As if the holidays weren’t already the fucking worst—with the constant jing-a-linging, and the stores full of tacky merchandise, and the commercials that throw flawlessly styled couples and nauseatingly happy families in your face, celebrating their love and fulfillment and anxiety-free existence and impossibly beautiful teeth and apparently bottomless bank accounts with diamonds and cars wrapped up in giant red bows, and the people expecting you to show up at parties and act like you don’t want to split your own torso down the middle with the pointy end of a twinkling star tree-topper—this is also the time of year when we’re subjected to holiday albums from everybody with a studio budget and a desire to cash in on the inexplicable desire of people around the world for even more holiday shit in their lives.
There are, mercifully, a few such records and singles that rise above the fetid landscape of festivity. A few that even I can stomach. A handful I could even say I like and, believe it or not, could recommend.
These are not those records.
No, no, my dear little elves. No, this is a list of the top ten albums that make the holidays even more wretched than they already are. Consider yourself warned. And nauseated.
Danny Gokey – Christmas Is Here
I’ll be up front about Danny Gokey right from the jump: I never forgave him for exploiting his dead wife to evoke the sympathy of the judges and audience and creep his way to (near) the top on American Idol. Even more unforgivable, though, is everything else about him. His facial hair. His insufferable eyewear. His smug mediocrity. And worst of all, his white-boy blues-soul-R&B-whatever the hell the term is for the shit sound that’s been so popular for well over a decade now and that kills kittens. It literally kills kittens. Did you know that? Every time you listen to any of that faux-soul Caucasian ilk, a kitten dies.
To some extent, I guess it’s not totally his fault. Danny Gokey is the natural result of a long line of these jokers that, as everyone knows, all began with Michael Bolton. After decades of the music industry irresponsibly promoting his raspy, feelsy bullshit and that of more and more dudes and bros each year, the masses developed a taste for this tripe. And so now we have Gokey. Making me want to claw my own eardrums out with a shrimp fork.
On Christmas Is Here, the opening track alone – his cover of “What Christmas Means to Me” — has more “Woo!”s and cheerily chatting up the imaginary crowd than I ever thought possible in a single song. This, mixed with Gokey’s ad libs about kissing and sexy sex time – who the hell wants to get naked with Danny Gokey? Can someone answer me that?? My point is I needed a dose of Pepto-Bismol by the end of Track 1. The rest of the album is a study in soulful affectation married with self-righteous sanitization, which is among the most creepy combinations known to music.
Skip the kitten-killing and, instead, get yourself a copy of Stevie Wonder’s 1967 version of “That’s What Christmas Means to Me” or Sharon Jones’s excellent new album, It’s a Holiday Soul Party, or James Brown’s Funky Christmas or Otis Redding’s “White Christmas” or his “Merry Christmas, Baby” or really any Otis Redding record of any kind whatsoever, because you can never have too much Otis Redding, and Otis will save us, and Otis is the fucking truth. What was I talking about? Oh, right: There is real soul music and real funk and real R&B out there. You can experience it, white people. YOU CAN TAKE IT. GET DOWN WITH YOUR BAD SELVES. WOO!
Various Artists – Punk Goes Christmas
[Types “What the fuck is this shit?” Pauses. Frowns. Sighs. Grudgingly deletes it. Takes a deep breath]
Here’s the thing.
None of the bands on this record are punk bands.
None of the songs on this record are performed in the punk style.
“Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” by Issues sounds like ‘NSYNC, fucksake.
This is what happens when society accepts the mendacious premise that Green Day is punk. I hate everything.
If you’re into pure punk ACTUAL REAL PUNK DAMNIT, you obviously already listen to The Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” and “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues + Kirsty MacColl on repeat throughout the month of December, so I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know. Sleater-Kinney do a cover of the former. Maybe check that out.
Bill Engvall – Here’s Your Christmas Album
“Now, this first song we’re gonna listen to came from an idea that I had in this age of political correctness and lawsuits and everybody’s just touchy about everything.”
[Takes off glasses, closes eyes, squeezes bridge of nose]
So yeah. One of that troupe of comedians who capitalizes on redneckism, Bill Engvall kicks off his album of original Christmas songs with a little ditty about getting sued by Santa. Charming, amirite?? The entire album is an ode to the aggrieved white male low-information voter.
We have the hilarious misogyny of “A Gift That She Doesn’t Want,” in which Bill expounds on the tricky bidniss of buying yer woman a gift she won’t bitch about. I mean, it shore is easy to slip up an’ gitcher wife or ladyfriend a present she won’t be happy with. As easy as buyin’ her clothes that are too big and make her accuse you of implying that she’s fat. Or a fryin’ pan, which SHE SAID SHE NEEDS, or a vacuum cleaner or Lord knows, it’s HARD, brother! They shore are picky, them wimmin-folk. Hoo! But don’t you dare mess up & git her the wrong thang, ‘cause then she’ll come after you with physical violence, just like the crazy psycho bitches all women are.
The rest of the album is either tediously offensive crap of this sort or just filler bleating about useless white-man blah blah. But possibly worst of all is “Rudolph Got a DUI,” a repulsive auditory jar of vomit about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the beloved childhood figure, getting plastered and the rest doesn’t matter because come the fuck on. The song is flat out inane, like the rest of this album. It’s an affront to country music and to Southerners everywhere. And did I mention it’s dumb?
If a country Christmas is your thing, go for Johnny Cash’s 1963 album, The Christmas Spirit, which features his badass version of “The Little Drummer Boy,” The Best of Loretta Lynn: The Christmas Collection, Christmas With The Louvin Brothers, or Christmas With Willie Nelson. If you’re looking for a good comedy Christmas album, there are no good comedy Christmas albums. Sorry. Laugh at Easter.
The Robertsons – Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas
Speaking of country music, you’ll obviously want to avoid the holiday offering by cable TV’s ministers of bigoted bullshit, Duck Dynasty’s Robertson family. You gotta hand it to these assholes: they know how to capitalize the hell out of a single product. First they turn their duck call thingies into a mega-successful retail business, then, after they’re rich off of that, they turn it into a reality show about beards and fundamentalism or something, then they merchandise the shit out of the hit show, including making a completely needless Christmas album. And somehow, in the middle of all that, they manage to find the time to spout racist and homophobic bullshit to GQ magazine and take their rightful place at the vanguard of bigoted America. I don’t know. These songs are mostly not terrible versions of the Christmas classics, but “Camouflage and Christmas” works a rifle into a purportedly heartachey song, and “Phil’s Prayer, Willie’s Closing” grossly commoditizes religion in the tradition of the worst televangelists, and just don’t buy this record or anything else from these piece of shit bigots.
Frankly, I don’t know what people who would buy this album are in the market for, so I can’t say what to get instead, except maybe a broader world perspective or some enlightenment or something.
Afroman: A Colt 45 Christmas
So this record is pretty much just an homage to getting drunk and high. Which, nothing wrong with either of those things, at the holidays or whenever – there’s arguably more reason during the holidays than any other time of year to get as blotto as possible. And I’ll say right now that the line, “I wish the cops would stop fuckin’ with us” on “Police Blow My Wad,” which is set to the tune of “Feliz Navidad,” is ridiculously catchy. Still, lyrics on “Afroman Is Coming To Town” about slapping your grandma’s dentures out and getting a subsequent hummer from her detract markedly from the charm and intellectual heft of this album. And the audible bodily functions on “Let Her Blow” lay an appropriately unchivalrous intro to a song about not letting your chick off the hook for sex just because she’s on her period. “Deck My Balls” is similarly far afield from the reason for the season, as it were. Yeah, this album literally sucks.
I don’t know why anybody ever needed another rap Christmas song after Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas in Hollis.” Just listen to that on a loop until January. Rap quandary: sorted.
Seth MacFarlane: Holiday for Swing!
If smarm is your thing, the Seth MacFarlane holiday record is for you. Somehow, MacFarlane manages to sound like he’s smirking through every classic on this record. Sounds like a mockery of itself, but it’s not meant to be. Blech.
My personal soundtrack to the holidays always includes Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas and Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. And you can’t go wrong with a little Sinatra, at the holidays or any other time. A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra will do nicely.
Pentatonix: That’s Christmas to Me
It can’t be denied that these kids have talent and oodles of discipline and have honed their craft to perfection. But that’s the problem. Perfection is boring and, in this case, downright creepy. They’re like automatons who manage to sound and look almost exactly like actual human beings, but it’s clear that they all have panels on their torsos that open up to reveal a motherboard. Besides, nobody wants a hokily pumped up version of “Joy to the World” with a super-Jesus-y ending. It’s a very Stepford Christmas. *Shudder*
A capella has been done by actual carbon-based life forms. Try The Roches’ spine-tingling version of “Star of Wonder.”
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John: This Christmas
I guess the demographic for this record is people who enjoy hearing John Travolta make with the sexually frustrated sighs? People who long for another Grease reunion? People without ears? Hard to say.
I saw Grease in the theatre in 1977 and sang along for months to the 45s my cousin, Melissa, and I bought afterward. It was great, campy fun. It was also many, many years ago. And we need to let a good thing just be. Because this record has no discernible reason for existence, except to mar your childhood memories.
It’s a stinging reminder that John Travolta never was much of a singer, and can anybody really get the Scientology thing out of their heads when they think of him, anyway? It’s also a depressing reminder that Olivia Neutron Bomb, while pretty and apparently very sweet and nice, mostly just barely breathed out instead of really singing. Also there is gratuitous saxophone on this record, and that can rarely be forgiven. Nope. No need for this record to exist. Maybe this is actually the whitest thing ever? I don’t know. I don’t wanna think about it anymore. Don’t buy this record.
I guess maybe people who would listen to a Travolta/Newton-John holiday record are into…uh…nostalgia and whiteness? Go with The McGarrigle Christmas Hour. Rufus Wainwright’s “Spotlight on Christmas” will cure what ails ya, and his version of “Some Children See Him,” with sister Martha, is just plain gorgeous.
Rockapella: A Rockapella Holiday
Holy Lord, this is the whitest thing you will hear in your entire life.
Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “Merry Christmas, Baby” or U2’s version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” or even that Band Aid Christmas song about starving people in Africa is less Caucasian than Rockapella.
Bright Eyes: A Christmas Album
What the hell is Bright Eyes always so bummed out about? Why do people buy recordings of him standing in front of a microphone and whining with vocal fry? Why does anyone need to be more bummed out during the holidays? This record is aural depressant. And we have oral depressant in the form of alcohol, which is a holiday tradition, so just skip this rum-pa-pum-bummer of a record.
Obviously, Tom Waits is your go-to guy for sad alt-Christmas. “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis” is a timeless classic that just about beats out “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” for virtuoso holiday heartache.
For a little more recent alt-holiday ennui, Aimee Mann is sad, too, but she always manages to make hopeless feel good. Her holiday songs are standouts in the annual sea of forgettable novelties. “I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas,” off of her The Forgotten Arm album works even as a non-holiday tune, and her album of holiday classics (and a couple of originals), One More Drifter In The Snow, is subdued and grown up without being a drag. Her best work, though, is in the original holiday offerings from The Both, Mann’s duo with the unsurpassably kickass Ted Leo: “Nothing Left To Do (Let’s Make This Christmas Blue)” and this year’s “You’re a Gift.” All perfect for lying down and sighing with nothing but the Christmas lights on for a while, without losing the ability to get back up again.