9 min read

Is Goo Goo Dolls’ Better Days a Christmas song?


Doing a little light holiday data baking on Christmas Eve, I was surprised to learn that Goo Goo Dolls’ Better Days is considered a Christmas song, at least by the keepers of this list at Wikipedia.

The song, the first single off their eighth studio album Let Love In, was released as a single in September 2005 and made it to No. 36 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and to No. 5 on Nielsen’s Soundscan in Canada.

The video, shot at Malibu Creek State Park in California’s Santa Monica Mountains, has nary a Christmas accoutrement. No twinkling lights, no decorated coniferous trees, not even any “boxes wrapped in strings” as John Rzeznik sings in the first verse. It looks more like an episode of Sleepy Hollow.

Watch the video on YouTube

The words do suggest an end-of-the-year reflection on the state of things, whether personal or about the world at large.

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
Cuz I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings
And desire and love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight’s the night the world begins again

I need someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And thats faith and trust and peace while we’re alive
And the one poor child who saved this world
And there’s 10 million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight’s the night the world begins again

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight’s the night the world begins again
Cuz tonight’s the night the world begins again

This whole dive was prompted by a tweet from Kaggle on Christmas Eve day highlighting a new dataset called “Billboard Top 100 Christmas Carol Dataset”. Its author, Sean Gilbert, said the data was a marriage of his Billboard chart data, which lists every song that appeared on the premier chart between 1958 and 2017, and the aforementioned Wikipedia list of Christmas songs.

I attempted to replicate his merge of the two files and came up with a slightly different final set, although the differences were mostly in the additional versions of songs called Amen in his list, not all of which were remakes of The Impressions’ original. (I reported this in the dataset’s Discussion page.)

In trying to reproduce the data, it appeared that he was limiting his data the times those songs charted in November, December, the obvious holiday months, and January, to capture any latent chart popularity.

As mentioned above, Better Days was released as a single on Sept. 20, 2005. Here’s a plot of its chart appearances (readers on mobile may have to flip their phones sideways to view the following charts and tables):

It’s interesting that the song peaked in its second week and was headed out of the chart in early November. But then it found a second wave, riding a new surge back up to No. 48. In the Goo Goo Dolls’ canon, it’s among the eight songs that spent at least 20 weeks on the Hot 100 chart.

All Goo Goo Dolls’ singles that appeared on Billboard’s Hot 100

Song Peak Weeks
Name 5 36
Slide 8 35
Black Balloon 16 34
Here Is Gone 18 20
Broadway 24 20
Better Days 36 20
Give A Little Bit 37 20
Stay With You 51 20
Iris 9 14
Big Machine 64 6
Before It’s Too Late (Sam And Mikaela’s Theme) 86 3
Real 92 1

Did the second wave through the holiday season in 2005 mean people were embracing it as a holiday song? Well, perhaps not.

Buried in some Wikipedia reference links is a December 2006 interview Goo Goo Dolls bassist Robby Takac gave to MIT’s student newspaper, The Tech. In it, he talked about how Better Days was actually first written for a album of holiday songs issued by Target.

“We got asked to write a Christmas song for a record that NBC and Target were putting out for their stores,” he said in the interview. “We looked on the list and everyone was doing ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ and just all the standard issue ‘let’s make a rock song out of a Christmas song’ bogocity that happens around Christmas every year.

“At the very last minute, Johnny and I were talking, and I said, ‘You should really try to write a song man cause this is full of standard issue guys playing Christmas songs as a rock band.’ The next day Johnny showed up with that song for a Christmas song, and we went in the studio and it was recorded within two days.”

Wikipedia also says the song was used by CNN and ABC for the networks’ coverage of Hurricane Katrina through the second half of 2005. Takac says in the interview it was used by CNN “as the musical backdrop to the whole (hurricane relief) campaign.”

So Better Days was written as a Christmas song, but perhaps received a push from its off-brand use during a wretched time in U.S. history.

Based on our dataset limitation of chart weeks in November, December and January, Better Days gets credit for 13 weeks. That places the Goo Goo Dolls solidly in sixth place for number of weeks on the Hot 100 chart with a Christmas song.

Top 20 artists by weeks on chart with a Christmas song

Performer Weeks on chart
Bobby Helms 20
Mariah Carey 20
Brenda Lee 19
Bing Crosby 16
David Seville and the Chipmunks 16
Goo Goo Dolls 13
New Kids on the Block 12
The Impressions 11
Justin Bieber 10
Merle Haggard 10
Engelbert Humperdinck 9
The Chad Mitchell Trio 9
Vic Dana 9
Bobby Rydell & Chuuby Checker 8
Dan Fogelberg 8
Eagles 8
Nat King Cole 8
Boyz II Men 7
Michael Holm 7
Roy Orbison 7

Despite the ubiquitousness of Christmas songs in December, very few have actually made it to the vaunted heights of the Hot 100 chart. The marriage of the two lists brings us down to 79 songs by 70 performers.

Better Days comes in, again, at No. 6 on the list of songs with the most weeks on the Hot 100 chart. Here’s the list of all 79 songs:

Christmas songs that appeared on Billboard’s Hot 100

Performer Song Count
Bobby Helms Jingle Bell Rock 20
Brenda Lee Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree 19
Mariah Carey All I Want For Christmas Is You 19
David Seville and the Chipmunks The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) 16
Bing Crosby White Christmas 14
Goo Goo Dolls Better Days 13
New Kids on the Block This One’s For The Children 12
The Impressions Amen 11
Justin Bieber Mistletoe 10
Merle Haggard If We Make It Through December 10
Engelbert Humperdinck Winter World Of Love 9
The Chad Mitchell Trio The Marvelous Toy 9
Vic Dana Little Altar Boy 9
Bobby Rydell & Chubby Checker Jingle Bell Rock 8
Dan Fogelberg Same Old Lang Syne 8
Eagles Please Come Home For Christmas 8
Nat King Cole The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You) 8
Boyz II Men Let It Snow 7
Michael Holm When A Child Is Born 7
Roy Orbison Pretty Paper 7
Band-Aid Do They Know It’s Christmas? 6
Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers Monsters’ Holiday 6
Connie Francis Baby’s First Christmas 6
Dancer, Prancer and Nervous The Happy Reindeer 6
Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass My Favorite Things 6
The Star Wars Intergalactic Droid Choir & Chorale What Can You Get A Wookiee For Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb?) 6
Ariana Grande Santa Tell Me 5
Brook Benton This Time Of The Year 5
Chris Brown This Christmas 5
Insane Clown Posse Santa’s A Fat Bitch 5
Jim Croce It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way 5
Kenny G Auld Lang Syne 5
Colbie Caillat Mistletoe 4
John Denver Christmas For Cowboys 4
Kenny Rogers The Greatest Gift Of All 4
Los Del Rio Macarena Christmas 4
98 Degrees This Gift 3
Bobby Darin Christmas Auld Lang Syne 3
Charles Brown Please Come Home For Christmas 3
Chuck Berry Run Rudolph Run 3
Coldplay Christmas Lights 3
Felice Taylor It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart It’s Spring) 3
Greg Lake I Believe In Father Christmas 3
Jim Reeves Snow Flake 3
Kelly Clarkson Underneath The Tree 3
Ray Stevens Santa Claus Is Watching You 3
Santo & Johnny Twistin’ Bells 3
Sarah McLachlan River 3
SHeDAISY Deck The Halls 3
Willis the Guard & Vigorish Merry Christmas In The NFL 3
Bing Crosby Silent Night 2
Glee Cast Baby, It’s Cold Outside 2
Glee Cast Last Christmas 2
NewSong The Christmas Shoes 2
Perry Como Christmas Dream 2
Stan Freberg Green Christmas 2
The Drifters feat. Clyde McPhatter and Bill Pinkney White Christmas 2
The Fray Happy Xmas (War Is Over) 2
The Killers feat. Toni Halliday A Great Big Sled 2
Wham! Last Christmas 2
Aly & AJ Greatest Time Of Year 1
Andy Williams It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year 1
Ariana Grande Last Christmas 1
Bobby Darin Child Of God 1
Burl Ives A Holly Jolly Christmas 1
Elmo & Patsy Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer 1
Faith Hill Where Are You Christmas? 1
Glee Cast Do They Know It’s Christmas? 1
Glee Cast Welcome Christmas 1
Jose Feliciano Feliz Navidad 1
Kelly Clarkson I’ll Be Home For Christmas 1
Mariah Carey Oh Santa! 1
Michael Buble All I Want For Christmas Is You 1
Michael Buble It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas 1
Sam Smith Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 1
The Browns feat. Jim Edward Brown Blue Christmas 1
The Lettermen Our Winter Love 1
The Tractors The Santa Claus Boogie 1
Train Shake Up Christmas 1

Enjoy your Christmas playlists today.

Boxing Day Shopping Update: Here’s the actual holiday CD on which Better Days appeared, the 2005 Sounds of the Season: An NBC Holiday Collection, a series NBC seems to have released from 2003 to 2005 (with a second 2005 CD called Sounds Of The Season: The NBC R&B Holiday Collection).

You can purchase a used version of both on Amazon for as low as $1.49 ($4.58 for the R&B CD). Better Days is the first track, and Gather Round, which appears to be an original Earth, Wind and Fire song written by Maurice White and producer David Foster, closes the CD. I have not become an Amazon affiliate and please don’t buy 13-year-old CDs unless you are an Earth, Wind and Fire completist.

Photo: Pixabay via Pexels