As I explained at length last year, I absolutely love Christmas. The cold weather, the Christmas lights, putting up my tree a month early, wrapping up presents, watching tat on the tele, being overly critical of supermarket Christmas adverts (Sainsbury’s, this is what you produce after last year’s triumph? Hang your heads in shame) and of course, all the yummy food.
There is however one aspect of Christmas that I absolutely cannot stand, and that is the hideously repetitive Christmas music that plays on all the radios and TV adverts.
I’m certain I’m not alone in this. It’s the same songs every single year: Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ (Do you really, Wizzard? I mean, really think about it for a second… Do you?), East 17’s ‘Stay Now’, The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale Of New York’… Yes, that’s right, I hold the rather unpopular opinion that I would quite happily never listen to ‘Fairytale Of New York’ by the Pogues ever again. Widely regarded by my friends and family as the Greatest Christmas Song ever written, I personally think they only love it because they get to say a really offensive word halfway through that they’d be horrified to use in real life. Don’t bother arguing with me, Said-Friends; you know it to be true!
‘Fairytale Of New York’ aside, it is not the Christmas songs themselves that wind me up. Objectively, ‘All I Want For Christmas’ is a cracking pop song, the lyrics of ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by the Waitresses are hilariously relatable, Jona Lewie’s ‘Stop The Cavalry’ continues to be painfully relevant after the politically turbulent year we’ve just had, and Nat King Cole’s ‘The Christmas Song’ prompts amazingly nostalgic memories from my childhood. No, what really irritates me is that the radio DJs and retail marketing departments refuse to acknowledge any Christmas songs released post-1995, and no, wistful indie-rock covers by a softly-spoken female vocalists for the latest John Lewis advert definitely do not count. If an artist does release an original Christmas song (e.g. the excellent ‘One More Sleep’ by Leona Lewis from 2013), it’s promoted for a single season and then never heard again…
However, as you may have gathered if you’ve followed my blog for a while, I love music, and I’m used to my favoured genres and artists not being played on the radio and on shop floors. So what does one do when they wish to escape the inane dirge but still get into the Christmas spirit? Why, listen to something else of course!
Here are just a few of my favourite alternative Christmas jams:
1. ‘We Three Kings’ – Abney Park (Through Your Eyes On Christmas Eve, 2012)
I am aware of the irony of presenting a traditional Christmas song to be first on my list after harping on about a lack of originality in Christmas music for several paragraphs, however Abney Park’s trademark steampunk sound unleashed on this particularly dark and morbid hymn is what makes this song stand out. “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in a stone-cold tomb”.
2. Candy Cane Children – The White Stripes (Merry Christmas From The White Stripes, 2002)
I have fond memories of being rather obsessed with this song around Christmas 2005; I’d only just ‘discovered’ the White Stripes that November. It’s a stripped-back slightly morbid number that vaguely references seasonal depression and/or school shootings… I think! The title is a reference to die-hard fans of the White Stripes, known as Candy Cane Children, and the lyric “Nobody knows how to talk to children” was also the title of a pulled documentary. I really love the dark tones of the lyrics and, as always with White Stripes songs, the guitar riff is damned catchy and hits you right in the gut.
3. ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ – Melora Creager (Egg Nog Edition, 2013)
Sadly I cannot find a streamable version of this song anywhere for you to listen to, or indeed any evidence on the internet that this ever existed at all… but it definitely does, because I own a copy! Like ‘We Three Kings’ (and along with the ‘Carol of the Bells’), ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is one of my favourite Christmas carols, so to hear my favourite musician of all time give such a beautiful, minimalist rendition accompanied by both acoustic and electric cello is quite something. Melora Creager is the founder, lead singer and cellist in the pioneering chamber rock outfit, Rasputina.
4. Gothic Christmas – Within Temptation (Mother Earth Tour DVD easter egg, 2003)
Within Temptation’s ‘Gothic Christmas’ is what happens when a symphonic metal band puts their mind to writing an original Christmas song. Objectively speaking, this song’s production is pretty terrible, Sharon Del Adel’s usually strong, delicate voice sounds strained, and the music lacks Within Temptation’s usual orchestral punch. The lyrics however poke brilliant fun at the band’s own genre, and I love it: “Santa’s going to grunt in Latin and slay a dragon or two. Rudolph, he will change his name, ‘cause Rudolph just sounds really lame. Now we’ll call him Ragnagord, our evil reindeer overlord. His nose it shall be red no more, it will be blackened to the core!”
5. Jingle Hell – Christopher Lee (A Heavy Metal Christmas Too, 2013)
This one is more of a novelty song than anything. Christopher Lee, he of the operatic bass voice, is a little-known huge fan of the symphonic metal genre. Lee actually released his first metal album, Charlamagne: By The Sword And The Cross at the ripe old age of 88, because nothing keeps an ex-Nazi hunter down. From that point onward, he released metal-renditions of Christmas carols every year up until his death in June 2015. ‘Jingle Hell’ was his second offering, and you can hear him talk about it here.
What a legend.
6. ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’ – The Darkness (2003)
Unlike other songs featured on my list, this song by early 00s glam-rock band The Darkness does actually very occasionally get some airtime. Released in 2003, X Factor was having a year off for reasons I cannot remember, so we actually had a genuine race to reach the Christmas no. 1 spot for the first time in God knows how long. Unfortunately this track lost out to a cover of Tears For Fears’ ‘Mad World’ by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews (a beautiful song, but hella depressing to listen to at Christmas and not exactly what I would call festive). Despite reaching the same point in the charts as The Pogues and Mariah Carey, The Darkness’ genuinely joyful and celebratory offering hardly ever gets played on the radio, and is usually relegated to Christmas compilation CDs.
7. ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ – Dean Martin (A Winter Romance, 1959)
Christmas With Nat And Dean (1990) soundtracked my childhood Christmases. This song is my favourite off of that album (and frequently named as my absolute favourite ever Christmas song), and it just reminds me of being all warm and cosy and sheltered in front of the fire and unwrapping all the beautiful gifts that my mummy and daddy had got for me that year, surrounded by family, toys and good food.
8. This Ain’t New Jersey – Smith & Burrows (Funny Looking Angels, 2011)
The most recent addition to my list of favourite Christmas songs, ’This Ain’t New Jersey’ is a simply beautiful ballad sung by Tom Smith (Editors) about a couple having a huge trivial fight over the use of the American name ’Santa Claus’ instead of the English ‘Father Christmas’. The protagonist of the song expresses disillusionment with the Christmas period pretty much in line with this blog post (“Those same old songs every single year, we drink, we sing and forget the things we need to hear”), only to eventually get snowed in with his partner in the pub on Christmas Eve. When the fight fizzles out the next day, he is able to set aside the stress and commercialism of the period and remembers to say that he loves his partner very much after all. I love the song’s relatability, melancholy and honesty, and the fact it still manages to have a happy ending. Just beautiful.
I hope that you enjoyed this post and that you feel enlightened and inspired to seek out other alternative tracks to listen to this Christmas!