The 30 Weirdest Christmas Songs
Christmas songs are pretty fucking weird by definition. Whether praising the infant Jesus or celebrating the sounds, smells, and/or meteorological trends of late December in the Western Hemisphere, Christmas songs tend to warp our reception through simple repetition alone. Who among us hasn’t wanted to tear out their hair at the umpteenth dental-office rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Jingle Bells,” or even Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”?
So consider this list a sort of sanity-preserving meta-commentary on a seasonal affliction. If anything here provides some small solace, do yourself a favor and don’t put it on repeat.
30. Bob Rivers Comedy Corp, “O Come All Ye Grateful Dead-Heads” (1987)
You’ll have to supply your own visuals to this nostalgic example of late-’80s hippie bashing, and Rivers’s choir indeed paints a quaint Norman Rockwell-esque portrait, singing “O come let us adore them/We quit our day jobs for them…/Garcia’s the Lord.”
No. 29. The Robertsons, “Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas” (2013)
The hirsute Louisiana duck-hunting dynasty, led by racist and homophobic paterfamilias Phil Robertson, returned a volley in the War Against Christmas with Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas. “We ain’t got much but we work real hard,” sings Willie Robertson in the country-pop opener; at least, they did until A&E canceled their show last year.
28. Alexander Zlatkovski, “Silent Night” (2014)
The Russian-born classical pianist works his way up and down all 12 keys of the scale in this quickly disorienting and ultimately avant-garde take on the holiday chestnut. Consider it a Christmas cousin to John Cage’s even silenter “4’33.”
27. CeeLo Green & The Muppets, “All I Need Is Love” (2012)
“I think The Muppets hit a new low,” says heckling old man Statler. “Yeah!” replies Waldorf. “And his name is Cee!” In the vaunted tradition of celebrities Muppeting it up for fun and profit, CeeLo gamely mashes up Italian soundtrack composer Piero Umiliani’s “Mah Nà Mah Nà” with hitmakers Adam Anders and Peer Astrom’s generic banger.
26. Christafari & Makamae Auwae, “Angels We Have Heard on High” (2014)
Led by dreadlocked pastor Mark Mohr, Christian reggae “musicianaries” Christafari cover all the bases as they serenade a surprisingly diverse Hawaiian neighborhood with dancehall ministrations. Reformed and Hasidic Jews; Zumba, flamenco, and break dancers; a guy dressed as Thor; a scorpion wrangler; a Nigerian family; and a facially tattooed prison escapee all react to the so-called fun.
25. Wesley Willis, “Merry Christmas” (1996)
Supersized Chicago outsider Wesley Willis cranks up his Technics KN keyboard to motorik for his unusually demon-free ode to “joy month” fun. Accompanied visually by Windy City holiday streetscapes, Willis declares that “Christmas gives me harmonization.”
24. Christmas in the Stars, “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (1980)
A long time ago in a recording studio far, far away—or maybe just Manhattan—teenaged Jon Bongiovi was performing janitorial duties when producer Meco Monardo needed a singer for this chirpy interstellar anachronism from Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album. The kid stepped up to deliver his first professional track and the rest—you guessed it—is history.
23. Sufjan Stevens, “Christmas Unicorn” (2012)
At its best, Christmas is just one big colorfully campy, tinsel-strewn mess—and so is this reassuringly imperfect finale to the Oxford, Mississippi, edition of the Surfjam Estabanopolis Christmas Spectacular Seasonal Affective Disorder Sing-a-long Sensation. Stevens’s unicorn may be “a pagan heresy … a tragical Catholic shrine,” but you won’t find a dry eye in the house when he mashes it up with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
22. El Vez, “Brown Christmas” (1994)
Former L.A. punk rocker Robert Lopez (The Zeroes) dons his Mexican Elvis persona for this plaintive entreaty for a Latinx holiday from his Merry MeX-Mas album. An angelic female choir accompanies the crooner’s suave take on the Irving Berlin chestnut. Stick around for the B-side, “Mamacita Donde Esta Santa Claus,” sung by a precocious, if amateurish, tot over the aforementioned angels.
21. Cowboy Timmy, “Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo” (1997)
Christmas doesn’t come any browner than in this early South Park parody of Peanuts holiday specials. Based on a character Trey Parker’s father tortured him with during childhood, Mr. Hankey lampoons religious sensitivity while plumbing the depths of the human condition. “He’s seen the love inside of you,” sings Cowboy Timmy, “’cause he’s a piece of poo.”
20. H.E.R., “Have a Psychedelic Christmas” (2008)
Christmas lights synced to a mildly disturbing video projection provide the visuals for this ’60s-style take on pop psychedelia. Part baroque Os Mutantes, part Patti Smith at her perkiest, H.E.R.’s hey-hey-hey’s wrest festivity from the direst of days.
19. David Matthews, “Psychedelic Christmas” (2015)
Anyone familiar with the psychedelic origins of Christmas should be able to groove to this one-man-band’s doo-wop-inspired account of a holiday spent “tripping on multicolored Christmas clouds.” A crack pipe, space cakes, acid tabs, and magic mushrooms fill out his stocking.
18. Wild Man Fischer, “I’m a Christmas Tree” (1999)
Professional weirdos Wild Man Fischer and radio personality Dr. Demento team up for possibly the worst Christmas song ever. Like much of Fischer’s work, best captured on Frank Zappa’s indispensably bizarre An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, it’s a short a-cappella blast of impromptu absurdity.
17. RemBunction, “Home for Christmas” (2013)
More enviable than weird, the unbearable coldness of an islander in London inspires soca-parang group RemBunction’s affectionately low-budget take on Christmas in Trinidad. An acoustic guitar noodles over a soca beat as the band lamps on the beach and consumes turkey covered in sorrel sauce.
16. Ray Stevens, “Santa Claus Is Watching You” (1985)
A Southern songwriter known for both comedy (“Ahab the Arab”) and unintentionally comic (“Everything Is Beautiful”) hits, Ray Stevens adds extra paranoia to the disturbing 1985 re-recording of his 1962 single. Santa becomes the “secret head of the CIA” in this yackety-sax vehicle featuring a surprisingly nonplussed object of harassment and a wild-eyed elf shouting, “He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!”
15. Betty Garrett and Red Skelton, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (1949)
Betty Garrett and Red Skelton exchange the usual male and female roles as they clown through Frank Loesser’s seasonal—and, let’s face it, problematic—standard in the film Neptune’s Daughter. The usual male plaints (“What’s the sense in hurtin’ my pride?”) sound almost charming coming from Garrett. Almost.
14. Jacob Miller & Ray I, “Deck the Halls” (1978)
What’s that aroma? “Deck the halls with lots of collie,” sings reggae star Jacob Miller in this rub-a-dub version of the tune recorded two years before his death at age 27. Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare lay down the hippest riddim of any Christmas tune, while DJ Ray I appears not to have received the memo about the song’s seasonal slant in his B-side toast.
13. Max Headroom, “Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” (1986)
Introduced in 1984 and voiced by Max Frewer, the stuttering and smarmy A.I. character Max Headroom is a lot like Santa in that he gets no presents, no fun, and “strides the world like a huge c-c-c-c-c-c-c-colostomy.” Headroom’s Christmas gift to Santa is a lounge-lizard-y tribute as saccharine as the Christmas season is long, complete with boys choir.
12. Wizzard, “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” (1973)
This UK glam rockers’ biggest hit advocates a hellish Groundhog Day version of Christmas. The Top of the Pops TV appearance seen here is even more frightening, with blank-eyed moppets half-heartedly pretending to enjoy participating in the overblown travesty.
11. Homer & Jethro, “Santa Claus the Original Hippie” (1968)
Patent leather boots? Check. Psychedelic clothes? Check. Granny glasses? Check. Pot belly? Yep, the “thinking man’s hillbillies,” as Knoxville, Tennessee’s Henry “Homer” Haynes and Kenneth “Jethro” Burns were known, nailed Santa’s underground origin on this laid-back track from Homer and Jethro’s Cool Crazy Christmas.
10. Barrington Levy & Trinity, “I Saw Mommy Kiss a Dreadlocks” (1981)
Reggae singer Barrington Levy croons a pleasantly generic Rasta-fied version of 13-year-old Jimmie Boyd’s 1952 hit single. The Christmas tree consists of collie weed, of course, with Levy providing “three spliffs I bring to you from Jah.”
9. Devo, “Merry Something to You” (2009)
Drawings of skulls, snakes, and a cyclops Santa illustrate these New Wave mutants’ first-rate synths-and-sleighbells slab of Xmas nihilism. “Believe what you want to,” sings Gerald Casale, “nothing’s really true.”
8. Tiny Tim, “Santa Claus Has Got the AIDS” (1985)
The eccentric nostalgist recorded this remarkably tasteless track sometime in the mid-’80s, and later regretted it. Tiny followed it up with another community-health-related number, “She Left Me With the Herpes.”
7. James Brown, “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” (1968)
James Brown and Christmas always seemed a tenuous pairing, but the newly woke political activist admits he’s singing this tight and funky jump blues “with water in my eyes.” R&B great Hank Ballard, who co-wrote the track, gets a shoutout as well.
6. Iggy Pop, “White Christmas (Guitar Stooge Version)” (2013)
The sovereign Stooge follows up his 2011 rendition of “Little Drummer Boy” (heard on Michel Legrand’s Noel! Noel!! Noel!!!) with a vaguely malevolent version of the Irving Berlin classic. Pop’s baritone hits bottom during his dark, funereal reading accompanied by sleigh bells and fuzz guitar.
5. Garfunkel and Oates, “Scary Fucked-Up Christmas” (2011)
Guitarist Riki “Garfunkel” Lindhome and ukulelist Kate “Oates” Micucci speak truth to Christmas in their umpteenth homemade video. “If you can’t handle family shit, get your bong and take a hit/Christmas is much better when you’re high.” Obviously stoned comedian Doug Benson portrays the paranoid results of their advice.
4. The Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” (1987)
The bickering-couple skit accompanying this latter-day Ramones B-side to “I Wanna Live” is almost as entertaining as the song itself. And that’s saying a lot. The classic Joey track contains both the timeless structure and the innocence (“All the children are tucked in their beds”) that distinguished him from his punk peers.
3. David Bowie and Bing Crosby, “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” (1977)
When David Bowie, 30, refused to sing “Little Drummer Boy” on 73-year-old Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas TV special, a trio of songwriters quickly whipped up “Peace on Earth” and secured Bowie’s approval. A month after their heartwarmingly bizarre intergenerational duet, Der Bingle died of a heart attack.
2. The Residents, “Santa Dog” (1972)
“Santa Dog’s a Jesus fetus,” declares the anonymous Bay Area art collective on their first official release. The hooky number introduces the catchy wordplay (“a fleeting and a sleeting scene of snowness and of sleeves”) and trance-like percussion that characterizes much of their work. The Residents subsequently re-recorded “Santa Dog” every several years in whatever their current style happened to be.
1. “Weird Al” Yankovic, “Christmas at Ground Zero” (1986)
With the Twitterer-in-Chief lobbing veiled threats at his North Korean counterpart, Yankovic’s Cold War original enjoys upsetting new relevance. When his record company demurred, “Weird Al” decided to fund this eerie montage of falling bombs and duck-and-cover absurdity himself. The air-raid sirens accompanying the slap-happy ’50s arrangement add a special nuclear-winter chill.