10 less-than-obvious holiday songs.
We’ve all heard all the holiday standards before. All of them. That’s why we’re always complaining when departments put Rudolph in the windows before Mr. O’Lantern has had a chance to properly rot, or when Frosty’s headshot decorates the State Street lampposts before the trees have even shed their leaves. It’s got less to do with timing and more to do with novelty – all that traditional stuff is old hat and has been for decades or centuries.
Leave the “Best of the Year” lists for the egotistical assholes of the world and advocate for progress. Seeing as how the strongest tune in recent times that has even gotten close to becoming a standard is Mariah Carey’s over-produced earworm “All I Want for Christmas is You” (a song that inhabits the darkest recesses of my guilty pleasure library), it might be time to nominate a couple of other tracks. You know, for all the other kinds of assholes.
“I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges
from The Stooges (1969)
Why don’t songs these days use sleigh bells more often? Is it too wimpy? Well, here’s proof otherwise: Original proto-punk Iggy Pop laying down vocals right on top of a Christmas caroler’s main instrument. I take pride in the fact that I’ve reduced the genesis of punk and heavy metal to a holiday jingle.
“I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones
from Road to Ruin (1978)
If John Hughes movies have taught us anything, it’s that “family time” can sometimes drain the well-being right out of you. Since the holidays tend to put you right in the middle of tempestuous family squabbles, it might help to have an anthem to hum for sanity’s sake.
“Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want”
by The Smiths
from Hatful of Hollow (1984)
You can count on Morrissey to complain about just about anything. This time, instead of picking out a particular problem (like being single [“How Soon Is Now?”] or vehicular manslaughter [“There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”]), he sings one you can apply to anything – especially getting presents.
“Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”
by Tom Waits
from Blue Valentine (1978)
This track may seem an obvious choice at first, but the only thing about it that deals explicitly with Christmas is the title. Actually, the idea of the holiday season is the subtle background detail that links all the protagonist’s misadventures into a big ball of bummer. Happy Holidays, indeed.
“Gnossienne No. 5” by Erik Satie
as performed by Reinbert de Leeuw
from Satie: The Early Piano Works (1998)
A big part of any holiday experience is the weather that accompanies it. My ideal weather is a cold, clear, crisp winter’s day – everything just seems fresher on those days. Much like this Satie composition, performed by the masterful de Leeuw, everything pops with a kind of gallant energy as if to cherish what little sunlight is available in these, the infamously cold and dark months.
“Ohm Sweet Ohm” by Kraftwerk
from Radio-Aktivität (1975)
Despite the terrible pun of the title; despite the icy chug of a souless drum machine; despite it coming from a group of order-oriented Germans who perform live as animatronic robots – this is actually a very warm and inviting song. The holidays always seem to speed up as time passes, and folks who enjoy the rush will be pleasantly reminded of that optimism with this track’s accelerating motorik pulse.
“Cherry-Coloured Funk” by Cocteau Twins
from Heaven or Las Vegas (1990)
Those who find joy in the prospect of a “White Christmas” will appreciate the icy glass cathedral of sound spouting from Cocteau Twins’ dreamy swirl of guitars. It’s so gorgeously engulfing that they might not even notice that singer Elizabeth Fraser spends the whole song beautifully hate-fucking the syntax of the English language – none of the words make a lick of sense.
“Window Gazing” by Ivor Slaney
from Retro Shopping, Volume 1:
Music To Buy Toasters By (2006)
This little two-minute jingle came off of a compilation subtitled “Music To Buy Toasters By,” which means, of course, that I had to have it. Playful and bouncy, this track provides excellent background music for wallowing in shameless consumerism. Cheers!
“Corpus Christi Carol” by Jeff Buckley
from Grace (1994)
When you hear the old standard “Silent Night,” it’s talking about what’s in this track – not something completely quiet, but something that surrounds itself with the space it inhibits. Here, Buckley’s hymn is so poignant and his falsetto is so gentle that it ends up accentuating the silence of said night instead of filling it.
“Big Day Coming” by Yo La Tengo
from Painful (1992)
How do you translate an untranslatable feeling? Yo La Tengo does it with seven-minute drones, which works for an old shoegazer like me. The slow-motion feedback squelches and Kaplan’s vocal naiveté add even more rumbling excitement to the emotion salad of a Christmas Eve spent lying awake in bed.