Good Versions of Boring Songs

As part of the Mainlining Christmas project, I listen to a lot of Christmas music, far more than some people would consider reasonable. Some of my friends had shared their sympathies, and so I took an informal poll of least favorite holiday songs. My plan was to find versions of these songs that were great, without completely abandoning the song in question. That means no complete rewrites, no parody versions.

That was the plan, anyway. But what I discovered, as I listened through many versions of each song, was that, except for one unique case, I actually don’t have a problem with many of these songs. In fact, I really like most of them! Is Mainlining Christmas changing my brain? Am I going soft? Or is my love of music overcoming my distrust of the holiday?

In any case, wherever I can, I’m still providing you with what I think is a great or a unique spin on each song below, along with my rationale for liking it.

Santa Baby
I don’t understand my friends’ problems with a lot of these songs. Santa Baby was nominated by two different people, and I just don’t get it. Especially because if you think Santa Baby is creepy or awful, but don’t think the same about Baby, it’s Cold Outside... well, let’s agree to disagree, shall we? Wikipedia claims that Santa Baby is one of only two hit Christmas songs written by a woman (the other is next on this list). I find it such a delightfully snarky, sassy song. Eartha Kitt’s version is classic, although I like it with a little more bite. Miss Piggy does it up right on A Green and Red Christmas

Little Drummer Boy
We have quite a few fine versions of this, and a few pretty boring ones, too. The friend who suggested this one complained about its earworm properties, so the goal is to find a version different enough that it won't get stuck in one's head, or one good enough that you won't care. I propose the version by the Salsoul Orchestra.

It's got a fun bouncy back-beat and a chipper chorus, plus the pace is much better than most versions I've heard. Another option is Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth, as sung by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. The added counterpoint descant is far from perfect, but it does give you a more complex listening experience.

The First Noel
I sympathize with the dislike for this song. It's religious, but worse than that it's boring. There's no redeeming qualities to the melody or the lyrics. It's just straighforwardly dull. However, I have an instrumental version by The Night Heron Consort that adds a nice base rhythm and sort of embraces the simplicity of the tune, making it feel like a folk tune more than a carol. That one's pretty nice.

I can’t find a link for that, but this version with dulcimers is decent as well, though it goes on a bit long:

You guys, my Mom found the one I wanted. It was just posted. YAY!

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Another where I'm not quite sure why this was nominated, I guess because it's corny and obviously built around a gimmick? That's what I like about it, though. Some really terrible versions of this exist but I kinda dig the unashamed grooviness of the original Brenda Lee. But, here's a another suggestion: we have an instrumental version by the Nashville Guitars that sounds almost Hawaiian in its twang.

White Christmas
I admit to really not understanding the dislike here, I guess a lot of versions are sort of chummy and slow? I have a version by the 2011 cast of Chicago that gives it a brassy showstopping quality which I quite like, but I don't think my friend would. White Christmas also lends itself to becoming a jazzy ballad, as done by Ella Fitzgerald.

Winter Wonderland
This is that same friend. Maybe he just doesn't like snow? I like the old-school charm of the Andrews Sisters for this one, or the broad harmony of a good choral group. Ms. Fitzgerald turns in another great version, or there's a good funky instrumental version on Christmas In Soulsville.

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
Okay, I generally hate this one too. Except, I don't think I'd listened to the whole thing in years. Now that I do, I actually realize that yeah, it's annoying and dumb, but it’s also kinda clever, and maybe the fault lies in listening more than once. It’s not a song that can stand repeats. Further, I think the gut level revulsion I felt about this song has a lot less to do with the song and a lot more to do with guilt over my acrimonious relationship with my late Grandmother. Funny, the traditions that spring up around the holidays, huh?

There’s really only one true version of this song, but this made me giggle:

Deck the Halls
Actually, I think Deck the Halls is a practically perfect Christmas Carol. Easy to sing along with, but with enough anachronistic or obscure terms to feel special, not too long or too short, with a good helping of good cheer, but not enough to turn cloying. Also, one of the essays in The Atheist's Guide to Christmas cites it as "the only carol that legally passes muster for a non-religious Christmas wedding". I have a version with Danny Kaye that gives a the kind of spritely pace the song needs, although the best version, as with most songs, is done by the Muppets.

I’m Gettin Nuttin’ for Christmas
Another song I hadn’t actually listened all the way through in what feels like forever. As someone who grew up with a little brother, I actually kind of approve of this song. It’s silly and kinda dumb, sure, but it’s also clever and sly. Just don’t play it more than once, unless you’ve got a good upbeat rock version.

Oh, here’s one:

The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)
Erin only hates this song because he hates The Chipmunks and this was their first big hit. But it’s cute. Come on.

Besides, this is the version I had as a kid, which does involve chipmunks, but different ones:

Christmas Shoes
You might have known this was coming. This is, officially, the worst Christmas song. And it is very, very bad.

However, even a terrible song can bring us joy. Erin and I are of the opinion that this song is frickin' hilarious. The idea that someone would write this, that someone would perform it, that someone made a hysterically awful looking TV movie about it; every step of it makes me laugh. Those are grown-ass people who are trying to sell the idea that this absolutely inane story of a kid trying to buy fancy shoes for his dying mom (because JESUS likes shiny shoes, just like the spider-goddess in Spiderman: Turn off the Dark) is somehow touching or moving, instead of just pathetic and/or laughable and/or horrible. Grown-ass people.

Watch the official music video. I dare you not to laugh at the faux-trucker look clashing with the “sensitive” voice the singer’s got going on. Or the serious-face on the backup guys (who are just standing around looking bored.) Or the idea that women, you know, what they really want is shoes to be buried in. Or the fact that the singer, after all, makes it about himself. It’s so bad, it’s funny. And then! horrible child chorus!

If you can’t bring yourself to watch it, I understand. I recommend this as a palate cleanser.

Although, I wouldn’t call the song itself safe for anyone without a healthy sense of irony.

Thanks to everyone who suggested songs!