Lots of Christmas songs appear in lots of movies, and we all know how bad and how monotonous they can get. The following is a list of seven Christmas songs in seven Christmas movies that stand out. They're used for some particular purpose, rather than just dressing. Hopefully these songs lend new meaning to their movies, and vice versa. And in the end, everything becomes just a little more tolerable.
1. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
This song has become a standard, of course. But looking at its very first performance by Judy Garland shows that it was actually meant ironically. Esther Smith (Garland) sings it while looking out the window at a forlorn winter's night, her sister Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) at her side. (The family may have to move away from their beloved St. Louis home.) Tears flow, and the scene is accompanied by Tootie's wanton destruction of a carefully-crafted family of snow people on the lawn.
2. "Christmas in Hollis," from Die Hard (1988)
While waiting in a limo, just downstairs from the chaos in his wife's building, John McClane (Bruce Willis) listens to the radio. The limo driver Argyle (De'voreaux White) plays the just-released hip-hop Christmas song by Run-DMC. "Don't you have any Christmas music?" McClane asks. "This is Christmas music!" Argyle replies excitedly, moving to the beat. I'm not sure how many other hip-hop Christmas songs have been recorded since then, but they have some big shoes to fill. (Runner-up: "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" played during the closing credits.)
3. "Baby It's Cold Outside," from Elf (2003) 4. "Silver Bells," from The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) 5. "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," from Scrooged (1988) 6. "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn (1942) 7. "Hooray for Santy Claus," from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
On the soundtrack album, Zooey Deschanel sings this sexy duet with none other than Leon Redbone. She has a beautiful voice, clear and bold as a bell, but without all that "American Idol" warble, the exact opposite of Redbone's deep murmur. It has earned a regular rotation in my Christmas music list. But in the movie, she sings it in the shower, surprised when a male voice (Will Ferrell) joins her from the sidelines. Of course, he's not supposed to be in the girls' bathroom... Note: the song was originally written for a movie called Neptune's Daughter (1949), but who watches that today?
I'm surprised this halfway decent Bob Hope movie hasn't become a Christmas classic. He plays an in-debt gambler who must swindle a huge pile of cash during the holidays, so he sets up a fake orphanage! Hope is pretty stressed throughout the movie, and it's a delightful break when "Silver Bells" comes on, showing Christmastime in the city at its best.
This song, performed by Annie Lennox and Al Green on the soundtrack album, shouldn't have worked at all. It's presented as an audience-participation sing-along at the very end, after the redemption/conversion of Frank Cross (Bill Murray), and its overwhelming sentimentality had nothing to do with the darkly cynical humor of the rest of the film. But work it does, thanks mostly to Murray's believable performance. I have to admit though, the first time I saw the film in a theater, this song had me going, just like the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen) says: Niagara Falls. Bonus: none other than Miles Davis (!) appears in this movie as a street musician, performing alongside Larry Carlton, David Sanborn and Paul Shaffer.
Just for sheer longevity and volume: Bing Crosby's record is probably still the all-time top selling single in history, Christmas or not, though I was unable to confirm this. The way these things are counted today and the way they were counted in 1942 are different, so no one really knows. Though I'd rather it be this one than Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" or Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You." By the way, Bing's entire Christmas album is pretty great too.
Like the movie, this has to be the all-time worst Christmas song. It's sung by a chorus of annoyingly chirpy children, and that pronunciation of "Santy" Claus is enough to drive anyone mad. Worse, they spell out the entire name ("S-A-N-T-A-C-L-A-U-S") during the chorus. But like the movie, it's so bad it's funny. (I'm singing it now: "Hang up that mistletoe/soon you'll hear ho-ho-ho...")
4. "Silver Bells," from The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) 5. "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," from Scrooged (1988) 6. "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn (1942) 7. "Hooray for Santy Claus," from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
5. "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," from Scrooged (1988) 6. "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn (1942) 7. "Hooray for Santy Claus," from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)