “Square Pegs,” which starred a young Sarah Jessica Parker. But even they weren’t immune to a little holiday pandering with, of all things, a rap.
“HANUKKAH SONG” — ADAM SANDLER
This is the funniest holiday song I’ve ever heard, Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” debuted on “Saturday Night Live” in 1994 and captured the angst young Jewish kids feel at holiday time. In addition to listing some of celebritydom’s most famous Jews, he also rhymes “Hanukkah” with “harmonica, “gin and tonic-ah” and “marijuanica.”
“GRANDMA GOT RUN OVER BY A REINDEER” — ELMO AND PATSY
Okay, it’s a little stupid, but this little number straight out of 1984 never fails to crack me up. It’s the story of a grandma who gets killed by Blitzen after an eggnog binge. Pretty sad, when you think about it.
“BLUE CHRISTMAS” — ELVIS PRESLEY
Okay, so maybe the King didn’t actually write this one — that credit goes to Billy Hays and JW Johnston, who penned it in 1948 — but it was Presley’s 1957 version that gave it crossover success. My favorite version, however, is by the little kid in The Year Without a Santa Claus.
“SNOOPY’S CHRISTMAS” — THE ROYAL GUARDSMEN
Perhaps you were unaware that on one Christmas Eve during WWI, famed flying ace the Red Baron battled Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog, in the skies above France. It’s true! But after a long dogfight, the Baron found Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel in his sights… and he didn’t shoot! Because it’s Christmas! This is easily the best song on the whole Snoopy vs. the Red Baron album, as far as I’m concerned.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE FAMILY” — ROBERT EARL KEEN
This tribute to a white-trash Christmas, complete with drunken relatives and quick trips to the store for tampons and smokes, comes via our music writer Ryan Snyder, who said, “That’s exactly what Christmas is like at my house.” The most wonderful time of the year, indeed.