Watching the Saturday Night Live Christmas special last week, I was reminded how the show has revered -- and skewered -- the holiday season over the years. From Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song" to Alec Baldwin's "Schweddy Balls," the show's churned out enough holiday-themed material to keep us laughing for 12 days of Christmas, or at least "eight crazy nights."
Those December episodes have also featured some incredible music. With more than a few dozen to choose from, it was easy picking 12 SNL musical guests who made our holidays merry and bright.
MUSE, Season 35 The lineup was quite handsome this night, with James Franco as host and Brit-rockers Muse handling the musical duties. They sounded great, performing "Uprising" and "Starlight" even though their bombastic live-show lasers had been replaced by twinkling Christmas lights.
DESTINY'S CHILD, Season 30 Maybe their song selections for the night -- "Solider" and "Cater 2 U" -- aren't at the top of your Destiny's Child playlist, but who cares? Bey and Co. looked so fine everyone on the stage (including Li'l Wayne, who joined on "Soldier") had to be searching frantically for mistletoe.
MARTHA REEVES/THE STYLISTICS, Season 1 Back when SNL was just a chick at the peacock network and not yet a ruler of the roost, it showed how it would use music to make its legendary mark on pop culture. The first season's musical guests included Joe Cocker, Jimmy Cliff and Simon & Garfunkel.
The holiday special was a soulful one. In addition to Reeves and The Stylistics, repping Motown and Philly, respectively, Garrett Morris led the cast and guest host Candice Bergen in a spirited rendition of "Winter Wonderland."
FRANK ZAPPA, Season 2 By Christmas 1976, the show had already become a force. Season 1's musical guests were impressive, but the show's early success brought even bigger acts -- George Harrison, Brian Wilson, Santana, The Band, Chuck Berry -- to the 30 Rock stage.
Zappa at Christmas proved SNL wasn't going to trot out stars singing carols every December. He did three tunes, including a personal favorite, "I'm the Slime," which included a guest spot by the voice of SNL, Don Pardo. Only the Father of the Mothers could perform a song decrying TV on an exciting new TV show and get away with it.
THE SPINNERS/THE YALE WHIFFENPOOFS, Season 7 What I remember best about this show is how Bill Murray scared holy hell out of us Cold War kids by announcing during the live show the Soviets had declared martial law on Poland. I wasn't sure what it meant, but seeing Nick the Lounge Singer delivering somber news was chilling.
As for the music, The Spinners did three of their biggest hits, including "I'll Be Around," and the Whiffenpoofs delivered an a cappella Christmas medley.
STEVIE NICKS, Season 9 The white witch does white Christmas. Nicks performed "Stand Back" at the height of her solo success in 1983.
HOLE, Season 20 A Courtney Love Christmas. How amazing does that sound? I want it to be an annual holiday special, please. The juxtaposition of Yuletide wreaths and her grunge-charged performances of "Violet" and "Doll Parts" were an early Christmas present for us fans.
List continues on the next page.
PAUL McCARTNEY, Season 38 I'd just seen Sir Paul at Minute Maid Park a month earlier and was still in awe when he played SNL in December 2012. The "Sirvana" thing was cool, but "Wonderful Christmastime" just never disappoints. If you're not ready for egg nog after this one, you're probably devising an evil plan to steal Whoville's toys.
MICHAEL BUBLE, Season 37 Christmas standards like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" were made for Buble and he delivered. But his "Christmas duets" skit with SNL players imitating Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift proved the crooner has a fun sense of humor.
LUCIANO PAVAROTTI/VANESSA WILLIAMS, Season 24 The same episode featuring Pete Schweddy's edible holiday balls ("Wow! My mouth's watering just thinking about those balls!") gets a dose of class with one of opera's greats sharing the stage with Williams for "Adeste Fideles."
ELVIS COSTELLO, Season 3 Most SNL and many music fans know the story of the act that got Elvis Costello banned from the show for years. A last-minute replacement for the Sex Pistols, Costello was asked by NBC brass not to perform the song "Radio, Radio" because of its anti-corporate-media message.
He brought The Attractions onstage, started a different tune, stopped the band mid-song and launched into "Radio, Radio." Merry Christmas, Lorne Michaels. Lost in all the fuss was just how great the song sounded live. Classic song, classic SNL moment.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, Season 32 SNL fans look forward to any episode featuring the multi-talented Timberlake and will get a chance to see him handle musical guest duties again for the 2013 holiday episode this weekend. With Jimmy Fallon hosting, expect Timberlake to appear in some soon-to-be classic skits.
In 2006, he performed "What Goes Around/Comes Around," on the show, which was entirely overshadowed by his viral-video short, "Dick In a Box," with SNL's Andy Samberg.
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