Annual Request: Christmas Songs That Don't Suck

With the department secretary switching over to the all-Christmas-songs station, and Jason Hare and Jeff Giles celebrating holiday tunes that bring the suck, it seems like a good time to re-ask the eternal question:

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

Or, more to the point, name me some holiday-themed songs that don't suck. I got the list up to 21 songs last year, thanks in large part to Jeff Giles's now-vanished jefitoblog, but it would be nice to expand that, if suitable songs can be found.

Tags

More like this

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…
As you can see from the picture at right, we've got our Christmas tree up, waiting to surprise SteelyKid when she comes home in a couple of hours. This also means it's getting toward the time when I switch over to the holiday music playlist on iTunes. Christmas music is, of course, a problematic…
Light blogging today, because I'm having muscle spasms in my neck and shoulder again. Blogrolling and typing aggravate that, so there will be minimal posting for the rest of the weekend. To fill a bit of space, though, here's a call for music recommendations: I bought a whole slew of Crowded House…
As is often noted, most modern recordings of Christmas songs range from utterly bland to excruciatingly awful. There are some that sorta-kinda work, though, and a bare few that are brilliant: In the interest of promoting, you know, music that doesn't suck, it's perhaps worth taking a look at what…

Try Booker T and the MG's "In the Christmas Spirit" album.

The Bare Naked Ladies album of christmas stuff is surprisingly un-terrible. In fact, I just burnt my copy to disk for play at this afternoon's departmental party!

Look for the John Waters christmas album. No it's not him singing, it's a compilation of his favorite christmas songs. Lots of cool fun stuff.

Hey who could pass up some Bob Rivers--"Chipmunks Roasting on and Open Fire", "I am Santa Claus", etc.

You need to check out Sufjan Stevens' 5 disc album. It's perfect!

I second the vote for Barenaked Ladies. I could do without the Casio standards, but I love "Elves' Lament" so much I named my software company after one of its lyrics (C.L.Gizmos). And Steve's "Hanukkah Blessings" is the best Hanukkah song ever!

By Johnny Vector (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

x-mas curtain by my morning jacket
christmas time at the zoo, by the flaming lips

two fun songs not necessarily completely about christmas, but still great tunes

Posted this in the wrong version of the thread...

I'm not sure that this is the mood you're looking for, but Weird Al's "Christmas at ground zero"? better is Tom Lehrer's Christmas Carol...

By Brian Postow (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

This has been an ongoing quest for me as well. I've got quite the list for you at this point. I hate novelty songs (Bob Rivers, Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, etc). My criteria is it has to be something I would want to listen to regardless of the season.

Little Drummer Boy - Tori Amos (Best of Kevin & Bean Christmas)
Christmas In Space - Tori Amos (Spark CD Single)
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Tori Amos (Spark CD Single)
Christmas Time Is Here Again - The Beatles
Holiday Mood - The Apples in Stereo (Oh Santa!)
Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis - The Ataris (The Year they Recalled Santa Claus)
It's Christmas - Bouqet of Veal (Punk Rock Christmas)
Christmas in Ohio - Brandston (A Santa Cause 2: Punk Rock Christmas)
Gift X-Change - Calexico (Xfm It's a Cool Cool Christmas)
Little Drummer Boy - Dandy Warhols (unknown source)
Christmas Downer - Departure Lounge (Xfm)
Maybe At Christmas Time - Drugstore (Xfm)
Santa Baby - Everclear (unknown source)
White Christmas - Flaming Lips (Kevin & Bean's Fo' Shizzle St. Nizzle)
Execution by Christmas Lights - Flickerstick (Welcoming Home the Astronauts)
Lonely Christmas Eve - Ben Folds (Grinch soundtrack)
Alan Parsons In A Winter Wonderland - Grandaddy (Xfm)
Sometimes You Have to Work On Christmas - Harvey Danger (Kevin and Bean's Santa's Swingin Sack)
Happy Christmas (War Is Over) - Hot Rod Circuit (A Santa Cause 2)
Peace - Norah Jones (Now That's What I Call Christmas)
Christmas Morning - Lyle Lovette (The Road to Ensenada)
Christmas Ghost - Manic Street Preachers (free download from manicstreetpreachers.com)
Hava Nagila - Me First and the Gimme Gimme's (Ruin Johnny's Bar Mitzvah)
Father Christmas - OK Go (Kevin and Bean's Super Christmas)
Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight) - Ramones
Santa On The Roof - Reverend Horton Hear (Oh Santa!)
Father Christmas - Save Ferris (Kevin & Bean: The Real Slim Santa)
Hooray For Santa Claus - Sloppy Seconds (Punk Rock Christmas)
Just Like Christmas - Snow Patrol (Kevin & Bean's Super Christmas)
Mr. Grinch - Dweezil Zappa (Live on Conan, floating around the web in MP3 format)
Christmas Vacation - (+44) (Kevin & Bean's Super Christmas)

A few recommendations for more traditional arrangements are Stevan Pasero (acoustic guitar) and Twelve Girls Band (orchestral). The KROQ/Kevin & Bean Christmas samplers are each about 80% crap but the 20% good material is worth the 4-5 bucks you pay to buy the CD used.

If you're into that sort of thing there's the Merry Axemas series with rock instrumental versions of many classic songs.

Plus there's some great stuff from Suburban Sprawl that they make freely available on their site (http://www.suburbansprawlmusic.com/), which constitutes almost a quarter of my xmas playlist. I didn't include them in my listing above, but some of my favorites are: Adam Kempa, Chris Hatfield, Andy Thompson, French Skeletons, Friendly Foes, l'Oprhanage, the Whoa Boats, The Recital, Triceratops, and special commendation to Thunderbirds Are Now for covering Christmas in Hollis.

I've got at least some of the Sufjan Stevens stuff, and yes, the Pretenders and Otis Redding songs are very good. I'm not particularly interested in novelty songs, though the Cthullu-with-anime-babes video is amusingly demented.

The Leather Canary thing (suggested by SEK) looks somewhat promising, so I'll probably check those out.

This one hasn't been officially released yet, but you can catch a demo mp3 here:

http://www.sellaband.com/singersongwriter/
Look for "Santa's Brand New Look" in the playlist. It's a Christmas heads-up on global warming.

Caya is a Dutch duo -- great female vocalist, awesome guitarist. And the lyrics of this piece are by Albany resident Eileen Parzek.

"All I Want for Christmas is You" by Vince Vance and the Valiants. It's hard to find the Vince Vance version but well worth the listen.

"Merry Christmas Baby" by, who else, Elvis.

"Santa Baby" by Madonna.

Those are my favs. Also, I like just about everything by Mannheim Steamroller.

By Nebularry (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

St. Stephen's Day Murders by the Chieftains and Elvis Costello is one of my favorites.

By Daniel C. Smith (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

"Santa is a pervert", by Wax On. Wax Off.

While Shepherds Watched sung by Yorkshire folk band/family Waterson:Carthy. Ensemble take, using a local melody and an absolute blast. May be something to do with the fact around here we hold our carol concerts in the pub, so they're not too reverent.

Also, I like just about everything by Mannheim Steamroller.

Mannheim Steamroller is a holiday tradition in my family, so I'd qualify that a bit. I'll also mention that MS tries to blend Renaissance and classical styles with more modern styles; if you have zero interest in classical music, MS is probably not for you. But assuming that's not an issue, here are my picks:

Anything on the first album (Christmas, 1984).
The second (A Fresh Aire Christmas, 1988) and third (Christmas in the Aire, 1995) albums have one clunker each ("Still, Still, Still" and "Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer", respectively) but are otherwise good.
On the fourth album (Christmas Extraordinaire, 2001), the Steamroller ran out of steam. There are still a few good tracks on that album ("Hallelujah", "Fum Fum Fum", and two or three others), but much of it is mediocre and two of the tracks are downright awful. I'm expecting their version of "O Tannenbaum" to be on Jason and Jeff's Mellowmass list, as it is truly hideous (the reason I don't have their compilation album from 2005 is because this song is included).

The last time I was on Amazon.com, I noticed they have a new Christmas album out, but the reviewers were definitely unimpressed. I decided not to buy the new one, at least for now.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

I don't like many Christmas songs, and of the ones I do like, two have been mentioned (Ramones and Pogues). Other than that, I like:
"Chiron Beta Prime," Jonathon Coulton
"December is for Cynics," The Matches
"Christmas is Coming," The Payolas

By Chris Koeberle (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

Another indie classic is

'What we do on christmas' by Atom and his Package

Basically, a song about what Jews do for Christmas!

Considering your profession Chad, I think you have no option but to check it out!

The three new (to me) songs this year I've been playing are:

The Weepies - All That I Want (currently the background music for a JC Penney's campaign I believe)
Sufjan Stevens - Star of Wonder
Saturday Looks Good to Me - This Time Every Year

All of which should be available on iTunes. The Squirrel Nut Zippers Christmas Caravan album is always a favorite if you can find it, and lately I've been playing "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" (James Brown and Belle and Sebastian versions) and the Polyphonic Spree's cover of Happy Christmas (War Is Over) a lot as well.

Oh, and rev_matt_y, the Dandy Warhols' version of Little Drummer Boy came from a single they released by the same name.

The various Adam Sandler Hanukkah songs are amusing, the first couple of times per year.

Everyone always forgets "No Presents For Christmas" by King Diamond.

By Christ Davis (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

"Oi to the World" - No Doubt

"Forget December" - Something Corporate

"I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus" - Standstill

"Christmas Night Of The Zombies" - MXPX

"Yule Shoot Your Eye Out" - Fallout Boy

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

Some of these are from the "Santa Cause" CDs, which have a few gems on them, despite being just okay overall.

"Christmastime" - Smashing Pumpkins
"Christmas All Over Again" - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
"Merry Xmas Everybody" - Slade
"Spotlight on Christmas" - Rufus Wainwright (McGarrigle Christmas Hour CD on ITunes)
"Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas" - Eels
"Last Christmas" - Jimmy Eat World
"Christmas in Prison" - John Prine (pair it with his "Souvenirs" if you're feeling pensive)
"Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" - Old 97s (you can listen to it on their MySpace page)

If you like it when Neko sings for the New Pornographers, you might like "Christmas with the Snow" done by the Shalitas off of Marah's "Christmas Kind of Town" album.

While I love "Christmas in Hollis" by Run DMC (on Very Special Christmas, Vol. 1), off of Volume 3 you should listen to "Santa Baby" by Run and a lot of early 90's rap stars (including Snoop Dogg). It features the wonderful line, shouted by one of the guys in Onyx, "if I wasn't a boy, I wouldn't have had nothing to play wit"

And while it's not really about Christmas, "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas" by Aimee Mann is a great song.

By Harry Abernathy (not verified) on 06 Dec 2007 #permalink

If you poke around the Leather Canary site, you'll find even more Christmas music. (The bottom of the post contains links to other Christmas lists they've done.) (Have I mentioned I get all my music from music blogs right now?) (Because I do.)

Does "Holiday in Cambodia" count?

"Oi to the World" - No Doubt

That's the one I was trying to remember. I haven't heard the No Doubt version though, only the original (by The Vandals).

If you poke around the Leather Canary site, you'll find even more Christmas music.

I see that. I got the first two last night, but didn't notice that they'd posted a third.

As a bonus, they include almost all of the songs suggested above that sound like something I might want to hear. I'm going to have to poke around a bit to find the Old 97's tunes, though, because, dude, Old 97's.

(If there's an Afghan Whigs/ Twilight Singers Christmas tune out there, I'm not sure I want to know about it...)

(Have I mentioned I get all my music from music blogs right now?) (Because I do.)

It seems only appropriate-- I get all my news from blogs, so why not my entertainment, too?

If you're an Old 97's fan, you can find an original Christmas song by them, "Here It Is Christmas Time", on their MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/theold97s) and for sale on ITunes (if you want to support Rhett Miller's crew). I have the MP3s of "Holly Jolly Christmas" and their cover of "I'll Be Home for Christmas". They're from a two song Christmas EP in the 90's called "Honky Tonk Holidays".

By Harry Abernathy (not verified) on 07 Dec 2007 #permalink

The best xmas album remains Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas

Since someone else mentioned Jonathan Coulton's "Chiron Beta Prime" I thought I'd also point to an older but great song by Kate Bush, "December Will Be Magic Again". There is another great Kate Bush Christmas song, but I'm on my phone and don't remember the title.

Ren and Stimpy's "I Hate Christmas" from their 'Crock Full of Christmas' album. The song actually starts about 50 seconds in, and is nice and bluesy.
(If embedding doesn't work, try this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-j_PZjst5U )

By No fan of Chri… (not verified) on 10 Dec 2007 #permalink

Donny Hathaway - "This Christmas"

One of the greatest soul singers ever with a not-too-treacly Christmas tune. I managed to find a 45 of this in a bargain bin somewhere, and it's easily one of my favorites.