The top 10 most irritating Christmas songs

Deck the malls with Christmas Muzak - an informal survey of which songs modern shoppers find the most annoying this holiday season. Photo: (AP Photo)

DOTHAN, AL, December 11, 2012 — No matter where we go during the holiday season we are bombarded with non-stop, commercial-free Christmas tunes emanating from speakers hidden in walls or disguised as woodland creatures. The hope of retailers is that the music will affect our mood and stimulate us to spend more. One of the major providers, DMX Music, calls it “multi-sensory branding.” Some just call it irritating.

Muzak was the first to offer background music that was used in elevators, giving us the terms “elevator music” and “mood music.” Muzak had some financial problems a few years ago, but reorganized and now markets “mood media” that are sensory advertising programs that include music, digital signage and scents. Now retailers can assault you with sights, sounds and even smells using “customized aroma marketing solutions.”  I guess that could be handy for a baker trying to get rid of day-old bread.

Christmas tree vendors, especially in the north, benefit greatly from piped-in music. Pity the poor customer standing outside trying to find a freshly cut tree, spouse insisting to “keep looking,” kids whining that they need a bathroom, the sales person getting impatient and a freezing wind that makes it feel like the North Pole.

Just then a loudspeaker tied to a pole cackles with a tinny voice singing The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The customer immediately reaches for a wallet, not caring that the tree was cut last August and is priced 30% higher than the guy down the street — another victory for multisensory marketing.

I was curious which specific Christmas songs people find to be the most irritating this year, based on frequency of play, how easy they are to remember or how difficult to forget. Some songs can stick in our mind like peanut butter on bread and haunt us the entire season. My first stop was at the mall to survey sales clerks who get to hear this stuff all day long. Malls all have piped-in music, even in the public restrooms for reasons I don’t care to know.

Most of the sales clerks I spoke with had apparently been warned not to say anything disparaging about the holiday music, but one young man stuffed a small note into my jacket pocket that I found later. It read simply, “save me, please!” Some clerks just rolled their eyes and told me that most of the Christmas music they hear just blends together over time into one non-stop, continuous drone that all sounds like an extended club version of Jingle Bells.

I continued my research and did an informal survey of random shoppers until I was asked to leave by mall security guards, obviously intent on preserving the sanctity of multi-sensory marketing. I did manage to gather a list of song titles that people found to be the most irritating for one reason or another:

1. Jingle Bell Rock, Bobby Helms (1957), was cited as the most irritating of all Christmas songs played throughout the season. People think it stopped being hip by 1958 but it has managed to stick around like gum on the bottom of a shoe.  

2. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Brenda Lee (1958), came in a close second, suggesting that it may be time to let the 1950s pass into obscurity despite the clanging of bed pans in retirement homes.

3. Jingle Bells by The Singing Dogs, another 1950s creation, tied for third place with The Chipmunk Song, Dave Seville (1958). Apparently novelty songs are not very novel to modern listeners.

4. Twelve Days of Christmas, an English tune with hazy origins dating to the time of Shakespeare, came in as fourth most irritating. One person said it is just a Christmas version of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.

5. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Jimmy Boyd (1952), seems to still carry some stigma for people traumatized by finding out who Santa really was. Seriously?

6. All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, Spike Jones (1948),  is no longer a popular tune despite classic versions by Ray Stevens, Danny Kaye, The Andrew Sisters and Nat King Cole. Classic?

7. Deck the Halls, a Welsh melody from the 1500s, tied at seventh place with We Three Kings, written by an Episcopal pastor around the time of the Civil War. I discovered many people can’t hear these songs without thinking of the nonsense lyrics they used when they were kids. One variant went, “We three kings of orient are, tried to smoke a rubber cigar. It was loaded and exploded, we didn’t get very far.” I’m not permitted to give the alternate lyrics for Deck the Halls.

8. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, Meredith Wilson (1951), was performed by several top names including Perry Como and Bing Crosby, but it’s beginning to look a lot like it’s done for.

9. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, Randy Brooks (1979), was a major hit in the early 1980s but is now considered just plain irritating by almost everyone. A sequel, Grandpa’s Gonna Sue the Pants Off of Santa, Elmo Shropshire (1992), never came close to the original and is a virtual unknown today, thankfully.

10. Frosty the Snowman, performed by Gene Autry (1950), was a successful attempt to follow up on his hit song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer the previous year. The song actually has nothing to do with Christmas. Go figure.

What songs do you find the most irritating this year and why? Is something being played too often? Are some songs too old and tired? Have some songs just been overdone by every pop star since the dawn of recorded music? Let me know and I’ll post the results in a future column. Until then, happy listening!

(Get the backstory, plus author notes and more at Rick’s blog


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Rick Townley

Rick Townley was a bookseller before switching to electronic publishing with The New York Times, Reuters, Grolier and others. He is the author of a humor book, For Boomers Only – Exploring Life in the New Millennium, a supernatural novel, Stepping Out of Time, and numerous short stories. In addition to contributing to the Washington Times Communities, Rick is working on a fiction series called Stigma and resides in southern Alabama with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.


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