I don’t know what it’s like to date models. I don’t know what it’s like to live in California in the 1970s and play in a rock band. In other words, I don’t know what a pain it is to be Don Henley. But now I get it. I GET IT because of the Eagles’ 1978 version of “Please Come Home for Christmas.” Henley’s husking, not-gonna-I-swear-I-won’t-in-public-break-down voice carries this as a ballad for every sad middle-aged executive everywhere. Whether you’re having sex with your secretary on the dashboard of your Volvo, querying literary agents with your Judas memoir instead of hitting up work parties, or wishing you had “her” back, when Henley sings, “I have no friends to wish me greeting once again,” you know exactly who is to blame: your never-can-get-enough-can-you ass. It’s Irish self-loathing at its finest. Drop another whiskey shot in my egg nog, Donny, and hold tight till March. Play me out, Joe.

Which “Please Come Home for Christmas” is for you?

You get the sense James Brown had never even heard this song two seconds before someone handed him the sheet music. Like, they just started the backing track, and he screamed out the first lyric, “Bells will be ringing!” And the baffled sound engineer was thinking about saying, “Why don’t we hit an actual note, James,” but then was just like, “Fuck it, it’s gold.” In all seriousness, Brown’s interpretation of Charles Brown’s 1960 hit is inimitable. Rather than the inwardly brooding Henley, Brown knows exactly what’s up here: his girl done him wrong and she needs to see the light and make it back by Christmas Eve (or New Year’s Eve night). He changes the lyrics to impress upon listeners the fundamental dichotomy: this isn’t Christmas. The math doesn’t add up. James Brown is alone on the holidays. He needs his loved ones. He needs joy. He needs to be happy-happy once again. And you got to bring it to him, it’s the least you can do for the hardest working man in show business, and to show you how serious he is about this he spends the last, oh, 49 seconds of the track screaming, “NO MORE SORROW! NO MORE PAIN!” in between horn blasts, (likely) stage prostrations, and hi-fiving from the engineers in the booth.

Which “Please Come Home for Christmas” is for you?

Yes, Mr. Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad just hit #2 on the Billboard Top 200 downloaded songs but he is not only NOT a one hit wonder but an International Icon. Please do your research before mentioning him in the same category as Transiberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller. With all due respect to all of the above, we are not talking about the same league here.

José Feliciano
So Wikipedia tells me that Feliciano actually made it big in the Netherlands with a hit song about “guide dogs” in 1969. But, again, I DIGRESS…In the good ole US of A, Feliciano and his holy-guapo fop of hair is known primarily for that potato-ole-selling “Feliz Navidad” (lest anyone think I’m being ethnocentric, ask yourself first, are the marketing geniuses at Taco John’s above and/or below such incriminations, then, after hopefully answering yes, proceed lightly with your criticism). Like I said, Feliciano may have put out some good shit. Like some real good stuff that no one will ever fully appreciate. But no one cares. Because for two minutes and change he’s that bilingual dude with a billboard-sized acoustic guitar and unnerving vibrato, talking about how emotionally layered his wish of holiday cheer to us really is. And this limitation is too bad. I can imagine Feliciano right now somewhere in a suburban Culver’s, late at night, over a Concrete, yelling loudly at the friendly staff about his plight in life as a pop singer, damned for eternity to be the token diversity guy in your local light rock station’s retinue of Christmas humdingers.
The six most epic Christmas one-hit wonders
  • Camera: Nikon D2x
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Exposure: 1/40th
  • Focal Length: 80mm

José Feliciano

So Wikipedia tells me that Feliciano actually made it big in the Netherlands with a hit song about “guide dogs” in 1969. But, again, I DIGRESS…In the good ole US of A, Feliciano and his holy-guapo fop of hair is known primarily for that potato-ole-selling “Feliz Navidad” (lest anyone think I’m being ethnocentric, ask yourself first, are the marketing geniuses at Taco John’s above and/or below such incriminations, then, after hopefully answering yes, proceed lightly with your criticism). Like I said, Feliciano may have put out some good shit. Like some real good stuff that no one will ever fully appreciate. But no one cares. Because for two minutes and change he’s that bilingual dude with a billboard-sized acoustic guitar and unnerving vibrato, talking about how emotionally layered his wish of holiday cheer to us really is. And this limitation is too bad. I can imagine Feliciano right now somewhere in a suburban Culver’s, late at night, over a Concrete, yelling loudly at the friendly staff about his plight in life as a pop singer, damned for eternity to be the token diversity guy in your local light rock station’s retinue of Christmas humdingers.

The six most epic Christmas one-hit wonders

Peter Tchaikovsky

Other than making the background music for that sweet sexual thriller about ballet back in 2010 featuring Natalie Portman and Macaulay Culkin’s ex-girlfriend, this heady Tsarist composer basically gave us a couple hours of a wooden doll fighting a rat king, then an extended promenade of ethnically-predictable dips and doo-dahs from across the globe called The Nutcracker. In other words, how you say “what have you done for me lately” in Russian.

The six most epic Christmas one-hit wonders

Burl Ives

This stodgy do-gooder may have put together a string of quirky folk songs to rival that puppet act Donovan but the world shall never know. Because all we’ll remember him for is his likeness and got-a-couple-lemon-drops-down-my-throat voice of Frosty the Snowman in the eponymous film and like most of the voices in the claymation Rudolph film (Yukon Cornelius been haunting your dreams lately?). Ives is like a chubby, weirder Jimmy Stewart, without the resounding body of work to turn to once December 26 hits.

The six most epic Christmas one-hit wonders

Mannheim Steamroller

Outside Donald Trump, Gerald Rivera, and maybe David Blaine, the man for largest ego without a clue as to why is Chip Davis, founder and lead percussionist of Omaha-based (yes, let me just say this again, Omaha-based) new age dope-ropers Mannheim Steamroller. Mannheim Steamroller gained traction from candy-cane-suckers back in the late 1980s with their version of Christmas tunes played by a jazzed-up Mario Kart-esque orchestra. I’m actually an apologist for this heap of tawdry balderdash, and therefore I’d like to add that I’m reticent to categorize as “(snow)ne hit wonders” because Davis put out a stirring bunch of aimless pop dullery about hot fudge, morning coffee, and semi-trucks in the 1970s and 80s, which, if not actual “hits,” did constitute legitimate offerings for sheet music by my piano teacher from about 1999 to 2001.

The six most epic Christmas one-hit wonders

Vince Vance & the Valiants

Okay, so Wikipedia investigators will persist in claiming Vince Vance and the Valiants are not actually only responsible for the charming heartbreaker “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (Not the Mariah Carey screamer). In fact, VVV got popular in the 1980s for a rendition of “Barbara Ann” called “Bomb Iran,” which later got parlayed into a 2008 YouTube video sensation that rivals Uncle Mitt’s “47% video” for “most likely Internet-y thing to lose a Republican’s chance at the White House.” ANYWAY, before engaging in xenophobic surf pop, VVV did a song using holly and mistletoe as metaphors for an estranged lover—or geopolitical quagmire…can’t be certain with these trampy hucksters.

The six most epic Christmas one-hit wonders

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

If being frozen in time as the auteurs of a dangerously-bland style of heavy metal in the mid- to late 1980s is your idea of self-imposed dungeon of pop culture Gehenna, let me introduce you to that—plus the 1990s and only-Christmas music. No one ever accused Christmas of being adrenaline-starved, but one year in my Dad’s CD player these clowns showed up to demonstrate what our yuletide had always been missing: butt rock and double-bass pedal. They feature the guy from Metallica on one version of “Carol of the Bells.” And on one of the few original tunes not generously yoking a neon bar sign as a metaphor for debauchery and seasonal forgiveness, they fireball home an anthem about hanging ornaments on the perfect tree, then give way to a 2 ½ minute Strat-on-parade solo.

The six most epic Christmas one-hit wonders