We get it. Everyone knows Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”, Sufjan Stevens puts out a mini volume of Christmas cuts each year, and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is pretty much a staple on the radio once fall kicks off. Holiday music can be a pain when you hear the same songs every year. No matter what mini mart you’re buying milk from or mall lobby you’re standing in, they’re inescapable.
Instead of ditching the holiday spirit because you’re going insane from it all, grab some headphones and listen to the alternatives we dug up. There’s a hidden trove of the holiday songs, both original and classic, that get way too little attention. So gather close, pass around some candy canes, and listen seven holiday songs worth blasting every year.
1. The Ramones – “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”
Pop punk Christmas compilations come out annually nowadays, but back in the ’80s, real punk was too punk to care about scrambling one of those together. The Ramones released their super short, super easy to sing to single “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” back in 1989 to preface the release of their 11th studio album, Brain Drain. This may be the only holiday hit in your record collection where the album cover features a dude with flames bursting out of head as he screams. As such, this one goes out to all the kids who want to air guitar instead of decorating the tree.
2. No Doubt – “Oi To The World!”
“Joy to the World”, arguably the most mundane of holiday songs, was first sung way back in 1719. That’s a long time ago. Given the song is almost 300 (!) years old, it’s about time we find a new way to sing it that actually inspires, you know, contagious joy. Everybody’s favorite ska pop band No Doubt took matters into their own hands in by covering The Vandals’ 1996 track “Oi to the World” a year after it came out. Is anyone surprised? If bright saxophones, gargantuan trombones, or Gwen Stefani’s childish yelps don’t lift your spirits, we don’t know what will.
3. Kate Bush – “December Will Be Magic Again”
Leave it to the wonderfully bizarre Kate Bush to write an original holiday hit. Her single “December Will Be Magic Again” never quite got the fame it deserved. Written in 1979 but released for the holiday season of 1980, it spent one week on the UK Singles Chart and then dipped out. Even YouTube only has three versions of the song online: her live 1979 Christmas television special, a Nightmare Before Christmas slideshow, and a super random lol cats compilation. Bump up the wood blocks and bongos. Bush’s version packs more Christmas magic than all of the radio stations combined.
4. Coldplay – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
We would be lying if we said the holidays are all about happiness. If that were true, our buddy Elvis wouldn’t have pouted his lips to sing about the loneliness of Christmas as a single fella. There is warmth in sharing Christmas joy with friends and family, and so the underlying plea of, “Okay, guys. Hope you’re having fun! I’ll see you later! Yeah?”in Judy Garland’s classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” always makes me sad. More specifically, it’s because of that dang chord resolution in the very last chorus and her peak falsetto mid-song. Before they were busy pumping out pop hits and losing their way, Coldplay released a surprisingly poignant take of the song. With bare piano and a lackadaisical speed, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” becomes a truly defeated sigh that shivers in the middle of the night thanks to Chris Martin’s coarse vocals.
5. The Bird and the Bee – “Carol of the Bells”
“Carol of the Bells” turned 100 years old last year. The four-note motif that replays over and over until you want to punch your brain out used to be relaxing. By now, it feels like a miniature merry-go-round trying to drive you crazy. Indie pop duo The Bird and the Bee decided to take that insanity and run with it, turning their cover of the song into a maniacal, eerie, off-kilter rendition that’s worth revisiting as soon as the song concludes. Inara George’s vocals grab your hands and twirl you in circles across a ballroom floor. Meanwhile, Greg Kurstin crafts up a cushion-like background that’s part haunted house, part lucid dream, and part sugar coma—no doubt the skills of a guy who produces records for Katy Perry, Lily Allen, Beck, and more.
6.The Smashing Pumpkins – “Christmastime”
Next time you’re at a record store, go digging in the compilation section for the A Very Special Christmas series. The holiday-themed albums rope a bunch of big-name musicians together who toss in Christmas songs to benefit the Special Olympics. The third in the series came out in 1997 and features one of the most ’90s Christmas songs yet: The Smashing Pumpkins‘ “Christmastime”. Billy Corgan sands down the sides of his vocals to match the soft strings and jingle bells ringing behind him. Over the span of three minutes, they roll through a gentle number that’s just as nice to sing along to as it is to look at the hectic holiday mess outside and smile—genuinely smile—at it all.
7. The Cocteau Twins – “Winter Wonderland”
If someone’s going to sing about the swirly white mass of snow outside, they better make it match the ethereal mood it conjures up. Scotland’s biggest dream pop band, The Cocteau Twins, are the only band capable of doing it right, at least in the case of “Winter Wonderland”. The trio lace synth lines over one another with subtle bass downbeats, stirring together a cover so beautiful it’s hard to recall what the original even sounds like. Much of its charm is indebted to Liz Frazer’s extraordinary voice. It blends every note together with a tone machines can only hope to emulate. If snowstorms were as cozy as this song, we would play in them all day long.
Featured image courtesy of Interscope