The Abominable “O Holy Night”

Music — By on November 1, 2006 at 12:00 am

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(UPDATE: In November, 2007, one year after this article was posted, Burnside was contacted by a man claiming he performed this song. We conducted an interview. And now you know, the rest of the story.)

I’ve been waiting much of the year for this.

It’s the day after Halloween, the day when giant bags of candy drop to 50% off, cottonball snow starts falling in your local supermarkets and creepy Santas start trimming their beards for department store appearances. Oh, the commerciality of it all…

Okay, so it’s still early yet. We should probably wait until after Thanksgiving to truly mark the beginning of the Christmas season, but we all know Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity are locked and loaded for this year’s War on Christmas, so we thought we’d get in on the action, too.

Truth be told, I’ve just been waiting so long to unleash this on you, our dear readers, and I can’t wait another day.

Last year, I was exposed to some pretty funny things: MarriedtotheSea.com, the sports world of DeadSpin.com, the final season of “Arrested Development,” the rise of “The (American) Office,” the writings of Chad Gibbs and Aaron Donley on this site…the list could go on and on. But the funniest thing I experienced this year was a stunning rendition of what is arguably the most beautiful Christmas carol ever written, “O Holy Night.” Feel free to experience it by pressing play below and prepare to be amazed.

Get the Flash Player to listen to this audio player..

I was exposed to the abomination through Steve at TheSneeze.com, one of my favorite blogs. The story behind the rendition is a mystery, but one of Steve’s readers sent in what he’d heard about its origins. You can read about it here.

Some folks I talked to out of Nashville, folks “in the biz” as they say, claim this version was an audition tape for some of the record labels in town. The hidden identity of the singer actually makes the clip all the more awesome. Who’s to say whether the singing is intentional or honest? His identity is best kept secret, but it’s nice to think he’s out there, reveling in his forgotten fame, humming along like GOB and Franklin in a laundromat.

Arguments on the song’s sincerity are tough to pin down, but there are three distinct possibilities as to its origins.

The song is an intentional joke and the singer is actually very good.

I don’t buy this one. The cracks and key misses would be difficult for an adept singer to pull off.

The song is an intentional joke, but the singer is genuinely awful.

Believing the song is fake seems to be the approach of realists who also aren’t very funny. This is just an observation, and I’m not judging them. It’s just that they aren’t very funny. The intentionality is a very real possibility, but not nearly as fun as believing…

The song is an actual audition tape, and the singer is delusional.

This is what I want to think, but one factor keeps me guessing: if the end result is unintentional, it is almost too perfect. The song gets funnier and more absurd with each passing second, up until the singer pauses for breath on a particularly long note in the song’s waning moments. The horrifying precision of “O Holy Night” is both a testament to the fact that it must be sincere and its sole detracting fact.

One thing remains true, whether the song is intentional or not: if the origins of this version are based in the Church, it may be the most glorious three minutes and thirty-nine seconds of comedy the American church has ever produced.

I might be wrong, and that’s why we want to hear your feedback on the best instance of comedy (intentional or otherwise) within the realm of Christianity. Also, if you have any light to shed on our mysterious caroler, email us at reviews@burnsidewriterscollective.com. A link to this article (and, subsequently, the song) will appear in our “Links of the Moment” on the site’s main page from now until Christmas.

“You know it was…divine night.”

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    60 Comments

  • I’m having a really hard time listening to this. Must I finish it? PLEASE let me stop! Pretty please?

  • Jordan, what have you done? It’s incredawful! I may have to sneak this into something serious.
    In other “church oops” news, there’s this little nugget:
    St. James United Church of Christ in Limerick, Penn. had this verse as the header of their web site until bloggers had a field day in early February:
    “If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine” -Luke 4:7
    - Scott

  • Moments after I posted that comment, a friend reminded me of an, uh, interesting video that’s even better.
    I give you…Li’l Markie:
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=4PLFDGPJl40
    There’s another MP3 from this guy, but I care too much for all of you to subject you to it.

  • Tim says:

    This is better than William Hung! It was so painfully funny I broke into a cold sweat when he “hit” those high notes.

  • Angela says:

    Eric Cartman couldn’t have sung it better.

  • Lorenzo says:

    You guys don’t know bad singing until you hear karaoke bar singing in the Philippines (where I’m from). And these singers truly believe they are good. It’s not too uncommon to have shootouts at bars because of bad singing that offends other trigger happy bar-goers. Many a man has been shot on account of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” It’s ridiculous.
    This “O Holy Night” guy sounds like he’s faking it just to be funny. But funny nevertheless…

  • Jake Bouma says:

    This is hysterical. Thank you.

  • This is the most beatiful song in the world! When he hits that “fall…” man i cried it was so beautiful1

  • Nathan Birmingham says:

    that was so funny I laughed for
    5 min. that was awsome

  • amy says:

    god that was weirdly depressing to me. it reminds me of all the people who try out for american idol, and are handily rejected because they are godawful, and then they cry and say “I KNOW I’m a good singer” out in the hallway. Having seen THAT, I think this singer is, sadly, on the level.
    I also think this is what I sound like at a karaoke bar and am grateful for gun control.

  • I really believe this is intentionally funny, and I hope all of you whose aesthetic sensibilities were offended can take comfort in the thought. This strikes me as a particularly successful parody of the way certain Christians can often take something beautiful (the song itself) and make it cheesy and kitschy. We’ve all been squirming in the pews when this kind of thing was real; it’s such a release to be able to laugh at it.

  • Ashley says:

    I laughed so hard I cried when I first listened to this. I ‘ve never heard anything so exquistely awful in my life. That last note is either complete ignorance or genius.

  • Margaret says:

    That was the funniest thing I have ever heard. Honestly. Our band director was the first to discover it and he played it on repeat for two days everytime anyone came into the band room. I cried the first time I heard it and I literally couldn’t breathe. It was hilarious.
    I think he might actually think it is good, but it is more likely that it is intentionally funny, but he has a genuinly awful voice.
    Oh yeah, I’m also bringing it to my church retreat so we can share the joy. Haha, thanks for posting this.

  • maris says:

    sounds like a cross between steve martin, adam sandler and “michael scott” from the office…

  • Traci says:

    I am heading to the fireplace to get a hot poker and jam it into my now-bleeding eardrums to TRY to remove that from my mind and memory! HHHAH!!! This has GOT to be a joke!!! But funny as ever!

  • Nathan Mueller says:

    This is a waste of space, are you kidding. This is really really stupid. You must be really bored or supid to listen to the whole thing.

  • Nora L Guy says:

    Dude.
    Ouch!!!

  • Cammer the Hammer says:

    I think it’s funny how Nathan Mueller (2 comments up) spells “stupid” wrong when referring to all of us as such.
    About the song – brilliant!

  • Keith Poteat says:

    I think the singer possibly has cerebal palsey and is singing his heart out for The Lord Jesus Christ. To me, it is beautiful.

  • Tina says:

    uh…
    i really thought he was pretty good. he certainly has more talent than me. i don’t know what’s so funny about such a nice christmas carol. ;-)

  • Earl says:

    The sad thing is,
    I’m almost certain that this creature thinks it’s done more than fair justice to this beautiful hymn.

  • Kella says:

    It has to be a joke. While the losing pitch would be hard to accomplish, there are some things this guy does that hint at his real ability to sing. For one thing, the song gets progressively funnier, as if it were planned. But there are three things that really give it away: 1. The vowels. People who have never sung before or have but have never been trained don’t keep one constant vowel on long notes. For example the word “devine” an untrained singer might sing “de-vah-eeen” instead of leaving the dipthong for the very end, as a trained singer would. This guy’s vowels are good. 2. His use of breath support is actually kind of impressive, with the exception of breathing in the middle of “devine” at the very end. He breathes silently and he goes long phrases without breathing. Even trained singers have a hard time with this song and not breathing in the middle of words. 3. Although his pitch sags on many of the notes, on the high ones, he gets up there. Even if he has to scream it and makes horrible sounds. Untrained singers, when they can’t hit a note or don’t think they can hit a note, they change the tune and sing a lower one. But this guy always hits the note, even the high note at the end, which second sopranos have a hard time with. Therefore, this guy can actually sing.

  • Jordan Green says:

    Kella,
    Holy crap…that’s the kind of analysis we’re looking for.
    Jordan

  • ellie says:

    love it!

  • John Kimball says:

    I have a question about the lyrics. In the main chorus, the words “O Night Divine” are used repeatedly, and it seems to me the writer is worshiping the night itself as something divine. The second verse actually praises the Lord Jesus, and it rings more true to me than the main chorus. If the word “divine” can be used to mean “blessed” or “favored” then I’m OK with the wording, but “divine” strikes me as a term reserved for, well, the divine. I understand that believers can be participants in “the divine nature” of Jesus, but a night?
    Probably, though, the writer was enraptured with the significance of the event itself. The historical reality of the Divine One stepping down into the darkness of his creation gone terribly wrong (“in sin and error pining”) to redeem it is the most wonderful truth. That truth outshines the worst singing of the most beautiful (if theologically questionable) Christmas song ever.

  • Joy F says:

    That .. was beautiful.
    PLEASE keep it online, forever.
    As to whether a good singer could sing this bad – heck yes. Surely you’ve heard your talented singin’ friends goofing off like this. And surely it takes talent to be this horrendous – although perhaps talent of a special kind -

  • Evie says:

    As a Music Minister, I can tell you that this is one of the most famously butchered songs in local churches all over Christendom. Every wanna-a-be soloist loves this song. It’s glorious when sung well (which isn’t easy) and absolutely hideous otherwise. This rendition sounds like something my brother and I would make when goofing around to test one anothers bladder control. I think the singer is a passive-aggressive worship pastor with a great sense of humor who is letting off steam. I vote with Kella — there are hints to some training (and the actual quality of the recording sounds like something done on fairly decent equipment – not my living room, anyway). Thanks for the fun. Thank you, Lord, that you have a sense of humor with us!

  • sajha says:

    As I’ve shared this over the years I notice the musically gifted seem to find it the funniest. The nightmare precision of the song sets me laughing to the point of passing out. It starts out bad and astonishingly enough, continues to get worse until the end! It’s clearly intentional and the range and understanding of just how marvelously one can butcher such a beautiful song is hilarious!

  • beni says:

    If you don’t mean it, then don’t sing it. It’s simple. It’s a shame one puts abilities to disgrace, waste and probably further damage to his vocal cords. Ah, grow up.

  • KellyM says:

    omg.
    I think the windows in my house broke, and the dogs around the block are HOWLING!
    Plus, I can’t breathe.
    *dies laughing*

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