Christmas Songs of the 80s and 90s

Waitresses Christmas Wrapping

Any pop band from the 80s or 90s could have achieved immortality by doing one thing that most of the others didn’t:

Write and record a Christmas song.

30 years after a one-hit-wonder’s success faded, their one-hit would be relegated to some lunar rotation on a niche genre satellite radio station. It will rarely, if ever, get downloaded, streamed, or even remembered fondly.

But their holiday song will still be a staple for 6 weeks per year for all eternity. It will have people who didn’t even like the band back in the day singing along. And more importantly, people who weren’t even born yet will make this part of their annual must-hear oldies.

Case in point: The Waitresses

The Waitresses hit the New Wave scene in 1980 and eeked-out a minor hit, “I Know What Boys Like,” upon its re-release in 1982. Though it was in heavy rotation on MTV in ’82, it only reached #62 on the Billboard charts.

square pegs johnny slashThey also recorded the TV theme to Square Pegs thought it wasn’t a hit at all. (“It was a totally different head. Totally.”)

But how often are either of these songs heard? Not much compared to The Waitresses’ one holiday tune, “Christmas Wrapping.”  It was not a hit record, never even entering the charts in the US. But 35 years later, the song has somehow scored a top spot in everyone’s holiday song rotation. In the first week of this year’s Sirius XM’s annual Holly station, I heard it 3 times in 3 days. Or at least the first 30 seconds of it, which is usually juuuuuust enough for me.

Look at the one-hit download wonders of today. Who will still be heard 30 years from now? The ones with a Christmas song…

TBT Vinyl: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Chance, 1980


Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
Warner Bros


Great album by the band that does Springsteen songs better than Springsteen. It features Bruce’s “For You” with vocals by Chris Thompson and Trevor Rabin on lead guitar.



TBT Vinyl: David Bowie and Bing Crosby, Peace on Earth

bowie bing 2

David Bowie and Bing Crosby
Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy
1977, released 1982
RCA Records


Surreal television. Weird team-up in entertainment. Perfect musical moment.


In 1977 glam rocker David Bowie appeared as a guest on Bing’s long-running annual Christmas TV special, and they sang a duet after an awkward scripted setup. The song was a medley of “Peace On Earth” with the standard “Little Drummer Boy”.

Bing died a month after this was recorded, and a month prior to the airing of the TV special.  The song was finally released as a single in 1982. Also that year, MTV added the clip to its rotation as a stand-alone video.

After decades of forgettable holiday TV specials and variety shows with uninspired duets with artists from different genres, this performance stands out. At first you may think it’s due to the shock factor of the pairing: it’s the tiny point on the Venn Diagram where The Golden Age of Hollywood overlaps with Modern Rock. But shock value alone doesn’t hold it up this long. Two great voices do. 












Modern Rock Christmas: JD McPherson “Twinkle Little Christmas Lights”

JD McPherson on The Tonight Show
JD McPherson on The Tonight Show


Sometimes when you hear newly-written Christmas songs, you end up thinking, “man, they sure don’t make ’em like they used to.” But Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s new favorite son JD McPherson is here to prove that wrong. See, this little white dude who sings like Little Richard DOES make ’em like they used to. And without any ironic, cooler-than-you sensibilities. Nope, this guy and his band (notably including bassist and musical director Jimmy Sutton) nail their vintage sound so well, you actually just feel like you’re listening to the greatest 1950’s album you’ve never heard.  One review of his record said it was “engineered to renew your faith in rock’n’roll” and that is dead-on.

And while you are busy having your faith renewed in rock’n’roll, why not multi-task and have it renewed in newly-penned Christmas songs. This one takes a little something old, a little something new, adds some warm feelings and some holiday cheer, and comes out of the oven with my favorite track of the season. Merry Christmas.


Thanks to Atlanta-based singer/songwriter Michael Hodgin for today’s guest post!