Top Six Disturbing and Inescapable Christmas Songs
December 13, 2018/4 Comments/in Basic: Music, Basic: Top Number Lists, BLOGS, Chris Langs Commentaries /by Chris Lang
This is a revised version of a blog post that I originally published on December 12, 2012.
Way back in 2008, Lindsay Ellis released a video where she gave her picks for the top 10 Most Disturbing and Inescapable Christmas Songs. Her criteria for this were that the songs had to be songs that one can’t avoid hearing if they have the radio on for any length of time or do any Christmas shopping, and that they also are in some ways disturbing when you think about them. In many cases, it’s the subtext that’s disturbing.
Of course, she admits that in some cases, the inescapability of some songs depends on where you live. Some songs might get played ad nauseum in some areas, but not receive as much airplay in others. But many of the songs on her list are ones that are everywhere.
Several years later, I’m making my own list. Two of the songs featured were also on Lindsay Ellis’ list, but there will still be at least four songs that didn’t make it that I feel fit the criteria. Where I come from, all of them are inescapable.
6. Christmas Eve – Sarajevo by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Yes, it’s an instrumental piece. But it makes the list because, taken out of context, it seems very out of place with the holiday spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to men. If you don’t know the story behind this (admittedly awesome) piece, it sounds like something from the soundtrack of an explosion-filled action movie that happened to be set at Christmas (such as Die Hard or Reindeer Games). It’s ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ suddenly merging with a dramatic, tension-filled re-imagining of ‘Carol of the Bells’, and if you hear it on your radio after something solemn and calm like ‘Silent Night’ or ‘Little Drummer Boy’, or something more cheerful like ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Sleigh Ride’, the Mood Whiplash can be jarring.
However, when performed live, there’s an introduction that puts this piece into context. It’s inspired by a cello player who returned to Sarajevo during the Bosnia conflict. According to the story, he had become a very respected musician and toured the world. But when he returned to Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, he was saddened to find the city of his birth in ruins.
Heartbroken not just at the destruction, but by the fact that it was caused by his own people, he took to the ruined town square, took out his cello, and started playing Christmas songs. All while parts of the city were still being bombed to bits. His stated reason for doing this was to prove that despite all evidence to the contrary, the spirit of humanity was still alive in that place.
The whole thing was such a powerful image that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was inspired to compose this piece.
However, when you hear this on the radio, the story behind it is usually left out, and all you get is the piece itself. And, taken out of context, this is certainly an eyebrow-raiser. That being said, this IS an awesome piece of music, and after hearing the story behind it, I began to appreciate it even more.
Moving on …
5. Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt (covered by Madonna, Taylor Swift, and others)
Ah, I’ll admit to actually liking this one, but only because I don’t take it at all seriously. It’s about a lady using her feminine wiles to influence Santa Claus into giving her everything she wants. The lady certainly seems very materialistic, asking for a convertable and the deed to a platinum mine. And quite willing to flirt with Santa to do it.
The best version of this song is Eartha Kitt’s original. Madonna and Taylor Swift’s versions lack the charm of Earth Kitt’s original ‘earthy’ version delivered in a soft, soothing light gravelly voice. Eartha Kitt herself didn’t care much for the cover versions. So yes, if Eartha Kitt’s original is playing on the radio, I’ll listen, but if it’s the covers, I’ll turn the channel.
4. The Twelve Days of Christmas
As Lindsay Ellis noted in her video, ‘The Twelve Days on Christmas’ is one of those songs that’s been around for a long time and clearly isn’t going away any time soon. Like a lot of Christmas-related customs, it seems that inertia keeps it going despite its lack of relevance to modern listeners. I mean, who actually gives people seven swans a swimming and three French hens these days? Not to mention the disturbing implications of giving someone ’12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 lords a leaping, nine ladies dancing, and eight maids a milking’. Fact is, most of us can’t even afford the five golden rings, let alone all the birds and, uh, servants or paid performers or … whatever?
So naturally, this song has been analyzed, been the subject of comedy routines, and otherwise mocked. And it’s been the subject of more song parodies than any other Christmas song out there – its structure easily lends itself to it. In my blog post on unconventional Christmas song subgenres, I name just a few of the many parodies. By now, there’s probably enough to fill several 15-song CDs.
One particularly bizarre and disturbing take on this song is ‘The 179 Days of Christmas’ by Joren Cull. If you think Christmas songs are repetitive enough being played over and over again on radio and in shopping centers, imagine the nightmare of one, NINE HOUR Christmas song. Think about the structure of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ and imagine it being 179 days. It’s absolutely insane and I have no idea what inspired Joren Cull to create it, or even HOW he managed it.
The new lyrics are weird and random, and sometimes disturbing as well, ranging from “96 sides of salad, 95 unpaid mob debts, 94 allergic reactions” to “124 shiny nickels, 123 bottles of beer on the wall, 122 endangered species, 121 kids in a hot car, 120 cancelled concerts, 119 plates of nachos.” Among other often disturbing ingredients. (Though the ‘bottles of beer on the wall’ certainly shows a large level of self-awareness on the creator’s part).
If you DARE actually see it for yourself, I recommend skipping to the 8:44:30 mark of the video, so that you’ll only get the entire 179 days and the ever-expanding list ONCE. No one in their right mind should willingly listen to the entire nine hours. It’s disturbing, but nowhere near as inescapable as the original. In fact, it succeeds in the unlikely task of making us appreciate the original for its brevity, of all things.
3. ‘Last Christmas’ by George Michael and WHAM, covered by Taylor Swift
My local radio stations and some local shopping centers play this one all the time. But why? It’s not really a song full of Christmas cheer, or espousing peace and goodwill. Let me quote the chorus for you.
Last Christmas I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year To save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special
As you can probably tell, this isn’t really a Christmas song at all. It’s a breakup song that happens to be set at Christmas. But yet, I keep hearing this song placed among Christmas songs — and by that, I mean normal Christmas songs, not anti-Christmas songs like ‘Who Took The Merry Out of Chrismas’, ‘Lonely Christmas Call’, ”Christmas in Jail’, Weird Al Yankovic’s ‘Christmas At Ground Zero’, or any of that crowd. It’s as if radio DJs think that since the song has ‘Christmas’ in the title, it’s good for playing over and over during the holidays.
It’s so inescapable that on social media, there’s now this #whamaggedon challenge to see who can get through the entire holiday season without ONCE hearing the original Wham version of ‘Last Christmas’. If they hear it and recognize the song, then they didn’t quite make it. (Note that this only applies to the original Wham version – covers aren’t counted, even though they’re just as inescapable).
Okay, now we come to two songs that are definitely Christmas songs that are both disturbing and inescapable. Both of these songs have been around for a long time, and neither appears to be going away any time soon. And I’m surprised neither of them made Lindsay’s list.
2. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
I’m sure most of you have heard this one. Originally recorded by Jimmy Boyd in the 1950’s, and covered by several artists since then, this song is the one where a kid sees his mother kissing Santa Claus under the mistletoe (or at least that’s what he believes). What makes this disturbing is the line “What a laugh it would have been if Daddy had only seen Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night”.
Now, those of us who aren’t kids probably come to the conclusion that the ‘Santa’ in the song is really Daddy dressed up, though it’s never outright said that it is. So for all we know, the kid is right — Mommy is cheating on Daddy with Santa Claus, or someone dressed up as him. And it’s all played for laughs.
Now, let’s suppose Mommy really was kissing Santa Claus. Would it REALLY be a laugh if Daddy had seen Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night? I don’t think so. Here’s what I think would have happened…
“Then I saw Daddy killing Santa Claus
He took his gun and shot him between the eyes
Santa hit the floor … amidst a pool of gore
Then Daddy said to Mommy now you better not cheat no more…”
Okay, that was a little dark. Sorry about that. But even if things don’t go THAT extreme, there’d still be a whole lot of screaming and yelling going on, a messy divorce, and a kid traumatized for life.
Yeah. Adultery … a nice, kid-friendly topic for a Christmas song.
1. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
Now this song is inescapable. If you want to avoid hearing this song, you’d better steer clear of anywhere Christmas songs are played. Avoid Christmas celebrations altogether. It’s almost as inescapable as images of Santa Claus himself.
And it’s one of the most disturbing Christmas songs ever.
You know how it goes. It’s all about telling us to be on our best behavior because Santa Claus is going to be coming soon. He’s making a list and checking it twice, and going to find out who is naughty and nice.
So yeah, parents probably like this song because it tells kids to behave and not be whiny spoiled brats. But why is this song so disturbing? Do I even need to spell this one out for you? I’m sure you all know where I’m going with this.
It’s these lines: “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.”
Someone spying on you at ALL times is bound to make one paranoid. I don’t know whether it occured to the writers of the song or not, but this sort of lack of privacy is the sort of thing we associate with cautionary tales about dystopian futures that may become our world if we’re not careful.
This disturbing implication is not lost on other people who have written songs about Santa probably inspired by this. There’s one song I heard on the Dr. Demento show many years ago performed by an artist called Victor Banana entitled ‘Here Comes Santa’, that goes something like this…
“He’s keeping tabs on you just like he was a private investigator
He is an impartial judge of all your moral behavior
Here comes Santa … Santa in his sleigh”
All done in a dark, creepy style. I wish I knew where to find this song, because my description doesn’t do it justice. I believe it was on Victor Banana’s ‘Split’ LP, but as far as I can tell, it’s been out of print for years. (And sadly, my latest Google search turns up little else other than playlists of decades-old Dr. Demento shows).
And then there’s Ray Stevens’ ‘Santa Claus is Watching You’
“Now you children better be good
And act like all good children should
Be careful of what you say and do
Cause Santa Claus is watching you
(He’s EVERYWHERE! He’s EVERYWHERE!)”
Ray Stevens’ 1985 revisiting of that song goes even further, suggesting that Santa does more with his super-spying ability than just make little children behave. He implies that ALL would-be cheaters or other wrongdoers should be warned. They may think they can get away with something, but they’re not going to.
“Well you may think you can sneak around and get away with something but there ain’t no way
Cause Santa’s no fool, he’s really super cool.
He’s the secret head of the CIA.
Eesh, Iish, crime don’t pay
(You can’t do nothin’ cause you’re never alone …)”
And all those songs were inspired by ‘Santa Claus is Coming To Town’, a song that’s been used in plenty of more innocent contexts, such as the Rankin Bass special. But one cannot deny its unsettling implications.
However, I think it’s safe to say that this song’s probably going to keep getting airplay on radio stations and at shopping centers for a long time to come.
So these are my Six Disturbing and Inescapable Christmas Songs. I was tempted to include ‘Baby it’s Cold Outside’ and ‘Do You Know It’s Christmas’ (both of which also made Lindsay Ellis’ list), but at this point that’d be beating a dead reindeer who got kicked out of the sleigh team for running over one grandma too many. Oh, and ‘Grandma’ only gets an honorable mention here cause it, too, has been analyzed and made fun of so many times that I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said.
Anyway, if you want to read more of my musings on Christmas songs, check out ‘Christmas songs and their subgenres’ and its followup article ‘Unconventional Christmas songs’. In any case, I wish you all a happy holiday season.
The original version of this article (which only talked about four songs) received 10 comments. 12 Comments counting my replies.
12:56 AM on December 3, 2012 I loved the Robot Chicken take on “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, I’m suprised no other sketch show did something like that before.
9:15 PM on December 2, 2012 I’ve never heard the story behind Sarajevo before, but i never felt like it was out of place myself. I always thought it was awesome. In fact its my ringtone at the moment.
As for last christmas ……. I’ll be taking my own stab at that one very shortly.
Good work on this article
That Long-Haired Creepy Guy
7:02 PM on December 2, 2012 I had thoughts about numbers one and two for years. Being raised in a religious household, my mother was all for handing out threats of doom and gloom raining down from upon high at the slightest misbehavior. The idea of a fat guy in a red suit spying on me twenty-four/seven throughout the year wasn’t such a huge shock. I was already being spied upon by angels ready to report even the teensiest bit of wrong-doing.
The one about adultery, though… yeah, that’s a little weird.
2:00 PM on December 2, 2012 Well, Last Christmas is actually one of my favorite songs for this time of year but I do agree on the rest.
1:15 PM on December 2, 2012 Your comments on Santa Claus is coming to town remind me of a moment in my media ethics class when we were discussing privacy. The teacher asked who invades our privacy. It was December so I quipped “Well, in the spirit of the season, Santa Claus invades our privacy.”
1:07 PM on December 2, 2012 I like the nod to that disturbing Ray Stevens song. I have to admit that the one getting me this year is Jeff Foxworthy’s 12 Redneck Days of Christmas. I have already heard it three times. Good list
1:05 PM on December 2, 2012 Another good installment. I think all of these Christmas songs become even more disturbing when you hear them played 6 times a day on the radio… they drill into your head. I’ll just stick with Bob Rivers’ parodies.
12:11 PM on December 2, 2012 What? No kidnap the Sandy claws? Than again…I suppose that could be looked at as 3 badass children actively taking a stand against the evil that is Santa Clause…huh….great list.
11:53 AM on December 2, 2012 Hi Chris Lang. Excellent picks. I think Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes said it best. Santa Claus: Kindly old elf, or CIA spook? You be the judge. I’d actually go one further and say Santa Claus: Big Brother of Christmas! Peace.
2:14 PM on December 2, 2012 @Fusionater — I think that’s where Lindsay’s disclaimer that some songs might not be as ‘inescapable’ in some areas as they are in others comes in. I for one haven’t heard ‘Kidnap the Santy Claws’ on radio or in shopping centers or otherwise grouped in with normal Christmas songs at all, let alone often enough to qualify for this list.
@BigBlackHatMan Well, the reason songs like Jeff Foxworthy’s 12 Redneck Days of Christmas exist is because, as Lindsay notes in her video, we’re all tired of the original 12 Days of Christmas song with gifts of animals and ‘ten lords a leaping’. So of course lots of people have done parodies. But the original still gets plenty of airplay, making it a seasonal Undead Horse Trope.
@Moviefan12 As I said, it’s a breakup song, and not exactly the sort of thing I expect from a Christmas song. And it’s played so many times on the radio in my area that it made my list.
3:14 PM on December 2, 2012 Kind of disagree with you on #1, it’s a kids song and meant in that light. That’s cool, and I always preferred Here Comes Santa Claus anyway.
3:20 PM on December 2, 2012
Kind of disagree with you on #1, it’s a kids song and meant in that light. That’s cool, and I always preferred Here Comes Santa Claus anyway
Just because it’s a kids song doesn’t disqualify it from being disturbing. I mean, that line is intended to scare kids into going straight. It’s the reason the Krampus retired as the seasonal kids-scarer — he wasn’t needed once it became clear that Santa could see everything kids did and would put them on his naughty list if he saw them doing anything even remotely wrong.
The revised version originally posted in 2018 received 4 replies
December 14, 2018 at 1:35 pm
Always fun to see an older list.
December 14, 2018 at 10:50 am
179 Days of Christmas??? Okay, Joren Cull CLEARLY has a lot of time on his hands.
Over time I’ve found “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” to be more annoying than disturbing. One I have heard that’s disturbing but clearly won’t be getting any radio play anytime soon is “Merry Christmas; I Fucked Your Snowman”
December 14, 2018 at 5:09 pm
Re: Joren Cull. I’m sure there’s some sort of story behind it, but I haven’t heard it yet. I first heard about 179 Days of Christmas on AV Club, and knew right away that if I were to revise my old list, I’d HAVE to give it a mention among ’12 days’ variants.
Not sure if my morbid curiosity is enough to check out the song you mentioned, but just from the title one can tell it’s a disturbing one that thankfully isn’t inescapable.
As for ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, the song might have its disturbing implications but it DID spawn one of my favorite Rankin-Bass Christmas specials (which I like despite its weirdness).
December 14, 2018 at 5:24 am
Old choice here to bring back but still a good one in the end, this was a fun read here. Good work overall.
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