Five little-known songs for your alternative Christmas soundtrack
Bored of the same old Christmas playlist? Sick of sleigh bells? If they’re so great, why aren’t they in music all year round? We’ll always have the classics (Mariah Carey isn’t going anywhere and neither is Wombling Merry Christmas), but the holiday is different this year and that calls for new traditions. So whether you want to mix up your playlist or annoy your family on Zoom calls by yelling at their Alexa to play these tracks, here are five alternative Christmas songs (that don’t feature sleigh bells).
Uncle Bernie’s Farm by Frank Zappa
Opening with a sardonic nod to White Christmas, 1967’s Uncle Bernie’s Farm sounds like a festive fairground where the Santas have gone feral. Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention deliver two minutes of swirling psychedelic rock and strange, acerbic lyrics that rail against politicians. The perfect Christmas anthem for 2020.
A Merrier Christmas by Frank Kimbrough
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a little jazz, and we’re not talking about Michael Bublé. The great pianist, composer and table tennis enthusiast Thelonious Monk wrote a Christmas song in 1978 but never got a chance to record it before his death in 1982. Fortunately, other players have brought this lovely lullaby to life, including this beautiful rendition by pianist Frank Kimbrough.
Naughty or Nutz by MF DOOM X Cookin Soul
If it’s rap you seek there are plenty of X-rated Xmas songs to bring the holiday cheer, such as Run the Jewels’ A Christmas Fucking Miracle and De La Soul’s Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa (a harrowing yuletide tale of child abuse). But here’s something more festive (slightly). Last Christmas, Spanish DJ duo Cookin Soul mashed up Christmas classics with verses by legendary masked rapper MF DOOM. Naughty or Nutz serves up Nat King Cole with a side of cryptic DOOM lyrics and a beat that sounds drunk. What could be more Christmassy?
Hokum All Ye Faithful by Toh Kay
Despite being born on Christmas Eve, Toh Kay AKA Tomas Kalnoky appears to have little affection for the season. His lyrics as frontman of ska/punk giants Streetlight Manifesto are rich with existentialism and doubt in the face of religious dogma, making him the perfect person to cover Hokum All Ye Faithful by his friend Sycamore Smith in 2014. Kalnoky’s gentle delivery of Smith’s cynical lyrics (“the backwash from the cup of salvation”) make this the ultimate anti-Christmas song.
Every Time Christmas Comes Around by Michael McDonald
Now that you’ve driven everyone from the room, let’s finish with a more upbeat yuletide tune from Michael McDonald, pioneer of yacht rock and purveyor of high notes in The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Dan never did a Christmas song (now that would be sarcastic) but McDonald has made up for it with several holiday albums, the first of which included 2001’s Every Time Christmas Comes Around, a funky helping of blue-eyed soul to end Christmas on a high note.