The Christmas Tunes Experiment

As previously established, I don’t much care for Christmas music. Last year, I compiled the few holiday songs I owned, and came up with a whopping ten, and that required stretching things a bit. Based on comment thread recommendations, I expanded that to 22 songs (mostly by adding Sufjan Stevens tracks), but it’s still not good, and I don’t really like all the songs on the list.

With the AV Club debating Christmas music, though, and every PA in the country blaring dire holiday songs, it seems like a good time to revist the crucial question from last year’s post:

Are there Christmas songs that can hold their own against “Fairytale of New York”?

In the spirit of the Old Tunes Experiment, I’m willing to try to settle this scientifically, and I have a starting sample:

I’ve occasionally referred to posts over at Jefitoblog, which is an MP3/ music review blog. The proprietor generally has good taste in music, and I’ve found some good stuff based on his recommendations.

A couple of weeks ago, he posted a Holidy Mix Tape:

  • Les Brown And His Band Of Renown – I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Psapp’s Lady Remix)
  • The Weepies – All I Want
  • Squirrel Nut Zippers – Winter Weather
  • Peggy Lee – I Like A Sleighride (Jingle Bells)
  • Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody
  • Nancy Wilson – The Christmas Waltz (Away Team Remix)
  • Barenaked Ladies – Hanukkah O Hanukkah (live)
  • Aretha Franklin – Winter Wonderland
  • Jethro Tull – Ring Out, Solstice Bells
  • Ella Fitzgerald with The Frank Devol Orchestra – What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve
  • The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
  • Deegan DeWitt & The Sparrows – Christmas Light
  • Charles Brown – I’ll Be Home for Christmas (Ohmega Watts Remix)
  • Zakk Wylde – White Christmas
  • The Nat King Cole Trio – All I Want For Cristmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) (MJ Cole Remix)
  • Fats Domino – Frosty The Snowman
  • Don Dixon – I Saw Three Ships
  • Booker T. And The M.G.’s – Jingle Bells
  • The LeeVees – Nun Gimmel Heh Shin
  • The dB’s – Christmas Time
  • Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone
  • Twisted Sister – Deck The Halls
  • Sarah McLachlan – Wintersong
  • Billy Pilgrim – Auld Lang Syne
  • Gary Hoey – Silent Night
  • Fountains Of Wayne – Have A Swinging Hanukkah

These are, presumably, holiday songs that shouldn’t suck. So, I’ve downloaded them, and will listen to them all, and see if there’s anything tolerable in the lot.

I have to say, I don’t hold out much hope, as I recognize “Christmas Wrapping,” and find it ear-bleedingly awful, but I’m willing to sacrifice in the name of science.

I’m also willing to add songs to the list. So, if you have a favorite Christmas song (preferably one available on iTunes or available for download somewhere), leave the artist and title in the comments, and I’ll try to find it and add it to the experiment. Kate and I will be getting our Christmas tree this weekend, so a little holiday music wouldn’t be amiss, and I’ll come back here next week to let you know what I think.

Comments

  1. #1 Dad
    December 8, 2006

    The Chieftains: St. Stephen’s Day Murders (with Elvis Costello)

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    December 8, 2006

    I’m really liking the Putamayo release “Christmas in New Orleans,” unfortunately not available on iTunes. But the whole CD is great, so it’s worth ordering from Amazon. But then again, I like “Christmas Rapping,” so I may not be the best person to offer advice.

  3. #4 Steinn Sigurdsson
    December 8, 2006

    Stop the Cavalry
    Jona Lewie

    “Dub-i-dub-i-dum-dum…”

  4. #5 Adam
    December 8, 2006

    Bing Crosby:
    White Christmas
    I’ll Be Home For Christmas
    Let It Snow

    Then again I like listening to mostly the crooners sing the christmas songs, the newer ones just seem to butcher the songs.

  5. #6 dc
    December 8, 2006

    I don’t like xmas music much either but “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love is just sublime. It’s on “A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector” which is about the only xmas music I have time for.

  6. #7 sam
    December 8, 2006

    My top favorite would be all of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

    Stevie Wonder-Someday at Christmas

    The Ramones-Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)

    Squirrel Nut Zippers-Carolina Christmas, though my neighboring state is a bit colder than I remember the Carolinas being

  7. #8 Ben
    December 8, 2006

    Trans Siberian Orchestra: Any of their xmas albums!

  8. #9 ks
    December 8, 2006

    I second the TranSiberian Orchestra comment. Wintersong is ok, though Song for a Winter’s Night is better.

  9. #10 barney
    December 8, 2006

    My favorite christmas album is probably “Merry MeXmas” by El Vez (the Mexican Elvis), which kicks off with a killer rip off of “Feliz Navidad” in the style of P.I.L.

    I’ve always been a fan of “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC.

    The Trojan Christmas boxset (reggae) has at least a few good old ska takes on christmas songs, but I remember there being a lot of filler, too.

    At risk of being exiled from polite society, I will also point out that Bathtub Shitter also has a three-song christmas ep entitled “Xmas”.
    mp3 stream of track 2 here.
    Please forgive me.

    and, as a parting note, “Fairtale of New York” is a fine fine song, but I’ve never seen a live version where anyone singing the Kirsty MacColl part (including Kirsty MacColl) could keep in tune next to MacGowan.

  10. #11 Chad Orzel
    December 8, 2006

    I don’t like xmas music much either but “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love is just sublime.

    I heard that on the radio the other day, and it’s not half bad. There’s a pretty decent U2 cover of it out there, too.

    and, as a parting note, “Fairtale of New York” is a fine fine song, but I’ve never seen a live version where anyone singing the Kirsty MacColl part (including Kirsty MacColl) could keep in tune next to MacGowan.

    I would imagine that MacGowan would have that effect on most people, given that the air around him was about eighty proof. They probably recorded the original version in separate rooms…

  11. #12 Nathan Williams
    December 8, 2006

    The 8bit people’s chiptune version of “Let It Snow” (album here)

  12. #13 atomic demon
    December 8, 2006

    Prudence Johnson – Cantique de Noel (O Holy Night)
    She sang it in french, either a’capella or with very light accompaniament. To your point on the ‘classic post’ it is the most paired down of arrangements, and she made it sound easy. I heard it on NPR between 1 and 2 years ago and I haven’t a clue where to find it.

  13. #14 Clay B
    December 8, 2006

    Harry Connick does a rockin’ piano instrumental version of Winter Wonderland that blows me away. It seems to have about 2 or 3 melodic lines going at the same time but somehow it all works.

    Sarah McLachlan – Song for a Winter’s Night is lovely (not explicitly Christmassy though).

  14. #15 Craig
    December 8, 2006

    I’ve slowly built up a collection of odd Christmas covers, which skews my tastes a little bit, but I’m fond of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home” (done by Death Cab for Cutie) and “Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto” (done by Belle & Sebastian). If the song is good, and it hasn’t been overorchestrated to death, it’s kind of hard to screw up.

    I second the recommendation for the Squirrel Nut Zippers Christmas Caravan though “Winter Weather” is one of the weaker songs on the album.

  15. #16 odette
    December 8, 2006

    You might look for Tom Lehrer’s “A Christmas Carol” — no relation to Dickens, lots of making fun of Christmas songs (carols and music) and of Christmas commercialism in general.

  16. #17 Chris
    December 8, 2006

    I like Zooey Deschanel & Leon Redbone — “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from the Elf Soundtrack. I’d point you to the iTunes link, but I’m sure for some bass ackwards RIAA-influenced reason, you can only buy the album, not the track.

  17. #18 Jimbo
    December 8, 2006

    in the lab we’ve had “James Brown’s Funky Christmas” and “Christmas Re-grooved” on constant rotation. Some excellent stuff in there – favourites are “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year” and “Jingle Bells (Dan The Automator Remix)”.

    Mojo magazine had a pretty good CD last year called “Blue Christmas”. I’m sure it’s floating on the intarwebs

  18. #19 Mary Kay
    December 8, 2006

    I find some of the classical sort of Christmas music easiest to take over and over and over and, well you get the idea.

    Mediaeval Baebes – Gaudete
    Nearly anybody’s version of Carol of the Belles
    Ditto the Holly and the Ivy

    MKK

  19. #20 Jeff Buckley
    December 9, 2006

    I was going to mention Darlene Love’s ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home’), but I see someone already has. If you liked that though, it’s from “A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector”, an album he produced with a lot of good xmas covers in the style.

  20. #21 BillCinSD
    December 9, 2006

    I must admit I’m not much into holiday music, but the song that most accurately captures the holidays is “Love Will tear Us Apart” by Joy Division

  21. #22 Mike Kozlowski
    December 10, 2006

    There’s no point recommending Christmas music to you, really, because being objectively good isn’t the point of Christmas music — the point is to be familiar, which means that everyone’s favorite Christmas music is the music they grew up listening to. (Give me Andy Williams, John Denver and the Muppets, and the Carpenters, and I’m a happy man.)

    Since you were apparently raised by atheist Scrooges, and didn’t listen to Christmas music as a kid, you’re doomed to a life where you don’t like Christmas music.

    Also, the idea of a rock ‘n’ roll Christmas song is utter nonsense. It’s like a heavy metal lullaby — either it’s going to be terrible metal, a terrible lullaby, or (more probably) both.

  22. #23 Jon H
    December 10, 2006

    You might find something good on Over The Rhine’s Christmas concert CD, “The Darkest Night Of The Year”

  23. #24 Chad Orzel
    December 10, 2006

    There’s no point recommending Christmas music to you, really, because being objectively good isn’t the point of Christmas music — the point is to be familiar, which means that everyone’s favorite Christmas music is the music they grew up listening to. (Give me Andy Williams, John Denver and the Muppets, and the Carpenters, and I’m a happy man.)

    You are so far down the list of people I would ask for musical recommendations that there really isn’t even a list any more at that point.

    I put the jefitoblog list, along with the stuff I already had, on shuffle play while we were decorating the tree, and it was mostly pretty inoffensive, with a couple of exceptions. The Twisted Sister version of “Deck the Halls” was good for a laugh, but doesn’t really stand up to repeated listenings.

    I’ll go through these comments and probably pick up a few more things, but the DSL has been flaky, so I haven’t been able to hit iTunes.

  24. #25 Simone
    December 11, 2006

    I tend to listen to “winter” music, not “Christmas”, so Nick Buzz’s version of The River or the Rheostatic’s A MidWinter Night’s Dream sound like the season to me. But Low’s Christmas album is perfect. And Zunior just put out a (currently free to download) Holiday Music Sampler.

  25. #26 Simone
    December 11, 2006

    Oh, and how could I forget!: Hockey by Jane Siberry. Gives me a great big grin (and tears of nostalgia) every time.

  26. #27 cheem
    December 11, 2006

    Merry Christmas from the Family by Robert Earl Keen? It seems to resonate a little more with the WASP crowd, but you might like it…

  27. #28 Oyceter
    December 12, 2006

    Randomly dropping by via a link from kate_nepveu.

    For less traditional Christmas music, I like Vienna Teng’s “Atheist Christmas Carol” and find Flickerstick’s “Execution by X-Mas Lights” and Fountains of Wayne’s “An Alien for Christmas” amusing.

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