It’s the holiday season, the only time of year that comes with its very own genre of music. This Christmas, Deadshirt staffers Mike Duquette, Max Robinson, and Dylan Roth decided to comb through the massive, diverse canon of Christmas songs to determine which is the hands-down greatest of all time. The original sixteen reader-selected songs have been whittled down to eight, and it’s time to once again thin the herd. Now to our moderator, Deadshirt Music Editor Julian Ames…
ROUND TWO – THE EGGNOG EIGHT
#16. “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey (1994)
vs. #8. “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC (1988)
Julian: First up in the second round: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” matches up with Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” Both of these were unanimous decisions in the round 1 matchups, but something’s gotta give. Which will win out: the stunning Mariah performance, or the wit and rhymes of Run DMC? Dylan, get us started!
Dylan: I’ll never pretend to be an expert on hip hop, but I’ve absorbed enough to know that early pop radio-friendly rap is pretty universally goofy and lame, and that’s part of its charm. “Christmas in Hollis” is probably the least badass hip hop cut I’ve ever heard, like the rap equivalent of the lukewarm “Jingle Bell Rock” that we eliminated last week. Don’t get me wrong, I like “Christmas in Hollis” just fine, but pit against a pop explosion like “All I Want for Christmas is You” that makes goofy and lame seem like something to strive for? Run DMC doesn’t stand a chance. Point Mariah.
Max: I dunno if I quite agree with Dylan’s math on this but I do agree with his conclusion. As much as it pains me to knock it out of the running, “Christmas in Hollis” doesn’t have the level of vocal sophistication as Mariah’s eternal hit. “Christmas in Hollis” is a great Christmas song but it’s not like a super good song in its own right, which “All I Want For Christmas” really is.
Mike: Ditto to the Nice Boys above. “Christmas in Hollis” has more bite than Dylan’s giving it credit for—Run-D.M.C.’s work has a depth that an eternity of the “Walk This Way” video sometimes betrays—but even the killer hip-hop/rock stylings of producer Rick Rubin can’t hold a candle to the sheer pop perfection of “All I Want for Christmas is You.” In fact, I’m going to pull a Simon Cowell-in-season-four-of-American Idol and say this is the song most likely to go all the way.
WINNER: “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
#4. “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses (1981)
vs. #12. “Someday at Christmas” – Stevie Wonder (1967)
Julian: Another pair of unanimous round 1 winners, “Christmas Wrapping” and “Someday at Christmas” square up. These two have distinctly different moods; a solemn and sincere Stevie Wonder ballad versus a wild and whimsical Watresses new wave tune. I have a feeling that this matchup might not go as smoothly as the last round. Max, what do you think?
Max: Stevie’s “Someday at Christmas” is Heavy compared to the pop sprightliness of the Waitresses’ hit song but I think they have sort of similar aims? “Christmas Wrapping” is, beneath the faux-rap and sax solo, a day-in-the-life ode to missed connections and embracing your fellow human being. “Wrapping” gets my vote because it has an important message behind it along with a beat that you can dance to.
Mike: Here’s the kicker: “Someday At Christmas,” with its important message and gorgeous arrangement courtesy of producer Hank Cosby (no relation, thank God) and the instrumentation of Detroit’s beloved Funk Brothers, is a killer tune. But it’s not the best Stevie Wonder holiday song; that award, arguably, would go to “What Christmas Means to Me,” with its danceable tempo and a solid-gold outro carried on the trills of that harmonica tone you’d be insane to forget about. With that handicap in place, the victory is going to go to “Christmas Wrapping,” which I enthusiastically noted at Deadshirt’s Christmas party last night could have, with non-holiday lyrics and heavy MTV rotation, still dented the bottom of the Billboard Hot 100 upon release. It’s really too bad we don’t hear it more than a few times a year!
Dylan: I think I’ve been pretty consistently voting for the most fun song in each matchup so far, and that’s certainly a fair standard to which a Christmas song should be held. It is a time for celebration, after all, and “Christmas Wrapping” is a great party song. But there’s another side of Christmas, the reflective side, when we look back at the year that was and try to contextualize this crazy world of ours. And maybe it’s just my mood today, but at this very moment I’m really appreciating the somber tone of “Someday at Christmas.” I vote Stevie, for whatever my dissenting opinion is worth.
WINNER: “Christmas Wrapping”
#2. “Another Lonely Christmas” – Prince and The Revolution (1984)
Deadshirt.net supports His Purple Majesty’s right to control the distribution of his music, but is still bummed that we can’t embed the song here for you.
#7. “Father Christmas” – The Kinks (1978)
Julian: Two more unanimous decisions, both kind of weird Christmas songs. It’s Prince’s “Another Lonely Christmas,” a song about a dead girlfriend, versus The Kinks’ “Father Christmas,” a song about getting mugged while wearing a santa suit. This one should be fun, right Mike?
Mike: Despite the none-too-cheery setup, this is perhaps the toughest choice of the bunch. The Spector-meets-Springsteen production of “Father Christmas” has really grown on me in the last week or so, further compounded when Santa Claus himself(?!) joined beloved NYC power-pop heartthrobs The Hell Yeah Babies for a show-closing rendition of the tune at this weekend’s Deadshirt party. “Another Lonely Christmas,” like “Someday At Christmas,” is kneecapped by its surroundings, in this case not better Prince holiday songs (there aren’t any others) but better Purple Rain-era B-sides, namely the lascivious “Erotic City” and the underrated spare-parts funk of “17 Days.” Those fighting Davies brothers win it again!
Max: Despite my established affinity for Prince, even I’ll admit “Father Christmas” is a better song on basically every level. The catchy chorus, the rat-tat-tat drum solo, even Ray Davies’ squeaky punk wailing. “Father Christmas” has a lot of heart, “Another Lonely Christmas” feels like the result of a weird dare. As “songs about terrible Christmases” go, The Kinks have it.
Dylan: A match-up between “Another Lonely Christmas” and “Father Christmas” is actually pretty interesting to me, since both songs tell stories that are fairly specific, but they could hardly be more different from one another. “Another Lonely Christmas” is a tragic tale of coping with the death of a loved one seven Christmases earlier, an experience that’s actually not terribly uncommon. A death in the family anywhere near Christmas time can cast a shadow over the holiday for years, and the image of Prince drowning his sorrows over his lost love is pretty moving. On the other hand, “Father Christmas” opens with a department store Santa getting mugged, which relatively few people have experienced, and then opens up to be more about just being poor and desperate, which is fairly universal. Both songs have potential to hit you where you live. As much as it contradicts what I wrote about “Someday at Christmas,” in this case I think I’d rather listen to the song that makes light of hardship rather than the one that wallows in it.
WINNER: “Father Christmas”
3. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – Darlene Love (1963)
vs. 11. “Skating” – The Vince Guaraldi Trio (1967)
Julian: In this last matchup of the second round we have two songs where Dylan went against his colleagues Max and Mike and voted for the other songs in the previous round. Now, the Spector-produced “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” faces the delightful jazz of “Skating.” Where do you stand on these two boys?
Max: Sorry Charlie, but “Skating” isn’t even the best track on the Charlie Brown Christmas album. Darlene Love all the way.
Dylan: No contest here. “Skating” is a fine instrumental cut, but “Baby Please Come Home” is a monster. Easy money says it’ll be facing off against its offspring “All I Want for Christmas is You” for the Big Prize.
Mike: This would be where I try to issue a spirited, contrarian defense of “Skating” over “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” laugh about it, and give the point to Darlene Love and Phil Spector.
WINNER: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
Check back next week as our tournament continues to the Final Festive Four!