Last time, I reviewed one of the many adaptions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Repetition can be a big part of the holidays– we see the same images everywhere, do the same traditions, and we listen to the same bits of Christmas music over and over in stores and the radio. Now, tradition is an important part of any holiday, but whether you work in retail, or just shop there, hearing the same music without end can have… certain effects.

Christmas Music

I find that each year, I need to spend some time listening to off the beaten path Christmas music just to stay sane. So to help you out too, here are, in no particular order, ten selections (both songs and albums) to help you get through the season with your sanity.

1. “Father Christmas” – The Kinks

The Kinks are both one of the greatest and most underrated bands in rock. Amid their many classic songs is ‘Father Christmas’ a holiday song that manages to twinkle and punch you at the same time. The lyrics detail the nostalgia of getting toys at Christmas, but also a mall Santa getting beaten up by kids wanting money. The song does hold a message past the mean-spirited beginning though.

Ray Davies sings about how getting toys only matters if you have cash already (‘save all your toys for the little rich boys’) and how there are still desperate people at the holidays (‘Bring my daddy a job cause he needs one’). The song ends with a reminder to enjoy the holidays but think about kids who don’t have anything. A tuneful piece of social consciousness that brings up the meaning behind the holiday hoopla.

2. “A Christmas Together:” John Denver and the Muppets

Christmas Music

This is one of my earliest Christmas memories and remains a favorite today. This album is the soundtrack to a (sadly forgotten) Christmas special with John Denver and the Muppets. The album holds all the charm and quality one would expect from a Jim Henson project. The songs are largely traditional Christmas songs, with a few originals and a Beach Boys song tossed in.

Regardless, there’s no sense of commercialism in the entire album. Performed with woodwinds, pianos, and acoustic guitar, the album feels like it was recorded on Christmas Eve by a group of friends. Denver’s clear vocals are on point, and the rest of Muppet performers come right along, especially on ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’ ‘The Christmas Wish,’ and the Muppet classic ‘When The River Meets The Sea.’ Put it on on Christmas Eve and it’ll put you right in the holiday mood.

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3. “The Season’s Upon Us” – Dropkick Murphys

Boston Celtic punkers Dropkick Murphys don’t seem like the most likely people to record Christmas music. However, a few years ago they went ‘what the hell’ and recorded this chestnut. ‘The Season’s Upon Us’ glides in with guitar, mandolin, and accordion, but kick into gear with Ken Kasey’s rough vocals.

The song gleefully travels through the living hell of a family Christmas — evil children, eavesdropping mothers, drunk fathers, and arguing sisters. At the same time, the music fits the season, and there’s a tongue in cheek delivery as if the band knew there’s something screwy with every family. The song captures Christmas while admitting it’s not a Norman Rockwell painting, and for that, they deserve some eggnog. Or some Jameson’s.

4. “All Alone On Christmas” – Darlene Love

This song is a forgotten gem from the HOME ALONE II soundtrack. Steven Van Zandt (of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) wrote this Phil Spector-style soul gem that explodes with 60’s swing. Van Zandt brought the rest of the E Street Band to play on this track (because nobody could blow the sax like Clarence Clemons) and Darlene Love meets them with her soaring vocals; an R&B staple that needs to be remembered.

5. Christmas Songs EP – Bad Religion

Christmas Music

OK, if the Murphys seem like an odd choice for a Christmas song, then Bad Religion is REALLY odd. A hardcore punk legend that uses religion as a metaphor for conformity, the band recorded this seven-song EP a few years ago. They ironically filled it with traditional Christmas music you would typically hear in a church — “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” even “White Christmas” now blazes forth with punk rock intensity.

The band never loses the melody though and performs the songs hard, but relatively straightforward. It’s good for someone wanting a little ‘oomph’ in their carols, but be careful to remember which version to sing if you go to church.

6. “Whatever U Celebrate” – Reel Big Fish

The California ska-punks that brought us “Sell Out” back in the 90s has kept making music ever since. Two years ago, they released their own Christmas EP, with original and cover songs. Here the band lose their usual snark and send out a holiday greeting.

However, the exact holiday is left open, as the band runs through wishes for every holiday celebrated in December. It’s arguably the first universal holiday song and a perfect song for any holiday party with a lot of people involved.

7. ‘Christmastime’ – Smashing Pumpkins

This song was first released on the old A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS series, in which artists would record Christmas music for charities. The albums brought in a wide range of artists, but one of the more unique entries was 90’s alt-rockers The Smashing Pumpkins.

The Pumpkins had a reputation as angry hard rockers, but they put that aside for a dreamy Christmas ballad. The band adds plenty of orchestration (typical for their ballads) as Billy Corgan croons a gentle melody. As with all Pumpkins songs, his voice can be grating, but overall, it’s a sweet song for Christmas morning.

8. “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)” – Ramones

One of the (few) highlights of the BRAIN DRAIN album. The Ramones stamped their name on Christmas music with this one. Musically its the same as any Ramones song– frantic chords, short length, solid beat. The fun comes from Joey Ramone telling the story of trying to keep things happy at Christmas while lamenting that the holiday spirit is absent. It’s short and funny, but with just enough reality to hit home. A great song for holiday frustrations.

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9. ‘Christmas in Hollis’ – RUN D.M.C

This song is here simply because there are not a lot of Christmas rap songs. Thankfully, the legendary RUN D.M.C showed everyone that it could be done, and done well. The song mixes the hard beats the band always brought, but centers around family dinner and finding Santa’s wallet.

It manages to be positive without being saccharine (which not a lot of modern Christmas songs do). It doesn’t feel out of place for RUN D.M.C either. Now we just need a few more like this. Jay-Z, we’re looking at you…

10. ‘Fairytale of New York’ – The Pogues featuring Kristy MacColl

The Pogues were the very first Celtic punk band but scored their biggest hit with this Christmas song. The amazing thing is how many elements comprise this song. It’s Irish, it’s Christmas, it’s a love song, and it’s a breakup song. The story has singers Shane McGowan and Kristy MacColl arguing on Christmas Eve about broken promises and what they’ve lost.

In fact, half the fun is counting the profanities they throw at each other (no other piece of Christmas music does that!). However, there’s an underlying sense of love in the song that comes to the surface at the end. So like many songs on this list, there’s plenty of truth in it. Regardless, this is a beautiful song to end Christmas to. So when the party’s over — put this one and go dance in the snowfall.

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One Comment

  1. Nicholas Ulanowski

    Nicholas Ulanowski

    December 12, 2017 at 9:32 am

    This is fantastic…


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