I can understand why people hate holiday songs. The same pool of 50 or so tunes are piped into every store starting in November (if we’re lucky), and a lot of artists rush out terrible recordings of the same ten classics to try and get a piece of the Christmas-song kitty. (To see what I’m talking about, read the list of the worst Christmas songs written for us by WFUV’s Rita Houston—and I’m just assuming she didn’t have enough room to include Miley Cyrus’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” or anything from David Archuleta’s Christmas from the Heart.)
But, while there’s a lot of bad holiday music floating around out there, there are also a lot of great songs. You just need someone to weed through it all for you. To borrow from How I Met Your Mother—challenge accepted! I tried to round up some recent holiday tunes, from the past year or so, that don’t get put into heavy rotation. Whether your personal holiday favorite is Andy Williams, John Lennon, Mariah Carey, or the Peanuts, you can incorporate some of these songs to freshen up your holiday playlist.
(Disclaimer: My apologies to those who don’t celebrate Christmas. I tried to track down songs for other holidays, but there aren’t as many—there are just no radio stations dedicated to playing 24 hours of Hanukkah songs. If you know of any good non-Christmas holiday songs besides the one I found, let me know in the comments! I’m dying to know.)
“Must Be Santa” by Bob Dylan
When I heard that Dylan was doing a Christmas album, I just assumed it’d be terrible—he doesn’t really strike me as “jolly,” you know? But, after hearing this accordion-driven song—and, more important, watching the goofy video—I’m pleased to admit how wrong I was. (Watch the video.)
“I Wish It Was Christmas Today” by Julian Casablancas
When The Strokes burst onto the music scene, they were hailed as the vanguards of New York cool. It makes sense, then, for a member of The Strokes to look to another New York icon—Saturday Night Live—for Christmas inspiration, taking a jokey holiday ditty and re-casting it in his signature, shoe-gazing style. (See the original SNL sketch, and then listen to the Julian Casablancas cover.)
“It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop” by Frightened Rabbit
Like the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” another personal favorite, this is more of a pretty song that’s better to listen to around this time of year. And, like the Pogues, Frightened Rabbit’s song comes to us from across the pond, only they sing in a swoon-inducing Scottish accent. (Hear the song.)
“All I Want for Christmas” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Between the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album and Karen O.’s contributions to the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack, you might have heard a lot from this band and its members this year. Their Christmas ditty, however, tones down a lot of their chaotic frenzy and is surprisingly sweet—it’s even got some “fa la la” action going on. (Listen at MySpace.)
“Christmastime Is Here Again” by the Flirtations
Fine, this is not recent by any stretch of the imagination—it came out in 1968 in the UK as the b-side to the Flirtations’ biggest single, “Nothing But a Heartache”—I just love the soulful, girl-group sound and wish it was played more. At the very least, it should be as well known as the Beatles song—which has a similar name and was released around the same time, but doesn’t have nearly the same amount of heart. (Hear the song.)
“Hanukkah” by The Mountain Goats
If you’re familiar with the songwriting of The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, you wouldn’t necessarily describe his acoustic, folky sound as “festive.” But, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing soul-crushingly depressing about his Hanukkah song, and he even does a little “Hava Nagila” at the end. (Find out more, and possibly download the song if it’s still available.)
So, what are your underplayed favorites? Let me know in the comments.