The Best and Worst of Christmas Music: The Good, the Bad and the Cash Grab

Anna Blackburn discusses the best and worst of Christmas music and questions the artistic integrity of the Christmas album.

Listening to Christmas radio can be fun, but you hear the same few songs over and over, covered by different artists. This begs the question: is recording Christmas music for the love of Christmas or is it just a cash grab? Quite possibly the latter. However, who can deny the infectious appeal of a good holiday tune? With Halloween well and truly over, your friends will finally let you start listening to Christmas music, so it’s time to get your Christmas playlist in order.

It’s always best to start with the classics. Elvis’ Christmas Album holds the top spot for best selling Christmas album worldwide with over 10 million sales. The record is full of hits, including ‘Santa Claus is Back in Town’ and ‘Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)’. Following Elvis, Bing Crosby’s album Merry Christmas, is the second best selling of all time. However his classic cover of ‘White Christmas’ released on its own in 1942 is the best selling single of all time in all genres. It is a must for any Christmas playlist.

It’s no surprise that Rolling Stone listed iconic artists like Ella Fitzgerald and the Beach Boys, in addition to Elvis and Crosby, in their top 25 Christmas albums of all time, but their choices don’t cover enough from this century. Two of the most popular current artists in the genre are Michael Bublé and Mariah Carey. Bublé’s 2011 album Christmas has made it to the top 10 every festive season since its release. It includes classics like ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ and has lesser known but just as spectacular singles like ‘The More You Give (The More You’ll Have)’. Carey, while not as Christmas focussed as Bublé, has the one song you can’t resist singing when it comes on the radio: ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You.’ If you haven’t heard that one, you must be living under a rock and desperately need to expand your Christmas playlist.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Christmas songs that probably won’t go down in history for inspiring any festive cheer. I think we can all agree that ‘Don’t Shoot Me Santa’ by The Killers is hardly the song that’s going to get you in the holiday spirit. The depressing tune is devoid of any Christmas spirit and may have been written for charity, but is not something you’d want playing when baking cookies or decorating the tree. Similarly, New Kids On the Block released their cringey Christmas single, ‘Funky, Funky Christmas’ in 1989 and you’d be hard pressed to find a worse one.

There are also some hidden gems in the genre, so if you’re looking for something new or forgotten, The Jackson 5’s ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ and Gayla Peevey’s ‘I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas’ are cute songs that are perfect for kids. Josh Groban is another popular Christmas artist and his song ‘Believe’ from the movie The Polar Express has a warm feel-good tone in which he sings about believing in the spirit of Christmas.

If you prefer something a bit more light-hearted, Straight No Chaser, an all-male a cappella group, does a loaded holiday mashup in their ‘12 Days of Christmas’. Barenaked Ladies original holiday album titled Barenaked for the Holidays has Christmas and Hanukkah songs to fit everyone’s holiday music needs. Believe it or not, actor Adam Sandler even wrote a witty song made popular by tv show Saturday Night Live called ‘The Chanukah Song’ in order for people who didn’t celebrate Christmas to feel more involved in the holidays. Even if you aren’t Jewish this song is definitely worth a listen.

Now, lots of celebrities love Christmas as much as the rest of us but unless you’re Michael Bublé, sustaining a whole career on Christmas music isn’t likely to happen. However, releasing a Christmas album is an easy way to earn some extra money with little effort. So for most artists, even if they do love Christmas, it must be about the money. This very much decreases artistic integrity, especially because not all artists who record Christmas albums even celebrate it, like Barbra Streisand who is Jewish but still holds one of the top Christmas albums in history. There is a falseness to the whole thing. Some of these artists are damaging the spirit of Christmas without even realising it, butchering classics just for money.

The Christmas music market is so oversaturated it can be hard to fish out anything good but it’s worth looking. It may be a cash grab, but the commercialisation of Christmas is at this point a tradition in itself and it’s not Christmas without your favourite holiday tunes wafting through the chilly air around you.