Music enthusiast FlourishAnyway introduces some fun competition into the holidays by ranking cover versions of popular Christmas songs.
The Christmas Pity Party: No Partner, No Friends
A warning label—"Pity Party Alert"—should accompany this classic melancholy Christmas tune. It is sometimes referred to by its first four words, "Bells Will Be Ringing." The song narrator harbors a heavy heart and feels sorry for himself. But to be fair, you'd feel pretty dismal, too, if your partner dumped you at Christmastime and you had zero friends to lend support.
Because the holidays often amplify life's highs and lows, the song narrator is weighed down by lonesomeness and desperation. This guy feels both rejected and dejected, having been burned by his darling's romantic wanderings. The timing of her cruel departure merely rubs salt in his emotional wounds.
As a result of her betrayal, the self-absorbed fella finds himself unhappy and alone during what should be a joyful holiday season, "the time of year to be with the one you love." Oh, the victimization! How could she do this?
While others stroll in the snow or snuggle fireside with their special someone, the anguished song narrator actively pines for a coldhearted partner who doesn't want him. Love has no pride though, so he begs this estranged lover to restore his happiness by returning home:
Please come home for Christmas
Please come home for Christmas
If not for Christmas, by New Year's night.
Perhaps if the narrator weren't such a social and emotional island, then he would understand that his desperate romantic pursuit of this unworthy woman is untenable. It is cringeworthy to observe.
However, in his raw emotional honesty, this foolhardy man speaks to that painful part in all of us that looks at all of the shiny seasonal revelry and the "couples goals" on full display around us. When we concentrate too keenly upon others' garishly perfect love during the holidays, we assume own lives don't measure up. And that's often when the pity party begins!
"Who Sang It Best?": Here's How It Works
With many artists singing the same Christmas tunes, the sleigh has become overloaded. Let's rank them and cross some versions off the list.
In the "Who Sang It Best?" series, we start with the original rendition of popular songs that have been covered multiple times. Then we present a set of contenders, artists who have released cover versions in any genre. Some cover versions honor the original artist's style while others are reinterpretations.
Since the original song version is typically considered "the standard," we don't include it in our overall rankings. Instead, we display it first for comparison, with up to 14 contenders presented next in ranked order. Vote on your preferences:
- Do you prefer the original song or a cover version?
- Of all the cover versions, which you prefer?
"Please Come Home for Christmas" by Charles Brown (1960)
From the outset, this Christmas carol establishes a contrast between the joy of the holiday season and the sorrowful personal situation that the narrator has found himself in. The distinctive church bell-like clanging ushers in the "glad, glad news" of the festive season for everyone except the narrator, adeptly represented by blues singer and pianist Charles Brown. As he beseeches his estranged lover to return home, you can feel both his grief and his despair in holding out faint hope that his ex will come back to him "if not for Christmas, by New Year's night."
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Brown co-wrote this song, but it was only a minor success for him nationally at the time of its 1960 release, reaching #76 on the Billboard charts. However, the tune became an enduring holiday favorite along the I-10 corridor in Louisiana and Texas, where Brown was from. The blues artist was was known for his mellow and relaxed style and was inducted into both the Blues Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his career contributions.
1. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Eagles (1978)
In 1978, almost two decades after its initial release, the Eagles covered "Please Come Home for Christmas" by making several modifications to Charles Brown's original. Many people mistakenly assume that the rock group's version was the original rather than a cover. The band lent the holiday ditty a soft rock groove that works divinely with the pain of the lyrics, and this helped to land the tune in the Top 20 of the US Billboard Hot 100.
Don Henley and his group tweaked the line, "bells will be ringing," so that the narrator refers to the "sad, sad news" of his spending the holiday season by himself. In addition, the Eagles all but eliminated the introductory church bell-like sounds, except for four piano notes that compel you to use your imagination. Even so, feelings pour forth by way of the angsty guitar solo.
2. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Teddy Swims (2021)
Unless you've been sleeping under a rock, then you're probably aware of the phenomenally versatile talent of YouTube darling Teddy Swims. He's a multi-talented cross-genre artist from Georgia whose real name is Jaten Dimsdale. I was first introduced to his music when commenters to my prior "Who Sang It Best?" articles started mentioning the singer. Now I'm a convert. His "Swims" moniker is borrowed from internet forum language, "Someone Who Isn't Me Sometimes" while "Teddy" refers to his husky physique.
In this slowed-down version of the classic holiday song, Swims skips the bells and heads right for the wounded heart. Using rich, soulful inflections and achy vibrato, this man who looks like he's been through some rough stuff (notice the face tattoos?) assures the listener that he really feels this Christmastime loneliness and longing. There's no question that the song narrator is alone. Swims makes you imagine that the narrator is probably sitting alone drinking in a dark apartment with no Christmas decorations up as he pines for his lost love.
3. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Elle King (2021)
To hell with the bells. Elle King starts off strong in this rendition with a rock flair. She's not just yearning and burning for the one who has rejected her at Christmastime. The woman is nearly doubled over in depression and pain, drawing out words like "loooove" and presenting her own spin using anguished intonations. The effect is splendid.
King is the daughter of Saturday Night Live comedian Rob Schneider and former model London King. Although King's sole hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, "Ex's & Oh's" (2014), made her a technical one-hit wonder, the talented singer has had a number of hits on the rock chart.
4. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Bon Jovi (1992)
This Eagles-like rendition (that even features Eagles guitarist Don Felder) really amps up the rock flavor and has Jon Bon Jovi belting it out towards the end. I don't doubt that the glam metal frontman is feeling the misery. Bon Jovi puts a whole lot of beggin' and hurtin' into this version of "Please Come Home for Christmas" in the way he drags out words such as "looove" and "pleeease." You couldn't do that if you were feeling fine.
The 1992 single was recorded for a holiday-themed charity album benefitting the Special Olympics. Supermodel Cindy Crawford starred in the accompanying music video. The single was re-released in 1994 under the band's name.
5. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Kelly Clarkson (2013)
Technically speaking, Kelly Clarkson performs impressive vocal maneuvers using her upper vocal range in this rendition of "Please Come Home for Christmas." There's a marked hollowness when it comes to truly feeling this song in her bones, however. Although this tune's finale is stirring, the songstress falls short at consistently and persuasively conveying that she internalizes the devastation of the narrator's perspective.
Who can blame her? When Clarkson recorded this 2013 version, the former American Idol winner was just settling down with her new husband, talent manager Brandon Blackstock. Compared with the song narrator's experience of desperation, heartbreak, and yearning, Clarkson was at a much different place emotionally in her own personal journey.
That was seven years and two kids before the couple's 2021 divorce. If Clarkson recorded the song now, she would likely be able to access emotional distress much more authentically for her audience, thanks to her own experiences with lonesomeness and betrayal.
6. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Laine Hardy (2020)
I like that this guy didn't bother to shave, brush his hair, or dress up for his video. Too damn depressed.
Satisfying and relatable, this version is offered up by the winner of Season 17 of American Idol. Laine Hardy injects both sincerity and sorrow into this song as he pines away for the lover who has abandoned him to face the holidays alone. There's a touch of scratchiness in his voice, almost like he's been crying. More experienced singers could take notes from his convincing delivery.
7. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by John Legend (2018)
If you want a safe, unremarkable version of this song that won't get you the least bit glum, then John Legend unquestionably delivers. While his vocals are smart and classy and the jazz ending is divine, Legend doesn't attempt to bring feelings into the equation. That's a big miss. Remember, this is a song narrator who has been dumped at Christmastime and is begging his ex for reconciliation. Come on, John, give us a little groveling and desperation!
Legend's version adopts the original lyrics, "glad, glad news" and repeats the fourth verse ("you'll never roam"). Moreover, the way the bell ringer on this track enthusiastically and steadily does their job throughout the whole song is noticeable. Although their work ethic is admirable, maybe they could have dialed back the intensity, ya know?
8. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Gary Allan (1997)
Don't get me wrong—I like country music—but the country vibe in this version is so strong that it exudes a rustic "hubba hubba" quality. It's too much of a good thang. With the twangy piano and the prominent guitar picking, there's almost a caricature quality here in the way Gary Allan tries to convey the narrator's emotion with empathy. That's not the effect any singer usually aims for.
9. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Darius Rucker (2014)
This uninspired effort by former Hootie & The Blowfish frontman-turned-country-musician Darius Rucker is actually a blues-infused rock number. The Grammy Award-winning artist oversings the latter third of the song and overenunciates some words. Then he seems relieved when the song finally ends. (He's not the only one.)
Additionally, there is a distracting heavy beat throughout with background music. The "Wagon Wheel" guy is capable of delivering so much more. Given his phenomenal talent, he sold us short here.
10. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Christina Perri (2013)
The kinda icky, off-tune sounding bells that kick off this version match Christina Perri's vinegary vocals. Sorry to say it, but her voice is whiny. Oh, but there's more. Rather than being artful, Perri's unusual inflections throughout the ditty are simply odd and unconvincing, thereby making her delivery emotionally uncompelling.
She should have stuck to what she did well: pop music. This artist is best known for two tunes, her 2011 breakout hit, "Jar of Hearts" and the 2012 love ballad, "A Thousand Years," part of the incredibly popular major motion picture soundtrack, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. This Christmas contribution wasn't a great career move. Let's pretend it didn't happen.
11. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Cody Simpson (2013)
Cody Simpson capitalizes on the loneliness and grief of the narrator by stripping the song down to just his vocals and the guitar—so much so that this version feels naked.
There's no question that he's feeling the burn of no friends and no partner at Christmas. This version is slow, and its lyrics are delivered with a soft gravely sincerity. Simpson speaks "please" briefly, thereby adding emphasis to his request that his beloved return home. His creative reinterpretation of "Please Come Home for Christmas" is so persuasive in its despondency that it may leave the listener wondering if he is okay.
12. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Pat Benatar (1990)
Well, on the positive side, let's give her points for risk-taking and creativity, however there's all kinds of chaos in what Grammy Award-winning rocker Pat Benatar does to this rendition of "Please Come Home for Christmas."
Starting with those initial gloomy funeral notes, this version is such an odd interpretation that it doesn't even sound like the same song. Benatar reinvents the holiday standard, making it sorely hers by giving it a dose of jazz that gets more pronounced as the song progresses. She also adds a small speaking part and belts out what she supposedly feels. I'm dumbfounded.
13. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Willie Nelson (2003)
Although Willie Nelson is a genuine country music legend—a real icon—his lazy rendition of this holiday favorite is flat, unsatisfying, and forgettable. Although the man has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and he was honored with a Lifetime Grammy Achievement Award, judging by this Christmas ditty, you may conclude that he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. Nelson's speak-singing and hesitation over the lyrics is both curious and offputting. Was this song undeserving of his exertion of energy to actually sing?
"Shotgun Willie" sticks with Charles Brown's original "glad, glad news" wording. He also adapts the lyrics ad hoc in minor ways and repeats the fourth stanza ("you'll never more roam"). As for emotion, Willie shows stoicism rather than expressing the narrator's sense of dejection. This Christmastime recording benefitted the Special Olympics.
14. "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Unwritten Law
Oh my. This isn't going to make her return home. Although good alternative rock and metal Christmas carols do exist, this hot mess isn't one of them. This migraine-inducing version could have been why she left, I dunno. The 1999 punk rock band offers up their version of heartache at Christmas as they beckon a lover back home with blaring drums and off-key scream-singing. Oh, this is a rough one.
© 2021 FlourishAnyway