Christmas songs: the good, the bad and the downright weird

David Bowie and Bing Crosby

There's a few classics in the Christmas canon, but plenty of ho-ho-horrible songs too

LAST UPDATED AT 08:51 ON Mon 16 Dec 2013

WHAT would Christmas be without Christmas pop songs? Less onerous, perhaps? Pipe down, Scrooge, and try to understand that the Christmas single is part of a noble tradition whose practitioners include such luminaries as Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt and, er, East 17. Not all Christmas songs are equal, of course. Here's a guide to the good, the bad and the downright weird:

The best Christmas song of all time

Critics are fairly united on this one. The festive ditty par excellence is Fairytale of New York performed by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl. The song has it all, "careening wildly through a gamut of moods from maudlin to euphoric, sentimental to profane, mud-slinging to sincerely devoted in the space of four glorious minutes," writes Helen Brown in the Daily Telegraph. The song was released in 1987, but kept out of the No 1 spot by the Pet Shop Boys' cover of Always on my Mind.

Sample lyric: "You´re a bum, you´re a punk. You´re an old slut on junk." 

The highest earning Christmas song of all time

Bing Crosby's version of Irving Berlin’s plaintive White Christmas has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. Written in 1940, it has earned about $36 million in royalties - enough to buy a fleet of snow machines or a small ski resort. In terms of raw earning power, it dwarfs other festive cash cows such as the 1934 hit Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which has earned a paltry $19 million.

Sample lyric: "Where the treetops glisten, and children listen".

The weirdest Christmas song of all time

This is a crowded category. Honourable mentions go to Arcade Fire for a 2001 EP of carols which is "playful, completely sozzled and a bit odd", according to NME. Paul McCartney’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reggae is also a contender and is "arguably the most bafflingly awful thing Macca ever put to vinyl". But the weirdest award goes to a version of Sleigh Ride performed by Star Wars droids C-3PO and R2-D2. Watch the video if you dare.  

Sample lyric: "Oh R2, I knew you could do it!"

Most unlikely Christmas duet of all time

Duets and Christmas go together like brandy and butter. But the pairing of David Bowie and Bing Crosby on Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy has justifiably been described as "surreal". The song was recorded in 1977 for Crosby’s Christmas TV show Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas. Bowie has subsequently claimed that he only performed the duet because "I just knew my mother liked him [Crosby]."

Sample lyric: "Rum-pum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum-pum".  

The most gratuitiously offensive Christmas song of all time

By and large, Christmas songs try to avoid causing offence. Clearly, Weird Al Yankovic missed that bulletin because he wrote and performed Christmas at Ground Zero, which has a Christmas-meets-the-nuclear-holocaust vibe. My vote for the most offensive Yuletide song goes to Monty Python’s Eric Idle and F--- Christmas. It pretty much does what it says on the tin.

Sample lyric: "F--- Christmas. It’s a waste of f------ time." 

The most sexual Christmas song of all time

Christmas songs tend to be relatively chaste. In I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, for example, the amorous Father Christmas doesn’t make it past first base. Bucking the trend is Clarence Carter’s Back Door Santa which was released in 1968. The song is the apex of "the longstanding tradition of the double entendre in Christmas songs" says the Hip Christmas website. When Carter sings "I ain't like old St. Nick, he don't come but once a year," you know he isn’t talking about trips down the chimney. Or is he?

Sample lyric: "I keep the little girls happy while the boys are out to play."

The worst Christmas song cashing in on a dodgy British TV series

Many people loved Minder, a long-running TV comedy starring George Cole as used car salesman Arthur Daley and Dennis Waterman as his enforcer Terry McCann. Far fewer people enjoyed What Are We Going To Get For 'Er Indoors? a dreadful cash-in Christmas single that limped into the charts in 1983. At least Waterman had the grace to look embarrassed as the duo 'performed' the 'song' in character on Top of the Pops.

Sample lyric: "I've got a lock-up with no lock on and it's snowing outside".

The worst/best Christmas song of 2013

It's still early days, but Lily Allen's John Lewis-endorsing version of Keane's Somewhere Only We Know is a contender for the year's worst Christmas song, writes James Lachno in the Daily Telegraph. Indeed the song is a "nadir" for Christmas songs in general, writes Lachno. He takes offence at Allen's "reedy, timorous Mockney tremor" and says the recording has the "emotional gravitas of an overcooked sprout". There again, Allen’s song may also be one of the best Christmas songs of this year or any other. It reached the No 1 spot in November, overtaking songs by Bastille and Gary Barlow.

Sample lyric: "I came across a fallen tree. I felt the branches of it looking at me." · 

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I'm backing the Scandinavian boy in the No 2 slot; the Dude is a serious contender for any music prize, now, and in 2014.

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