1. Burl Ives, “Silver Bells”
Here’s the problem with Burl Ives’ Christmas tunes: I just want him to interrupt every recording by announcing, “I am an OSCAR WINNER, kids. I’m not just your f*cking grandpa with the pointy beard. I beat Lee J. Cobb and Gig Young. Suck on that sugar cube, Blitzen.” Indeed, Rudolph’s narrator scored a Supporting Actor trophy for 1958’s The Big Country, and he wasn’t the jolliest bastard you’ve ever seen in it. But here’s the thing: Christmas is about bubbling-under rage, which I’ve decided that Burl has, and therefore “Silver Bells” is a definitive yuletide anthem. Score: 8
2. The Carpenters, “Merry Christmas Darling”
All right. It doesn’t take a looped screening of the Carpenters’ Christmas specials featuring the McNichols, John Denver, and Yuletide Anorexia to realize that Christmas meant everything to the Carpenters. Karen and Richard were nothing without their plasticine grins, that true indicator of the holiday spirit. Naturally Karen’s pitch-perfect singing voice is as crystalline and seemingly manufactured as the fake snow in this video, but the weird thing about Karen is that the more she indulges her perfectionist instinct in song, the more personal her renditions seem. This is a woman who had no choice but to value perfection, since she and her brother were, um, total geniuses.
3. Elvis Presley, “Blue Christmas”
Man, who thinks about Elvis anymore? Not me. He’s like Madonna without a brain. Just a swiveling snarl who wants everyone to leave him alone with a sandwich and let him be dumb. I would describe him as “nothing, plus an accent” but I reserve that insult for Rihanna so… I guess I wouldn’t describe him at all? Sorry. But hear this: I have always believed that Lisa Marie Presley rules, and when she dropped out of Scientology, I took it as an amazing compliment to my judgment.
4. Johnny Mathis, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
Johnny Mathis really nails the abject homosexuality of Christmas. His teeth, voice, and disposition are glittery and bright. And he’s still crooning today! I love the sweetness of his voice, and the showbiz-zy razzle-dazzle of his loveliness. Can’t argue with anything here. It’s a homosexual!
5. Bing Crosby, “White Christmas”
I’m pretty positive Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” still ranks among the most purchased recordings in the history of recorded utterances, so props there. I also love that there was a time in pop music history when you could make a killing if your voice was funereal enough. Because Bing sounds like the crypt keeper at the Island of Misfit Toys. He’s floating through a jack-in-the-box cemetery and just moaning ominously at everything. Even if his coolest moment is his duet with David Bowie, you can’t argue with Irving Berlin or that chillingly grave instrument. Oh, and he has an Oscar too. A dubious Oscar for a dubious movie, but whatever. 1944, no one ever thinks about you.
Andy Williams, “Happy Holidays”
Nat King Cole, “The Christmas Song”
THIS. This is what I’m talking about. More like “chestnuts roasting in the crackling timbre of that VOICE.” Nat King Cole is like a combination of… well, no one. He is just Nat King Cole. I was going to say his knack for precision is like Karen Carpenter’s, but I’m not sitting around interpreting Nat King Cole’s agony and repression. He’s the picture of class and coolness, and he makes Christmas seem like a time when you might actually think about how much you love someone. Which is among the world’s most wonderful lies.
Frank Sinatra, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
God, poor Ava Gardner. Have you heard that she was a Melungeon? I definitely think about that from time to time. More than I think about Mogambo. Remember when you could get a movie made if you promised the audience ZEBRAS?
Something about Frank Sinatra is forever a little awful to me. I mean, 1) Wow, he is always a little pitchy. 2) He is scary, and Phil Hartman’s impersonation of him seemed real. 3) How does he have an Oscar for From Here To Eternity and not Monty Clift? Does this universe not belong to us? It hurts. Worse, I just don’t believe Frank’s sympathetic holiday bellow. He doesn’t care about you or your family. He’s busy throwing tantrums at Mia Farrow for participating in an unladylike film like Rosemary’s Baby. Forget him.
Perry Como, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”
I love the Alfred Hitchcock Presents-y drollness to this melody. And even though I hate the weirdly cynical “And mom and dad can’t wait for school to start again,” I’m signed on to Perry Como’s first-rate funerealness. Woah, funerealness. Where is THAT RuPaul’s Drag Race challenge?
That makes our big winner Nat King Cole! What’s your favorite classic Christmas song?