It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” according to one of the most popular songs of the season. Yet good cheer isn’t what everyone experiences during the holidays. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of some of the saddest yuletide songs ever recorded.
Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Christmastime is Here”: There are lyrics sung by kids in this cornerstone song from the 1965 TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” but Guaraldi’s original instrumental arrangement communicates all you need to know about the glum reverie inherent in the season.
Merle Haggard, “If We Make it Through December”: An unemployed blue-collar worker’s angst drives Haggard’s 1973 classic: “I got laid off down at the factory/ And their timing’s not the greatest in the world/ Heaven knows I been workin’ hard/ I wanted Christmas to be right for Daddy’s girl.”
The Kinks, “Father Christmas”: Lead singer and songwriter Ray Davies has always taken the side of the little guy, and that’s who he salutes in this band’s punk-infused 1977 holiday single: “Have yourself a merry, merry Christmas/ Have yourself a good time/ But remember the kids who got nothin’/ While you’re drinkin’ down your wine.”
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Fear, “F--- Christmas”: L.A.’s notorious punk outfit’s salute to the happiest season of the year in its acerbic 1982 single. Here singer Lee Ving wails: “Don’t despair, just because it’s Christmas/ Children, they’re all so gay at Christmas/ All the children on the street/ Hope they get something good to eat/ But for me it’s not so great.”
Shelby Lynne, “Xmas”: On this track from her 2010 album “Merry Christmas,” the country singer-songwriter minces no words when communicating what the season brings up for her: “Christmas makes me sad/ That I’m being bad/ Holiday cocktails make me forget/ The gift that Daddy never opened.”
Joni Mitchell, “River”: The Canadian singer-songwriter’s 1970 song about a holiday breakup has become a contemporary classic, turning up on dozens of other artists’ seasonal albums. Still, nobody tops Mitchell’s sense of loss and hurt as she sings, “I’m so hard to handle/ I’m selfish and I’m sad/ Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby/ That I ever had/ I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”
Buck Owens, “Blue Christmas Lights”/“It’s Christmas Time for Everyone but Me”: The achingly beautiful steel guitar work of Buckaroos member Tom Brumley underscores the pain felt in two songs from Owens’ sterling 1965 album “Christmas With Buck Owens and His Buckaroos.” In “It’s Christmas Time for Everyone but Me,” Owen’s laments: “All of everything is nothing dear without you/ And it’s hard to live with just a memory/ For I need your love to give each day a meaning/ Oh it’s Christmastime for everyone but me.”
John Prine, “Christmas in Prison”: The acclaimed Chicago singer-songwriter vividly conjures what the season might look like through the eyes of someone doing hard time: “The searchlight in the big yard/ Swings round with the gun/ And spotlights the snowflakes/ Like the dust in the sun.”
Sufjan Stevens, “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well You Deserved It)”: The prolific indie rocker has a lot to say about the holidays. If his 42-song box set “Christmas” from 2006 wasn’t enough, he’s just released “Silver and Gold,” a five-CD set with 58 additional yuletide songs. This one from his 2006 collection looks at a relationship that gets more dysfunctional during the holidays. “This time of year you always disappear/ You tell me not to call ... And when the door is closed you’re wearing different clothes/ Or hiding in the paper, pretending not to hear.”