A lot of people like to complain about Christmas music, but I think that’s because they’re stuck listening to the junk they play at grocery stores and Starbucks. There’s actually some pretty fun, lesser known contemporary Christmas music available to you right on iTunes (once you dig past their predictable and bland splash page recommendations). Here’s an alternative playlist I’ve put together that goes over pretty well with my family (when we’re not listening to John Denver and the Muppets, of course).
Jingle Bells – Barenaked Ladies
My knowledge of this band is limited, but until I heard this schizophrenic take on “Jingle Bells,” I didn’t think it would be possible to find a version that works outside of a singalong. Level up for including the “Batman smells” version.
Snow Day – Bleu
Not a Christmas song, but it’s not hard to recall a time when snow days were the best post-Christmas gift I could receive. And it’s Bleu, who can do no wrong (when he’s not doing something wrong).
Frosty the Snowman – Cocteau Twins
It’s a good thing Elizabeth Fraser stops singing in tongues just long enough for us to figure out this is “Frosty the Snowman,” because you wouldn’t really guess from the arrangement, but that’s why I enjoy it. This song feels like a snowy day, so I hope Bleu knows about it.
Little Drummer Boy – The Dandy Warhols
There are many good versions of this song available, none of which are by metal bands. This one’s “wall of sound” approach takes a heavy but unique spin on it.
Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
This song is everywhere at this time of year, and for good reason; it’s a fantastic pop song that could be played all year round if it didn’t have the word “Christmas” in it. I’m surprised the Hallmark channel hasn’t turned this story of a woman with apparently no family or friends or interest in Christmas but who still wants to make herself a big dinner and finds love in a grocery store on Christmas Eve into a crappy movie with some Beverly Hills 90120 castoffs (old or new version). RIP, Patty.
Silver Bells - Venus Hum
Look, I know I’m getting into Starbucks territory here, and for that I apologize. But OK Go’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” which actually occupies this spot in the playlist isn’t available on iTunes. They quit caring about music five or six years ago, anyway, so why should I continue caring about them? They can celebrate Christmas by making their fifth or fifteenth “viral” video for a three year old song, you can celebrate it by listening to Venus Hum.
Christmas Passing Through – The Roches
Another replacement, as “You’ll Never Find My Christmas” by Bishop Allen isn’t in iTunes, either. This song’s a bit more sincere, anyway. Take a moment and be at peace this season.
Blue Christmas – Nicole Atkins
Yet another replacement (Love Psychedelico’s “Merry X’mas” should be here) means I’m suggesting a song I never really liked no matter who sang it…until now. Nicole Atkins could sing “The Hokey Pokey” and I’d consider it Grammy-worthy. But let’s pick things up again, shall we?
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Relient K
An actual Christian rock band records an actual Christmas song! Mon Dieu! This has swiftly become one of my favorites in this playlist; aggressive and powerful, but totally sincere. I should pay more attention to these fellows.
I Did It for the Toys – Dance Hall Crashers
This one? Not so sincere. Dance Hall Crashers present us with the tender tale of a Jewish girl hooking up with a drunken Santa Claus for materialistic purposes. Man, I really miss this band. I’d tolerate another ska resurgence if they’d come along with it.
Actually, no, I wouldn’t.
O Come All Ye Faithful – Weezer
Exactly what you’d expect (and want) a Weezer interpretation of a traditional Christmas song to sound like.
O Come O Come Emmanuel – Belle & Sebastian
I have no idea who these people are. I have no idea how I found this song. I just think it’s pretty, and so will your mom if you’re playing this on your way to grandma’s house on Christmas day. After DHC and Weezer, she’ll need a bit of a break.
Sleigh Ride – Persephone’s Bees
You may not think surf-punk when you think of sleigh rides, but the members of Persephone’s Bees thankfully do. A very fun version of a very fun song.
You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch – Whirling Dervishes
Purists out there will likely dismiss any version of this song not sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, but this arrangement takes the song into brand new territory, and is just as fun. Also fun? Mojo Nixon & the Toadliquors‘ version, if only because Mojo sounds drunk-mad at the Grinch.
O Tannenbaum – They Might Be Giants
And speaking of drunk, so goes this entire arrangement of O Tannenbaum. That may have something to do with the fact that John sings it in German. Be sure to also check out “Santa Claus” while you’re in iTunes…that’s some serious groove. Remember when we all thought these guys dumping the synths was a bad idea? So young and foolish were we.
All I Want for Christmas is You – Bowling for Soup
The tragedy here is that I can’t find Billy Idol’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” on iTunes. Billy’s whole Happy Holidays album is surprisingly good, sounding not like “Rebel Yell” but like your uncle gathering everyone around the organ for a Chirstmas singalong, which would totally suck except that your uncle is Billy friggin’ Idol! Anyway, I’ll replace it here with Bowling for Soup’s version of “All I Want for Christmas is You.” It’s a better song than they could’ve written on their own, and a better version than Mariah Carey could pull off. Everybody wins!
Sweet Christmas - Shonen Knife
There are two versions of this song available, and each is totally Shonen Knife. You can get the rocking punk/pop version, or you can get the adorable acoustic version. Or just get “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” No matter what you do here, isn’t it about time we celebrated Christmas food? If I were in Shonen Knife, I’d totally write a song about my Aunt Susie’s breakfast casserole.
Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas – Eels
I have literally never heard another song by this band, but they won me over at “Baby Jesus…born to rock.” I’d be happy to let this song close the playlist, but we still need to visit a couple of our friends for an impromptu Christmas duet, right?
Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy 2010 – Jack Black and Jason Segel
“Pretty freakin’ awesome” indeed.
So, that’s my Christmas playlist…one of them, anyway. We’ll save the others for next year. In the meantime, be sure to suggest some of your own alternative favorites in the comments section. And hey, have a jolly Christmas, everyone.