Your selection of Christmas music is tired. Don't worry. Most everyone else's is, too. But technology has made it oh so easy to remedy that situation — your personal ultimate holiday mix is just some Internet research and a CD burner away.What follows is a frighteningly screwed-up hypothetical anthology; it's not meant to embody the perfect Christmas compilation, but rather to illustrate the incredible breadth of holiday music available out there, and to inspire you to look farther afield than Anne Murray and the Sinatra standards. (And no, Trans-Siberian Orchestra does NOT qualify as "edgy.")
Many thanks to WMNF-88.5, and music director Flee in particular, for access to more and weirder music than I otherwise could've sampled. (The weirdest shit here actually came from Flee's personal collection.)
Norris the Troubadour/Seaboard Coastliners: "Christmastime Philosophy"
From The American Song-Poem Christmas: Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four? (Bar None, 2003)
Here's the deal with song-poems: Shady types barely associated with the music industry run ads in magazines looking for "song-poems" (dumb-person-speak for "lyrics"). Naive songwriter hopefuls submit their crap, and are subsequently bilked for hundreds of dollars in good-faith investment money. The shady types get some low-rent session musicians to write and record songs using the song-poems, send a couple of copies back to the author, and move on to the next sucker. Occasionally, however, these tunes are actually listenable for some reason or another; indie label Bar None is known for issuing compilations of the interesting ones, such as this very '60s power-pop gem from a recent Christmas anthology.
Jethro Tull: "Birthday Card at Christmas"
The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (Fuel 2000, 2003)
Yeah, it sounds exactly like you're thinking it might. Urgent, theatrical flute-driven prog-folk whose only connection to the holidays lies in a handful of the lyrics. Rock this one early, and let your party guests know this ain't your boss' Christmas party.
The Vandals: "Christmas for My Penis"
Christmas with The Vandals (Kung Fu, 1996)
Amid an LP of old-school melodic punk, the venerable group inserts a ballad that tenderly assures a beloved family "member" that it'll get what it needs this year. Also, come on, the word "penis" appears. Penis! Penis! Penis!
Squeeze: "Christmas Day"
Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Christmas (Rhino, 1996)
Even quirkier than their usual literate quirk-pop, and with harp, to boot!
Joe Tex: "I'll Make Every Day Christmas (For My Woman)"
The Original Soul Christmas (Rhino, 1994 reissue of 1968 release)
The slowest of the slow jams, complete with pillow talk and a huge all-girl chorus.
"Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly"
Bark! The Herald Angels Sing (TRC Music, 1996)
Yes, it's from that album where the dogs do the lyrics. Hey, it was either this or "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." It's interesting to note that this record has only been out for eight years, and not for-fucking-ever, like it seems. Also, this track actually has growling.
"Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy"
A Toolbox Christmas (Gourd Music, 1996)
You don't have to imagine an entire album's worth of holiday classics performed mostly on hardware and power tools by a fictional composer named (heh, heh) Woody Phillips, because it's real, baby. Guaranteed to remain interesting through at least four listens.
The Bobs: "Christmas in Jail"
Too Many Santas! (Rounder, 1996)
This engaging behind-bars DUI lament comes off a well-loved oddball holiday album by "America's premiere vocal group" — The Bobs only employ minimal instrumentation, preferring to create all of the musical sounds with their yaps.
The Whooping Cranes: "Celebrate"
Midnight Xmess Part III (Midnight Intl., 1987)
This collection of holiday-related tunes by extremely obscure punk bands offers plenty of potential mix-CD gems. Unfortunately for runners-up The Sterilles, however, I bumped their "Mrs. Claus Has Menopause" in favor of the compelling, heavily Minneapolis-flavored "Celebrate" by New York act The Whooping Cranes.
The Gourds: "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)"
From an untitled bootleg, 2001
There are plenty of versions of this classically mopey, Bill Danoff-penned country tune — John Denver, Alan Jackson and Kelly Willis, and Bruce Robison have all recorded versions of it — but this weepy, extremely stripped-down live take by members of Austin roots faves The Gourds is especially timeless.
"Ring Rubber Bells"
A Rubber Band Christmas (Artist Development Associates, 1996)
A version of "Carol of the Bells" performed entirely on rubber bands. How perfectly irritating. Its impressive ability to annoy aside, the best thing about this record is the verbiage on the cover — the enthusiastic assertion that it's "TRENDY!!!" appears in the upper-left corner, and several anonymous quotes endorsing it, including "The Bouncy, Feel-good Holiday Album of the Decade" and, incredibly, "A Snappalicious Christmas Funk," share space at the bottom.
Dana Dane: "Dana Dane Is Coming to Town"
Christmas Rap (Priority Records, 1987)
I love the Run-D.M.C. classic "Christmas in Hollis" as much as anybody, but let's go with something a little less obvious in the hip-hop department this year. Dana Dane, melodic pop-rap precursor to Young MC and the Fresh Prince, danceably relates his seasonal travels, and even works in the word "fortnight."
Mojo Nixon: "Mr. Grinch," "Jingle Bells," "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto"
Horny Holidays! (Triple X, 1992)
Actually, you should just go find this hilarious, eminently entertaining and fuckup-filled slab of raw white-trash R&B, and leave it in your CD player until Valentine's Day. (Because I'm pretty sure Mojo also has a "for lovers only" release you can drop in then.)
The Partridge Family: "Frosty the Snowman"
A Partridge Family Christmas Card (Bell Records, 1995 reissue of 1971 release)
It's a slowed-down, schmaltzy, '70s-style family affair that sounds like it could've come straight from the stages of Branson; you can practically hear David Cassidy gritting his teeth in an effort to keep his particularly wholesome brand of rockitude in check.
"Oh Christmas Tree"
More Christmas Disco (Phoenix Entertainment, 1980)
After a stately horn intro, the fake disco beats and "ooo-ah ooo-ah" action kick in to get you onto the dance floor. Truly, it's the most horribly wonderful song on a horribly wonderful album of standards updated for what only a deaf idiot would consider the cutting edge of early-'80s dance music. The scariest part: this is the second album full of this crap.
Fear: "Fuck Christmas"
Punk Rock Xmas (Rhino, 2000 reissue of 1995 release)
Forty-seven seconds of anti-holiday vitriol. Everybody's got at least one friend who can relate.
Dean Martin: "Jingle Bells" (Remixed by Dan the Automator)
Christmas Remixed (Six Degrees, 2003)
There are a few better chopped-and-reimagined classics out there, but Dino's vocals remain instantly recognizable, and Dan the Automator is familiar enough to most to get some decent musical conversation started.
The Sisterhood: "The Rocking Disco Santa Claus"
The American Song-Poem Christmas: Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four? (Bar None, 2003)
Another worthy song-poem, though it's worthy for dubious reasons. In fact, it's terrible — in the best possible way. The title says it all, actually.
Root Boy Slim & The Sex Change Band: "Xmas at K-Mart"
Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Christmas (Rhino, 1996)
Except for the female-choir backups, it's just barely listenable. At the tail end of a mix, it's either hilarious or extremely useful in getting the last of the guests to leave.