A Christmas Playlist Sure to … Sleigh You (Sorry!)
Out-of-the-Way Holiday Classics
by Carter Davis
At the risk of sounding like a certain curmudgeon who lives in a mountainside cave and tries to steal Christmas from nearby villagers, there are too many songs specific to the various holidays many of us celebrate in December. Way too many. Some are great; many aren’t; and the rest are just meh. But there exist some under-appreciated gems among the tried-and-true, the worn-out and the flat-out unwelcome. Here are a few Christmas-themed songs sure to brighten your mood if you’re feeling a little Claus-trophobic.
Oh, and no judgment, but there’s no Pentatonix, Mariah Carey or Michael Bublé in this rundown. If that’s your jam, keep doing your thing, but this isn’t the playlist you’re looking for.
Strictly Old School
“Jingle Bell Rock” — Chet Atkins
Is this the perfect Christmas song? Maybe. Probably. And this swinging take on oft-covered ground is likely the best way to spread holiday cheer. Loud. And for everyone to hear.
“Let It Snow” (Die Hard Soundtrack) — Vaughn Monroe
Die Hard is the best Christmas movie of all time. Facts. And this 1946 version of a timeless Christmas classic underscores the closing scene of the film where our hero rides off into the night. So is this, then, the best use of a Christmas song in a movie? That feels right.
“One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas” — The Muppet Show (Kermit the Frog)
Aside from Porky Pig’s stuttering take on “Blue Christmas,” this could be the Christmas song most likely to elicit warm smiles. I have a hard time imagining any person, place, thing or Muppet more earnest than Kermit the Frog assuring us “the world is at its best when people love and care.”
“Merry Christmas Baby” — Chuck Berry
This tune is sultry-yet-swinging, and it’s perfect for the calm that often follows the carnage of opening presents. But can we PLEASE talk about how the lyrics mostly explore how much ol’ Chuck loves his baby (who gave him the best gifts … like a “hi-fi”), yet later in the song he says Santa brought all the gifts?! Is Santa Chuck’s baby? Is he not-so-secretly crushing on St. Nick? Is this low-key one of the most progressive songs in Christmas history?
“Do You Hear What I Hear?” — Copeland
Shimmering, echo-drenched and waaaaay ahead of its time with regard to its over-the-top use of Auto-Tune, this modern take on a classic will almost make you forget the sappy Bing Crosby version. Almost.
“Fairytale Of New York” — Dustin Kensrue
Yes, we’ve all heard this song, and the Pogues version will forever be the gold standard against which all others are measured. However, this simple take — it’s just an acoustic guitar and vocals — is nothin’ to sneeze at. Plus it eliminates the more, ahem, problematic sections. You know exactly the parts we’re talking about.
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” — Bad Religion
Dichotomy makes the world go ‘round — and coincidentally, that word is one of the easier to understand in any Bad Religion lyric. That said, the contrast of a band full of atheists performing a song about the birth of Jesus with unhinged enthusiasm and pitch-perfect three-part harmonies is simply amazing.
“Just Another Christmas Song” — Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
If you can listen to this bumping slice of holiday soul without at least nodding along, your heart is surely at least three grinchy sizes too small. And this woefully underrated tune is just one entry among an album of terrific Christmas-themed material from the late, great, amazingly wonderful Sharon Jones.
“Funky Christmas” — Marvin Sease
“If I can’t get you a present, baby, please accept me instead” might sound like the lame excuse of a caddish cheapskate, but dang if Marvin Sease doesn’t make it sound sincere on this blues-backed slow burner.
“Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy” — Brad Paisley
Many Christmas songs are written from the perspective of adults, but this one sneaks a peek through the eyes of a wide-eyed child who unknowingly catches his parents roleplaying on Christmas Eve. And though that sounds like the stuff of nightmares and therapy, this is a surprisingly wholesome and fun track.
“Santa Will Find You” — Mindy Smith
This slinky yet somehow bubbly ballad would be perfectly at home in even the schmaltziest of holiday movies, and Smith’s talents as a songwriter are on full display here. And what will we be doing when Santa finds us this year? Probably listening to Mindy Smith.
“Christmas in Hollis” — Run DMC
Did you REALLY think you were getting out of a holiday-themed playlist without coming across this scorcher? Humbug!
And for you, Ebenezer
“No Presents For Christmas” — King Diamond
Remember in the Charlie Brown Halloween special when our hero laments that he “got a rock” instead of candy while trick or treating? This is that concept in a heavy metal song. But with a seasonal theme. And sung in a searing falsetto by a Danish corpse-paint-makeup-wearing man named Kim. You’ll get nothing and like it.
“Xmas Has Been X’ed” — NOFX
With lyrics like “December 25th has been blacklisted, since Dawkins found the proof Jesus never existed,” this track will certainly rub some folks the wrong way, but if you think Christmas is overrated, you might be moppin’ what these guys are spillin’.
“A Christmas F&%$#ing Miracle” — Run The Jewels
This uplifting ditty starts with jingling bells and quickly takes a decidedly darker turn. OK, so it never talks about the holidays, but it’s Run The Jewels. There’s probably a law mandating this duo’s inclusion on any and all best-of playlists. And the song has “Christmas” in the title. Don’t @ us.
How’s That Sound?
Pretty cool, right? Right? Check out the playlist on Spotify.