A York shop’s decision to ban the usual Christmas pop hits this year in favour of a more traditional selection of carols is understandable, but will it work? Even the most sublime music would become irritating if you played it over and over again for weeks: the issue with the big Christmas hits isn’t always the songs themselves, more the way we gorge on them, like a drunk with a selection box at 9pm on Christmas Day. Still, some are definitely more annoying than others: in ascending order of irritation …
20. Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas Is You
There’s a reason Carey’s homage to Phil Spector – the lyric is essentially Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) reworked – has become the all-conquering latterday Christmas classic: there’s something bulletproof about the songwriting, that more or less withstands constant seasonal repetition.
19. Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody
As has often been pointed out, Merry Xmas Everybody is a peculiarly British record: for all its singalong chorus, it carries a hint of doleful resignation, of gritting teeth and getting on with it despite yourself, of doggedly plodding on, that seems to ring down through the ages.
18. The Pogues – Fairytale of New York
Now the most ubiquitous Christmas song in Britain, Fairytale of New York is beginning to suffer from overfamiliarity that dims how emotionally complex and clever it is: but its open ending – you never quite know what will happen to its two protagonists – still packs a tearjerking punch.
17. Wham! – Last Christmas
A far better, classier song than its Christmas novelty status suggests, Last Christmas pulls off the classic cheery music/melancholy lyric trick with considerable aplomb: “My God,” snaps the disconsolate narrator, “I thought you were someone to rely on.”
16. Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
Spector’s 1963 album A Christmas Gift for You provided the model for umpteen festive pop songs that followed. Love’s final contribution is its finest moment: the music uplifting, the lyrics and vocal raw and inconsolable.
15. The Pretenders – 2000 Miles
A moment of melancholy respite amid the razzy jollity, 2000 Miles – a song that’s actually about the death of Pretenders guitarist James Honeyman-Scott – always feels like a chilly gust of fresh air on a Christmas compilation.
14. The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
The hipster’s Xmas novelty record of choice – insouciant, once-obscure, very New York – Christmas Wrapping has survived its latterday festive-heavy rotation with charm intact, perhaps because it views Christmas as something you have to cope with rather than adore.
13. Elton John – Step Into Christmas
The overfamiliarity of the big Xmas hits has led to a kind of festive crate-digging, where lesser-known examples get their belated moment in the spotlight: hence the recent popularity of Step Into Christmas and its addictive chorus, a relative flop on release.
12. Low – Just Like Christmas
There is a mini-industry of alt-rock bands doing “knowing” Christmas songs – often no less annoying than the traditional canon – but Low’s lo-fi depiction of a journey through Sweden is the best: filled with an authentic sense of wonder.
11. Wizzard – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day
The second best of the glam Christmas classics: Roy Wood in more-is-more Brummie Spector mode, the syrupiness of its sentiment undercut by a hint of knowing cynicism: its opening sound is a cash register’s ker-ching.
10. Leona Lewis – One More Sleep
Unpromising raw material – X Factor winner attempts to arrest commercial slide by going for Christmas market – yields surprisingly palatable result, aided by the fact that it is relatively recent, and therefore hasn’t been played to death for 40 years.
9. Mike Oldfield – In Dulci Jubilo
The problem here is not the tune itself – reliably lovely when rendered by a choir. It’s Oldfield’s decision to perform said tune at the same speed as the theme from The Archers that sets one’s teeth on edge. Extra point deducted for smarmy behold-the-prog-virtuoso-playing-all-the-instruments video.
8. Greg Lake – I Believe in Father Christmas
Annoying largely because it is wildly hypocritical: if you are keen to moan on about the commercialisation of Christmas, it is probably best not to do it on a novelty single designed to cash in on the Christmas market.
7. Mud – Lonely This Christmas
Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody was famously a reaction to early 70s industrial strife: Mud’s 1974 chart topper actually sounds like the benighted era that spawned it. Lumbering and depressing, complete with a tatty Elvis impersonation, by the end, you are praying for a powercut.
6. Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone
“Oh, I wish that every day was Christmas,” offers Shaky, in the middle of a song cut from similarly plasticky jaunty cloth to Wonderful Christmas Time. “What a nice way to spend the year.” What an absolutely horrifying suggestion.
5. John Lennon – Happy Xmas (War Is Over!)
Infuriating from its opening line (“So this is Christmas – and what have you done?” sneers Lennon in sanctimonious imagine-no-possessions-I-wonder-if-you-can mode), Happy Xmas (War Is Over!) ups the ante even further 41 seconds in with the nerve-jangling arrival of Yoko Ono and the Harlem Community Choir.
4. Paul McCartney – Wonderful Christmas Time
Even before the spirit-crushing moment when the choir of children sing their song – “Ding dong, ding dong / Ding dong, ding!” – Wonderful Christmas Time gives the weird impression that Macca was going out of his way to annoy everyone in earshot: its sound is shrill and flimsy, its mood perky and ingratiating.
3. Cliff Richard – Millennium Prayer
You can’t blame Cliff for attempting to refocus attention on the Christian message of the season, but setting The Lord’s Prayer to the tune of Auld Lang Syne is a spectacularly tin-eared and awkward way to do it, not least because the words audibly don’t fit the melody.
2. Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
“I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history,” Bob Geldof glumly suggested in 2010. “The other is We Are The World.” He has a point: even if you are not irked by its colonial viewpoint and cartoon vision of Africa, the music alone – lugubrious, portentous, tinny – will do the trick.
1. David Bowie and Bing Crosby – Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth
When considering this leaden duet, let us consult a genuine authority on the subject. Bowie said, “I hate that song” when a version of Little Drummer Boy was first mooted, and was so furious that his record company released it as a single, he signed to another label.