My in-depth exploration of all things Christmas music continues tonight with one of pop music’s laziest traditions – the Christmas cover song. A lot of bands and singers record holiday albums because it’s simple, takes no time and earns a buttload of cash, while other acts pump them out as B-sides and ironic tributes to the holiday, as if they’re saying, “Here’s a Christmas song you know, but this is an artistic version that we don’t want money for.” Haha, sure, Coolio.
Even the boy bands of the 90s had someone write brand new songs for them to perform for their screaming teenage girl fans, no matter how stupid and simple the songs were (that’s another post coming soon), so there’s really no excuse that bands keep covering the same Christmas songs over and over. Except, of course, money.
Some bands record worse versions of Christmas hits than others, and to drive home my point I have put together some examples of covers that should have never been recorded.
A lot of artists have recorded versions of “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” which was performed and recorded flawlessly by Brenda Lee in 1958. In recent years, Miley Cyrus, Michael Buble and Slayer (I think) have all taken a shot at this classic song, but none with more zest and ridiculousness than the brothers Hanson.
Maybe if the song’s original title was “Be Infectiously Catchy to the Point that it’s Infuriating Around the Christmas Tree,” this song would have remained clear of this list.
As we all know, the 80s were a very special time, and I don’t need to get too deep into remembering them, since there was an entire network devoted to that for the better part of the 90s and 00s. But what popular Christmas songs never actually needed was that typical 80s pop sound swallowing them up like demons from the darkest depths of hell. The Cocteau Twins didn’t share that philosophy, as they tried to make “Frosty the Snowman” their own.
Back in 1963, the Beach Boys released an original Christmas tune entitled, “Little Saint Nick” that basically combined their brand of surf rock crooning with an appreciation of Santa Claus. Honestly, almost all of the Beach Boys’ songs sound the same to me, but the sound and, more specifically, this song belonged to them. It isn’t a surprise that another band would eventually cover “Little Saint Nick,” but you’d think that band would have tried to at least put a little of its own spin on it. Not Sugar Ray, which released this version of “Little Saint Nick” that sounds exactly the same.
Hey, speaking of a little spin, sometimes there’s such a thing as way too much spin. Take Everclear, for instance, who probably thought that they’d be so clever and unique by singing a song like “Santa Baby” that has traditionally been sung by women.
If nobody has ever told Art Alexakis that he tries too hard, someone should have right after Everclear recorded that. I still love “Santa Monica,” though.
Sometimes the cover song is just a spur of the moment thing that occurs during a live concert (that is later released as an album, of course) like when 80s pop star Corey Hart busted out this interesting rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
I have all the respect in the world for Corey for trying, but at some point he had to have realized that he was never going to be more than the second billed act at city fairs and BBA festivals, so he should have just played “Sunglasses at Night” twice and thanked everyone for coming out.
One of the more popular modern songs – if not the most popular original Christmas song of the last 30 years – is Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and I say that as a male adult who isn’t afraid to admit that he rocks out to it whenever it comes on. Because of the amazing job that Carey did with this song, it’s nearly impossible for any other band or singer to cover it, because the original is a 10/10. Still, My Chemical Romance went for it.
I’m going to tread lightly here because I know that even though the band is done, its fans are still among the most rabid of the old pop punk/punk pop/emo/scream/Tweedle Dweemo movements, and I’ve actually enjoyed several of their songs. But come on, Gerard. From chord numero uno, red flags should have been flying everywhere.
Back to the older hits, the next culprit is an old favorite of mine, as John Cougar Mellencamp has made a career of being a folksy every man with the jazz and the blues and the soul and whatever else he feels like dropping on us. However, his rendition of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” plays like he took everything he had and tossed it in a joyous holiday blender.
That might not be the worst of the offenders on this little list, but it’s certainly not a song that I’ll be playing between Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” when I kick off drunken karaoke after grandma goes to bed.
I’m sure by now you’re wondering where the worst of the worst cover songs are. Well, here you go. At some point, someone gave American Idol punchline William Hung money to record not only a regular album, but a Christmas album as well. “Little Drummer Boy” is one of those classics that has only been done by the biggest, most earnest music stars over the years, and it’s amazing that someone demolished it enough to make this list.
If Hung hadn’t made a cameo on Arrested Development, this song would be enough to make me call for his imprisonment on the moon.
Let’s take a step back to Springsteen for a second, as I honestly consider his version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to be a hell of a rock n roll Christmas song. Justin Bieber’s strange, annoying dance version, though? NO.
Tha-a-a-t so-o-o-ng i-i-i-i-is so-o-o obnox-ox-ious. For every note that Bieber holds too long, I wish he’d hold his breath longer. Also, the North Pole isn’t a steampunk haven, so stop it.
Finally, the reason that we’re all here. The one song that somehow exists and caused me to find even more terrible Christmas covers so I could punish you all the same way I’ve punished myself. Here’s Smash Mouth’s “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” which I’m sure is the only song that Guy Fieri plays at his own Christmas parties.
The only song that’s worse than a Smash Mouth Christmas cover? Twisted Sister’s take on “White Christmas.”
Just kidding, I love all of Twisted Sister’s Christmas covers.