What the heck is with all of these ugly Christmas sweaters? I remember when they were just Christmas sweaters that happened to be ugly. Oh, the Nineties! My mom was known for giving my wife some of the ugliest sweaters known to man. Then, when my oldest son was in high school, the kids would scour Goodwills and Salvation Armys for those very sweaters from the Nineties to wear to parties and basketball games dress-up nights during December. Well, I guess that became too popular for companies not to try to make some major cash on this phenomenon. Now, during the Christmas season, you cannot go to an athletic team’s website and not find an ugly Christmas sweater for your favorite team, even mine, those small market powerhouses, the Indiana Pacers, the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Reds.
And, in the past five years, even rock artists have gotten into the act. Of course, the great marketing geniuses of Kiss, released versions, which were probably so successful that many other artists followed suit. So, now, we have available ugly Christmas sweaters from the obvious artists such as The Beatles, Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones, as well as the less obvious like Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses and Run-D.M.C. Even crazier, you can find ugly Christmas sweaters from artists that truly exude the Christmas spirit by their name let alone their image, such as Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer and AC/DC, among others from the dark side.
So, now, go ahead and hold your ugly Christmas sweater parties, but, remember that you can actually add semi-expensive mass-produced ugly sweaters (and sweat shirts, as well as T-shirts for those of us who run at a higher body temperature than mere mortals) to your wardrobe from the comfy confines of your recliner. You, actually, some of these sweaters actually look kinda cool. But, I need to limit my search to T-shirts and sweat shirt so I can actually wear the garment.
Now that I got the ugly Christmas sweater off my chest (or did I?), let’s finish off my Christmas Song Countdown. So, may I introduce to you, the to my Top 20 Modern Christmas Songs? Wait a second! I don’t need your permission! This is my damn blog! On with the countdown! And, I can stretch it out as long as I want to. Lucky you, eh?
20. Wizzard – “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” . Back when this song was released, it lost the coveted UK #1 spot to Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody,” but lately, artists have been covering this song like crazy on their recent Christmas albums. That means that Wizzard mastermind Roy Wood has been rolling in the cash from those royalties. Plus, it’s honestly the better song.
19. Band Aid – “Do They Know It’s Christmas” . This charity single sparked a brief run of charity songs, albums and concerts. This song actually brought back the modern Christmas song to the US Hot 100.
18. The Pogues Ft. Kirsty MacColl – “Fairytale of New York” . This is a beautiful melancholy song about the beautiful darkside of Christmas. And, it only grows in stature.
17. Ray Charles – “That Spirit of Christmas” . This song is a beautiful nostalgic song about Christmases past. It was used to great effect in the classic Christmas film Christmas Vacation.
16. Extreme – “Christmas Time Again” . Remember this hair metal band? Actually, these guys were too talented to be lumped into that genre. And, this Christmas song proves that fact. I wish this band had not imploded, because we could sure used them today.
15. John Lennon & Yoko Ono – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” . Leave it to Lennon and Ono to create an anti-war song that is dressed up as a Christmas song. This is a classic.
14. Donny Hathaway – “This Christmas” . To be perfectly honest, I didn’t discover this song until the mid-Nineties when I bought a compilation CD with this fantastic song included. It captures the holiday and soul music perfectly.
13. Otis Redding – “White Christmas” . This version of the modern yuletide classic actually captures the dark underbelly and bleakness of the holiday in the non-white communities through Redding’s brilliant performance. This song has been finding its way into movies.
12. Run-D.M.C. – “Christmas in Hollis” . Unquestionably, the greatest Christmas rap song. It is perfect, from DJ Jam Master Jay’s sampling of Clarence Carter’s “Backdoor Santa” to Run’s spot-on lyrics to D.M.C.’s terrific performance. This song is like a fine wine; it only improves with age.
11. Brenda Lee – “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” . A granddaddy of a song if there ever was one. It has been a part of my yuletide life, that I cannot imagine a Christmas without it.
10. Elton John – “Step into Christmas” . I remember first hearing this song on a Christmas edition of American Bandstand way back in 1975. I cannot believe that this song stalled on the UK charts at #23, while Slade hit #1 (“Merry Xmas Everybody”) and Wizzard peaked at #4 (“I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday”). This is pure Elton and Bernie at their best.
9. Wham! – “Last Christmas” . 1984 was something of a renaissance year for modern Christmas music, as very few new songs were released to much success in the previous decade. Then, Wham!, Band Aid, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Queen all found success in the UK in 1984, while the first two had US success.
8. Mariah Carey – “All I Want for Christmas Is You” . Mariah has the most successful Christmas song of the past 24 year. Somehow, she hit a yuletide zeitgeist by invoking Motown and pop music into one glorious Christmas hit. Christmas will NEVER be Christmas until I hear this song.
7. Paul McCartney – “Wonderful Christmastime” . By 1979, McCartney seemed to be putting Wings to rest. And, this song represented Paul’s new stripped down, totally solo sound that he would explore throughout the early days of the Eighties. Plus, no other song invokes a sense of happiness as this one does.
6. David Bowie/Bing Crosby – “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” . This was originally was part of Bing’s last Christmas Special he filmed before he passed in 1977. Bing was always my grandfather’s favorite singer, and Bowie was always one of my favorites, so I thought it was so awesome that the two did this song together. My grandfather had passed in 1975, so this song has always reminded me of him, so this song is special to me.
5. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Christmas All Over Again” . Tom Petty did it again, pulls another song out of thin air and creates a Christmas classic. For my money, no other genre of rock music nails the yuletide celebration as power pop, and Petty went back to his power pop roots when he created this song.
4. The Waitresses – “Christmas Wrapping” . When The Waitresses burst onto the scene in 1981, I was immediately taken by their minor hit “I Know What Boys Like.” So, imagine my excitement when I discovered they had a Christmas song called “Christmas Wrapping.” Not only was it a New Wave classic, but it is now a modern yuletide standard. This song continues to rise on my list.
3. Harry Simeone Chorale – “The Little Drummer Boy” . I cannot emphasize how this song invokes a childhood memory about bygone Christmas Eves. I continue to be amazed by the haunting vocals of this song. It is just beautiful.
2. Daryl Hall & John Oates – “Jingle Bell Rock” . Fellow Hoosier Bobby Helms created this song back in the Fifties and made it a Christmas standard. But, Hall & Oates injected a great sense of humor that comes through in the very funny video. I think that I cannot separate the video from the song, but I honestly love the playfulness of this version. Plus, how can I ignore a Hall & Oates version of a Christmas song? That’s rhetorical.
1. Bruce Springsteen – “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” . This is yet another yuletide classic that was improved by the inspired performance of the artist. Back when this was recorded in 1975, Springsteen was “wowing” audiences throughout the country with his live performances when this was released to radio stations for the Christmas season. It took ten years of heavy fan demand before The Boss finally relented and released this as a B-side to the 1985 single “My Hometown.” This has been my favorite modern Christmas song since I first heard it on American Bandstand in 1978.
And that, my friends, is the last portion of My Top 200 Modern Christmas Songs. I think you can find your playlist in this list. Have fun and Merry Christmas!