It's Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

Holiday music is a polarizing thing. There are people who have no compunctions about listening to Christmas music in July, and others who can’t stand it on any day, in any season. The issue is fraught, because if you run afoul of someone in the other camp—say, if you criticize a holiday album that you consider to be a tossed-off grab for money that fiercely loyal fans totally love—you’re likely to get an earful.

Personally, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I love holiday music—the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t want to hear any jingling bells before I eat my turkey. That said, once the tryptophan wears off, bring on the 455 covers of Wham’s “Last Christmas”.

I can understand why it’s wearying, though. It seems as if the same small pool of songs are everywhere you turn—in every store, behind every commercial. It’s maddening. That’s why, every year, I try to seek out new music to mix in to my holiday playlist so I don’t get sick of the old standards. (Believe me, this makes my iTunes “shuffle” feature fun for the other 11 months of the year.)

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But, with gift-giving also in season, the budget is too tight to blow on holiday music, even if the mp3 version of John Denver and the Muppets is only $5 on Amazon. It’s okay. I’ve found some cheaper options for you.

*In addition to its modestly priced Muppet album, Amazon is also giving away 25 Days of Free Holiday Songs. The site unveils a new one each day, sort of like a musical Advent calendar. Once a song is released, you can download it for free for the rest of the 25 days. It’s not just focused on Christmas, either. The first song is “White Winter Hymnal” by the Fleet Foxes, which is more about wearing cold-weather clothes and scarves than about anything holiday-related.

*Target has its own holiday compilation, The Christmas Gig, that it’s giving away for free. But don’t expect Andy Williams or other crooners. This sampler skews towards indie rock, with Christmas-related tracks from Best Coast and Wavves, Bishop Allen, Blackalicious, and Little Jackie. Two of the songs are in Spanish.

*NPR’s All Songs Considered devotes one show a year to favorite holiday music—and you can download the episodes for free. Sure, it’s a podcast, so you have to listen to holiday reminiscences in-between tracks—this is something you can throw on while you wrap gifts, but don’t add it to the holiday party playlist. They haven’t gotten around to it yet this year, but you can still check out 2009’s selections, which includes Bob Dylan, Sufjan Stevens, and a song called “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” From there, you can also check out past years’ picks.

*My final suggestion requires a little more legwork. The Hype Machine is a blog that aggregates other music blogs. So, you can type in one search term—say, “Christmas”—and find tons of music bloggers who have written about the subject. You have to go to each blog individually to actually download the songs (or not), and often, you can find that the links are old or outdated. But, sometimes, you can find a treasure trove of holiday tracks from an obscure blog that you never would have come across in your daily routine.

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What’ are your favorite holiday songs? Want to defend any former American Idol runner-up’s Christmas albums that I may have disparaged in this blog last year? Let me know in the comments.

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