Some Siriusly Lame Music

I love Christmas music. It’s kind of a sickness. I do my best to wait until Thanksgiving Day before I start listening to my massive — ridiculously massive — collection of Christmas music, and once it starts, it’s on steady rotation until December 26. There’s plenty to “enjoy,” too. My iTunes library contains 1172 Christmas tracks, totaling 5.22 GB for a total play time of 2 days, 11 hours, and 35 minutes. Yeah, it’s a bit much.

A lot of it, you’ll be shocked to hear, is crap. For every Mel Torme “Christmas Songs” (one of my favorite non-classical Christmas albums), there’s Tex Ritter’s recording of “The Merry Christmas Polka.” For every Robert Shaw Chamber Singers “Songs of Angels” (among the best a cappella, unaffected Christmas carol CDs around), there’s a recording of Mel Blanc performing “Yah Dis Ist Ein Chrismas Tree (1953).” We won’t even get into “Jingle-o The Brownie” (click for the horribly awesome MP3, possibly about Santa’s gay lover with a red rocket ship and a magic eye) or the 45 tracks of Gene Autry singing Christmas songs, 4 of which are different recordings of him performing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (AEJ’s contribution to the collection).

Although my nearly 1200 Christmas tracks would indicate otherwise, I do have standards. I don’t generally take my iPod into the car, but we do have Sirius satellite radio in the car, and I usually turn to Sirius 2 which plays Christmas music at this time of year. Man, who does the programming for Sirius 2? It’s like the lamest of lame Christmas song ghettos on radio. I’ve wondered about Sirius in the past. Where else can you hear that much Van Morrison that goes unplayed elsewhere for good reason? Do we need an entire station dedicated to the music of The Who? Can’t we just watch the different CSI spin-offs for that?

But this Christmas station is the worst. Today, on my drive to the post office and back — roughly 15 minutes of total car time — I heard Clay Aiken singing “Silver Bells,” The Pretenders performing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and the worst one yet, Kenny Rogers singing something called “Christmas in America.”

First off, I’m not a fan of Clay Aiken, but the combination of Clay Aiken (in a duet with some other loser from American Idol) singing “Silver Bells” — one of my least favorite Christmas songs — sucks.

Second, I have no problem with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” When I was, like, four years old, I had the Christmas On Sesame Street album — oh, how I loved that record — and I couldn’t get enough of that tune, as performed by the cast of Sesame Street. I specifically remember Grover and Big Bird having some excellent “We Are The World”-quality solos. So, I really like that song. But come on, Sirius, the best version you could find is by The Pretenders? Is it 1982? If you’re not playing “Back on the Chain Gang,” I don’t need to hear Chrissie Hynde’s voice.

Lastly we have Kenny Rogers singing “Christmas in America.” Thanks, Kenny. Christmas totally wasn’t jingoistic enough. Every time I hear a Christmas song, I wonder, Why doesn’t somebody write a Christmas song that takes the worst things that Christmas music has to offer and combines with the chest-beating patriotism of a song like “Proud to be an American?” And could it have a children’s choir (oh, my favorite — hold on while I throw up a little in my mouth) singing “America America America” over and over again? It should be noted that the lyrics for this song are nowhere to be found on the Internets. Believe me, I tried, but every lyric site says “lyrics removed by request of the artist.” Perhaps Kenny realized that this garbage should be forgotten. Sirius didn’t get the memo.

And don’t even get me started about the biggest piece of Christmas schlock, “The Christmas Shoes,” an excruciating 4 minutes about a little boy who wants to get shoes for his dying mother in case “Mama meets Jesus tonight.” And he’s totally in a hurry, ’cause “Daddy says there’s not much time.” Way to be optimistic, dad. “Hurry along to the store, son, with your pockets full of pennies and buy your mama some shoes, and hurry, ’cause she’s about to die.” Because if your mama is dying, what Jesus would want, is for you to go to the shoe store.

Turns out — surprise, surprise — that the kid, even after saving pennies “for what seemed like years” (valuable time that could have instead been spent with said Mama), lo and behold, well, he doesn’t have enough pennies! (Maybe he didn’t account for tax?) Don’t worry; our songwriter comes to the rescue and pays the difference. “Mama’s gonna look so great” — but only if you get home before she’s dead. If not, well, your mama and Jesus will never forgive you, little boy. Jesus doesn’t want to see your mama’s nasty, dead feet.

Thank you, Sirius channel 2, for showing me the true spirit of Christmas.

Can anybody tell I had a shitty day?


cindy eiler says

Mr Mackey,

i have two sons at two different colleges in Florida. both are playing different peices of yours this semester.
they are both oboist and english horn players. both have the english horn solos.
one is playing redline tango and the other strange humors.
wow. great english horn pieces. i just wanted to thank you for writing such cool, well composed pieces. c.eiler florida

Anonymous says

my favorite track on the Sesame Street Album (if we had the same one) was the Bert and Ernie, Gift of the Magi track. That taught my brother and I the TRUE meaning of X-Mas... paper clips, and a rubber duckie!!


Jamie Henderson says

Well, they could have played 'White Christmas' as recorded by Doug and the Slugs. That makes most people root for nuclear war.

Rebecca says

you know what is the best christmas song ever? "celebrate me home" by Kenny Loggins... i have deemed it so.

your multiple paragraphs about the "my momma's dying, and all i want to do is buy her shoes" song made me laugh because:

(a) it just came on the radio, and my fiance and i had a great laugh over it
(b) my fiance's mother was in the car with us, and the song "touched" her so much that it brought her to tears

good times.

Kevin Howlett says


A perennial favorite around the house this season is Autry's "Merry Texas Christmas You All". Anyone reading this, check it out. It's gold, I tells ya.

Kevin Howlett says

Oh, two more things:

1. Hope you cheer up, John. If it makes you feel better I'll make you a delicious sandwich. What would Mr. Unger say about your use of the word "shitty"?
2. Whenever you touch yourself at night, Jingle-o is watching you with his magic eye. (It's implied.)

John Mackey says

Kevin is right. "Merry Texas Christmas You All" is a great tune. Most of the Gene Autry is good stuff -- even missteps like "I'm going to try to replicate the success of 'Rudolph' with the pale by comparison 'Freddy the Little Fir Tree' or 'Poppy the Puppy.'" Believe me, I love the Gene Autry. It's the fact that we have so many versions of "Rudolph" that makes me laugh. But "(Hard Rock, Coco and Joe) The Three Little Dwarfs" is an unknown gem.

A big thanks to Kevin to pointing out the implications of Jingle-O's magic eye.

And DMJ, yes, that's the same record I had. Awe. Some.

Rebecca -- I love that Kenny Loggins tune, too, although AEJ has some problems with the lyrics -- as in, they don't make any sense. Can't argue with the catchiness of that sucker, though.

Michael Markowski says

Mooooooo... err, er, err! Tick, tick, tock. Kanuck, kanuck! La, la, la. Ho ho, ha ha! Yak, yak, yak! Quack, quack, quack! Wah wah wah! Choo choo choo! Big surprise? Presents nice? Candy free? Christmas Tree!

John Mackey says

Oh, and DMJ -- I just managed to find MP3 rips of the original vinyl Sesame Street Christmas album. If you want that Gift of the Magi track, let me know.

Courtney says

OK, first of all...I about died laughing when you entered your diatribe on "The Christmas Shoes". I ALWAYS change the station when they play that schlock. I absolutely positively hate that song, for exactly the reasons you detailed above. Many kudos for putting my own thoughts into words.

Secondly, I must ask...have you ever heard the John Denver & The Muppets Christmas album? Absolutely my favorite collection of Christmas tunes ever. If you haven't heard it, you must check it out. In my mind, it doesn't get much better than Miss Piggy's alarm at mistaking "figgy pudding" for "piggy pudding."

Cathy says

I put my Christmas CDs onto my iPod this weekend and I have about 40 tunes now. It's enough for my short little drives around our new toll roads....

Daniel Montoya Jr. says

dude... i SO want that Gift of the Magi track!!

Clark says

my local radio station--KAAM in Dallas--plays Christmas music day/night for several weeks right around Christmas. It is also available on the internet: I keep it on at work and in the car almost all the time, except on weekends, when they tend to have infomercials. The rest of the year is dedicated to oldies (1930s-1980s).

Check it out!

Steven Silverberg says


First of all, love your music.

Second of all...Sirius 2 could be worse...they could play tracks from the Michael Bolton Christmas album.

asbestos says

Those shoes is the most messed up, dumb ass, lame garbage ever written. It is most surely a tool of the devil. On second thought the devil is smarter then that.
gee kid, your moms dying but everything will be ok because she has these shoes

Mikayla says

I know this is two years old, but a little gratitude was in order. My roommate and I were just discussing our mutual hatred of both "Christmas Shoes" and "Proud to be an American." As it is finals week, I decided to google the two titles simultaneously...and I found you. Thank you, John Mackey. Thank you.

jeffh says

if you don't have them, the Christmas recordings by The Sonics (proto-punk group from Seattle in the '60's) are hilarious. also, their version of Louie, Louie is the only version of that steamin' heap that I can listen to...

Korey says

My favorite is Jimmy Buffet's "Christmas in the Caribbean."

Joseph McPherson Ŧ says

Lol. I'm soooo glad you re-shared this! I didn't get a chance to read it all back in '06. If you haven't already discovered these guys, you should check them out! There's a terrific a capella group out of Indiana called "Straight, No Chaser"; check out their Christmas music! On a side note: I want to express my personal gratitude for how you handle things as a composer... I was 1st chair trombonist in the ATSSB Texas All-State Band in 2009. This was the first chance I got to work with a composer (you-performing "Undertow"), and I've had several since. May I just say, that I wish they had cut through the bull crap like you did. You seemed better prepared and had no problem wording your thoughts so that we understood just what you wanted. So thank you for that, and good luck on future endeavors. You have the support of many of us at Texas Tech!

jnoerenberg says

this is why we play Mackey at our holiday concert instead of lame ass christmas music

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