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…

MTV Christmas Videos 1981 – 1986

MTV Christmas

During MTV’s golden age of 1981 through 1986, an annual tradition was the low-budget, slapped together, in-studio Christmas video! Let’s take a look…


Billy Squire “Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You” 1981

This was the first MTV Christmas video and arguably the best of the songs. The video itself could be replicated now with the phone in your pocket. It set the trend of featuring the MTV staff, most of whom look really high. I think there was a White Christmas in the MTV offices in 1981!

The video set a nice precedent for having A-list artists involved in these MTV-produced projects. Squire was huge at the time, a veritable one-man Led Zeppelin reborn. But that would end in just a couple of years, ironically when his “Rock Me Tonight “ video on MTV killed his rock credibility in less than 5 minutes.



Joe King Carrasco “It’s a Party Christmas” 1982

This song is truly awful. It’s not only the worst Christmas song of the Modern Rock Era, but is in the running for the worst song EVER. I’ve tried to like it for years in the spirit of being such a fan of the genre. But, c’mon, this sucks. I am embedding the video below, but do yourself a favor and DON’T watch it.



George Thorogood “Rock n Roll Christmas” 1983

Unfortunately this video has been pulled from YouTube. C’mon Lonesome George, really?



Bryan Adams “Reggae Christmas” 1984

By ’84 the budgets were bigger and Pee-Wee Herman showed up. Somehow this give us Canadian Reggae. Yeah, mon, eh?




Jon Anderson “Three Ships” 1985

This is 90125 – era YES lead singer Jon Anderson. It’s indescribable;  just watch.



Monkees “Christmas Medley” 1986

Sixties nostalgia reigned supreme in 1986, culminating this part of the Monkees’ comeback. The Monkees were one of the biggest bands of 1986 and capped the year with this video that officially reunited Mike Nesmith with the other boys. Spoiler! He’s in the Santa suit. 

And there’s the circle of life for MTV: Nesmith, whose PopClips videos were an inspiration for MTV’s creation appears at the very end of the golden age of MTV via this Christmas video. Within a year, new owner Viacom would gut MTV and begin replacing music with reality shows and other nonsense.


Modern Rock Christmas: Paul Westerberg “Away In A Manger”

Paul Westerberg Away IN A Manger

Ah, Paul Westerberg. The great Replacements frontman and solo songwriter has been cultivating a reclusive persona of late, only plugging in his guitar this year to put Hank Williams and Gordon Lightfoot covers on a tribute album for his ailing ex-bandmate Slim Dunlap.

But a few years ago, Paul put this little gem on a non-Holiday collection available via download only from Amazon, as he’s been doing with most of his material in recent memory. And what a gem it is. Leave it to PW to put his idiosyncratic spin (and a little Chuck Berry influence) on Christmas and come out the other side with an instant new classic. The Little Lord Jesus never rocked so hard.


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


Modern Rock Christmas: The Pogues “Fairytale of New York”

The Pogues If I Should Fall From Grace


In the UK, “Fairytale of New York” is consistently voted as the all-time favorite (or favourite) Christmas song. In the US, it has become the only song most people can name by the Pogues.

The song itself is one long contrast between beauty and ugliness: cheerful flutes and drunken insults; images of a snowy New York City and the drunk tank; the hope of Christmas and the lonely reality of broken dreams. Have listen here:

Modern Rock Christmas: Bing Crosby and David Bowie

Some call this surreal television. Some call it the weirdest moment in entertainment. To me it’s just a perfect musical moment.

Tomorrow marks the 35th anniversary of the airing of the Bing Crosby’s last Christmas special. In 1977 glam rocker David Bowie appeared as a guest and sang a duet with Bing. The song was a medley of the new song “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 this TV special. Then the song was 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 duets with artists from varying genres, this one performance stands out from all others. At first you may think it’s due to how odd this pairing is: it’s the tiny point on the Venn Diagram where The Golden Age of Hollywood overlaps with Modern Rock. Shock value doesn’t hold it up for 35 years; two great voices do.

Modern Rock Christmas: Bob Dylan “Must Be Santa Claus”


(Here’s another guest post from Atlanta-based Singer/Songwriter Michael Hodgin!)

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you hate Christmas music.

You are wrong.

And my good friend Jack Monson is letting me steal a few posts on his blog this holiday season to prove it. See, I absolutely LOVE Christmas music. I love Christmas too. It’s my favorite time of year. I love the feelings and the sentiment, the shopping and the giving, and Love Actually and It’s a Wonderful Life. I love very special holiday episodes of sit-coms. I love emotionally manipulative holiday-themed commercials that are hellbent on making you cry by showing some college kid returning home from Africa to spend Christmas with his family.

As Andy Williams said, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

And what is more wonderful than the idea of Bob Dylan doing a Christmas album. I like to think about what all the booing hordes of British folky teens would shout out if Mr. Zimmerman walked on stage with The Band in 1965 and did “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

Anyway, back in the present, check out the glorious, raucous mess that Bob makes of the holidays in this video from his excellent X-mas album.


Adam Sandler: Thanksgiving Song

Adam Sandler SNL
Remember when Adam Sandler was funny? I think it was a narrow window from 1993 through mid-1997. But in that time he gave us a few holiday tunes via Saturday Night Live. Here’s the Turkey Song  – Happy Thanksgiving!


Modern Rock Christmas: Ray Davies, Thanksgiving Day

Ray Davies Thanksgiving Day

Pop music, especially in the modern rock era (which I define as roughly 1979 to 1999), has a lot of Christmas songs in its catalog. A lot. A whole lot. In fact, way too many.

Like Christmas itself throughout the same era, pop and rock bands have cashed in over the past couple of decades, using Christmas as a reason to offer up specific product. But, no one has really created big hits for other holidays since Bobby “Boris” Picket staked his claim on Halloween in 1962. 

Enter Ray Davies. The first time I heard “Thanksgiving Day” in 2005, I could just picture Ray telling his friends that the song isn’t just a Thanksgiving song, but more importantly it’s NOT another Christmas song. After all, Ray and his band The Kinks already conquered the Christmas genre with 1977’s “Father Christmas”!

Have a listen below to Ray perfroming this on the old Conan show in 2005: