“I’ll tell you what, if I hear Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer one more time, I’m gonna go up on a tower with a high-powered rifle.’’
Those were the words of wisdom from Peter Buck in REM’s holiday tune “Christmas Griping,’’ which is a sort of rap set to the beat of a poor man’s “Tusk” while the boys talk about throttling the person who invented fruitcake and having nightmares about Burl Ives.
Like Buck, a lot of people are driven crazy by some Christmas carols. Many of them are lame and sung lamely by lame artists. My daughter Lauren makes me listen to Justin Bieber’s version of “The Christmas Song” in which he sings “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” and the word “fire” seems like it has 13 syllables. If I have to hear that one again, I may join Buck on the tower.
But there are some good Xmas tunes out there. I have about 100 or so in my iPod, including the aforementioned REM gem. Like most people, I listen to a batch of them around this time of year. Unlike a lot of people, I will play some of them on days when the temperatures are in the 90s and 100s. But only for a few minutes.
Last week, we asked people in our Viewfinder to tell us their favorite Christmas carols. Today, it’s my turn. Out of the 100 or so holiday songs from my collection of oddball and traditional songs, here are my 12 favorite in reverse order.
12, The 12 Gifts of Christmas by Allan Sherman
This novelty song features Sherman merrily singing about the 12 gifts he will return including a statue of a woman with a clock where her stomach ought to be and a Japanese transistor radio. Over the years, I haven’t enjoyed the song as much when I found comedy’s Santa Claus was really sad and miserable most of the time. It’s still a fun song, though.
11, I Saw Three Ships by Blackmore’s Night
Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar riff in “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple is a classic and lately he’s been heavily involved with a project in which they play a bunch of songs in a Renaissance style. Break out the mandolins and flutes. This Christmas ode is no “Smoke on the Water” but it is special.
10, Let Me Sleep by Pearl Jam
Eddie Vedder’s haunting voice sings about a lost soul – possibly a hobo – thinking about the magic of Christmas when he was younger. But this Christmas he just wants to sleep. It’s kind of a downer with a trace of sentiment.
9, Silver Bells by REM
The Athens boys are just horsing around here, singing this classic with a hillbilly twang but for some reason, it works!
8, Little Saint Nick by the Beach Boys
Dismiss them as just a hot rod and summer band if you will, but these guys save some serious harmonic chops and show it on their “Christmas Album.” This song was the best of the batch with “Merry Christmas Baby” not far behind.
7, The Christmas Song by the Ravonettes
I am not a big fan of the Ravonettes and less of a fan of slow songs but for some reason, this original song has an old 50s or 60s-ballad feel that strikes me just right. It really should be a classic. Maybe in 20 years.
6, Jingle Bells by Yello
It’s basically the Swiss electronic pioneers’ hit “Oh Yeah” meets Jingle Bells but it works. The group probably just mailed this in as a song for the soundtrack for the 1995 film “The Santa Clause” but it’s fun and bouncy in which sleigh bells meets electronic gizmos.
5, Feliz Navi-nada by El Vez
The Mexican Elvis Presley impersonator turns out a wicked version of this song with the punky “Public Image” riffs in the background. Wild stuff. It should make even the Scrooge-like Johnny Rotten smile, since he wrote the background tune.
4, Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight) by the Ramones
My favorite group of all time came up with a novelty tune in which the so-called brudders dialed down the punk guitars and added sleigh bells. The song is about a couple who are fighting during the holidays and the video of the tune ends with an elf throwing up in a toilet. Nothing says Christmas more like an elf barfing!
3, Jingle Bells by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters
Crosby is insanely famous for his version of “White Christmas” but for my money, his bouncy version of “Jingle Bells” with the iconic Andrews Sisters is superior. Aside from the great vocal talent, we have a hot band swinging away toward the end of the tune.
2, Little Drummer Boy by Sparks
One of the quirkiest musical acts around (“Eaten by the Monster of Love,” “Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls,” “Angst in My Pants” and “Pretending to Be Drunk” are just a few of their song titles) play it straight on this live BBC rendering of the classic. It’s always been one of my favorite Christmas songs growing up and the Mael brothers make it greater.
1, Blitzkrieg Santa by Divide and Kreate
Some mashups work. Many don’t. This one is great as it mashes the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” with the Jackson 5’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’’ No, I never thought that high-voiced Michael Jackson before puberty would ever be able to blend in with the Ramones, but there you go.
As a bonus, my favorite Christmas song title is “I Farted on Santa’s Lap (Now Christmas is Going to Stink For Me) by the Little Stinkers but it didn’t find its way to the Top 12.