While it’s pretty much impossible to spoil a Christmas special that’s 90 percent musical numbers, we will be digging into the nitty gritty details of “A Very Murray Christmas” below. So do yourself a favor and first watch the 55-minute special on Netflix if you’re at all worried about which celebrities sing what songs, when George Clooney shows up or how often Bill Murray goes solo. Plus, then you can vote in our poll at the bottom where we ask you what your favorite number was from the special. Now then, from worst to best, the best of “A Very Murray Christmas”:
“Let It Snow!” (Version 1) – Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, Julie White, Paul Shaffer, Dimitri Dimitrov
A brief, faux-joyous transitionary number actually feels as light and fun as fans are hoping for from these fine folks. But Murray & Co. are just getting warmed up for his holiday special as they walk down the stairs and are rudely interrupted by Michael Cera’s pushy manager (who never returns after a brief, somewhat inexplicable cameo), cutting off the song before it can gain steam. If this would’ve lasted longer — especially to highlight Poehler, an underutilized talent here — “Let It Snow!” could’ve been top tier. Instead, it merely serves its purpose: keeping the spirit up and moving the story forward.
“Silent Night” – Miley Cyrus
A fine, straightforward iteration of a song so pure it’s odd to hear Cyrus the wild child singing it, “Silent Night” was actually cooked up by the singer and pianist Paul Schaffer the day of the shoot. Coppola made a quick decision to try to fit in another song and asked Cyrus if she knew anything. Instead, she and Shaffer learned “Silent Night” over their lunch break and recorded the version you see in the special the same day. “At lunch they learned ‘Silent Night,'” Coppola said in a statement. “I was so impressed that she was such a pro and was up for it; she was really sweet and gung-ho.” Props for getting the job done, but the best thing about this song is how it breaks up the rhythms between “Sleigh Ride” and “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.”
“Jingle Bells” – Bill Murray
Murray couldn’t even make it through one song for his show-within-the-show Christmas special, getting a few bars into this holiday classic before breaking down on stage. Understandably frustrated over a lack of attendance, the brevity of the number actually works to its advantage, as this is one song we’ve heard a few too many times. Using the simple, repetitive jingle to exemplify Murray’s frustrations with the failed special is a clever way to be inclusive and selective at once — even if it’s not among the best of the lot.
“Let It Snow” (Version 2) – Bill Murray & Miley Cyrus featuring George Clooney
The best parts bookend the full rendition of “Let It Snow,” Murray, Cyrus and Clooney’s closing number to our star’s booze-fueled dream sequence. First, Murray has to fight off the overly affectionate back-up dancers as they tickle and play with our host, spurring him to sing one more song. Cyrus performs well enough, but it’s Clooney’s rush to support Murray as he lifts up the tiny singer that gets the biggest chuckle. “Thank you,” Murray audibly murmurs to the jokester after he mocks the older comedian for struggling to effortlessly sweep Cyrus off her feet. Oh, you two. Even after “Monuments Men,” we still want more.
“Sleigh Ride” – Bill Murray & Miley Cyrus featuring George Clooney
The first song during Murray’s dream of the “Holiday Special That Could Have Been” sets a joyful, lush tone for the “A Very Murray Christmas” grand finale. George Clooney making martinis on the piano and Murray coolly dancing along to the carefree number are satisfying highlights, even if it would have been nice to see a little bit more from the game Hollywood A-listers for this grand unveiling. Oh, and Miley Cyrus is there, doing Miley Cyrus things.
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” – Bill Murray
A simple, loving way to end a special that could be described similarly, Murray’s morning-after rendition of the Christmas Day classic hits all the right notes — even as the consistently sad comedian steps to the window with a touch of melancholy, overlooking a city (and a world) he’s been entertaining for more than 40 years.
“I Saw the Light (Only You)” – Jason Schwartzman & Rashida Jones, David Johansen & Maya Rudolph
The only number that’s not really a Christmas song still fit right in thanks to the lovely vocals of Schwartzman, Jones, David Johansen (who co-starred with Murray in “Scrooged”) and Rudolph, as well as the graceful, easy melody provided by Mr. Shaffer. It surely could’ve been cut, but a few surprises here and there in a musical variety show are always welcome. “Only You” ultimately earned its spot because it doesn’t belong, but works anyway — the mark of a wise music director (Shaffer).
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Bill Murray & Jenny Lewis
The first injection of pure vocal talent pairs nicely (for the most part) with Murray’s improvised (or, at least, novel) lyrics in what starts as a forced duet and ends up being a charming foundation for this special’s core story.
“Christmas Blues” – Bill Murray
Murray may not be a classically-trained vocalist, but he does have the classic presence of a lounge singer — a role he made legendary singing alongside Paul Shaffer about 40 years ago. Now, he’s back and slips into “Christmas Blues” naturally, providing an ideal, tone-setting introduction for the special by giving us all we really need: Bill Murray in a tuxedo, bow-tie undone, wearing reindeer antlers and crooning along with Paul Shaffer’s lovely piano.
“Fairy Tale of New York” – Bill Murray, et all
Simply the perfect song for a group of boisterous Christmas carolers who’ve dipped into the eggnog a bit prematurely, “Fairy Tale of New York” is a well-timed piece to be built around Murray handing out a round of midnight shots for the now-unified guests. The variant individual vocals are distinguished by the in-tune choir, and Murray’s decreasing sobriety only aids the song’s overall effect. If “A Very Murray Christmas” was actually intended to be a soundtrack for holiday parties forevermore, this is the number all your friends will rally around.
“Alone on Christmas Day” – Phoenix with Bill Murray
One of director, writer and executive producer Sofia Coppola’s favorite bands splendidly covers the little-known Beach Boys song “Alone on Christmas Day” after Murray unsuccessfully polls the rest of the hotel staff for successful tunes. One of the only fresh numbers of the special, and so good you wish there was more, this performance also benefits from Murray’s humorous interjections (just singing, but still funny) and bringing in Phantom Planet drummer Jason Schwarzman to lend two hands.
“Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'” – Bill Murray & George Clooney
George Clooney popping out from behind a Christmas tree is my everything. His goofy, innocent stare and subtly irregular warbling of the four-word chorus fits so perfectly with the creepy vibe of this sex-crazed holiday tune — it’s too much goodness to take in during the song’s brief runtime. Still, it might not be quite as grand if everyone overstayed their welcome, so this one earns a spot near the top.
“Do You Hear What I Hear?” – Bill Murray & Chris Rock
If we were giving an award for best celebrity guest, it would be an absolute toss-up between George Clooney (who earns bonus points for allowing all those “Monuments Men” jokes) and Chris Rock, Murray’s “rapper” “friend” who reluctantly joins the icon on stage for “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Seeing the duo in matching black turtlenecks and obnoxiously large mistletoe pinned to their shirts was enough, but Rock’s shifty eyes — hilariously illustrating how uncomfortable he is — and the kicker at the end makes this an absolute gem. Plus, they don’t sound that bad together.
“Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” – Maya Rudolph
Hot damn, Maya Rudolph! We’ve known for a while now that you’ve got some serious pipes, but seeing you decked out in glorious white fur, belting out what’s possibly the most emotionally powerful Christmas song ever is simply a sight to see. In a release from Netflix, co-writer Mitch Glazer said, “Maya chose that Darlene Love song and crushed it. In the background, you hear Bill [Murray] laughing, because it was just so overpowering live.” It’s a bit of a clunky transition from Schwartzman’s lovelorn fiance, but who cares when it sounds that good?