It's the most wonderful time of the year! The time of year when I listen to so much Christmas music that my ears start to bleed tinsel and candy canes. Let's face it, a lot of holiday music just plain sucks. So although I haven't touched this blog in about a year (I've been busy), I have sacrificed my ears and listened to as much holiday music as I could find - all to find the best gems for you. And so, gentle reader, I present to you, this year's Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck playlist. Enjoy!
- The Polyphonic Spree (ft. School of Seven Bells) - Silver Bells
A somewhat psychedelic, decidedly trippier-than-the-original take on this classic. I think it's cool that this song is over 60 years old and can still sound totally new to me.
- The Primitives - You Trashed My Christmas
I had never heard of this British band before I picked up some Christmas compilation featuring this song (or maybe my brother sent it to me, I don't remember stuff ever since we had a baby), but I love this song and I love how they used Christmas as an excuse to write a great breakup song.
- Punch Brothers - O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Like everyone, I thought this was Sufjan Stevens when I first heard it, but really it's a group started by mandolin genius Chris Thile. It's gorgeous.
- Béla Fleck and the Flecktones - Linus and Lucy
I have no idea what this song has to do with the holidays other than that it's on Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. The instrumentation on this version is somehow exactly what this song needs.
- Jonathan Coulton & John Roderick - Uncle John
Coulton's trademark humor and musicality come through here, and apparently the other guy was in that band Harvey Danger that was on the radio all the time when I was in college. Now we've all learned something.
- Albert King - Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'
I believe the title says it all.
- Blondie - We Three Kings
I was not aware that Blondie rocked quite this hard. The slightly off-key vocals don't even take away from the driving beat and kick-ass organ part.
- The Emotions - Black Christmas
I found this song on a Stax Christmas compilation, I think, and even though I'm not usually into soul or R&B all that much, this trio of sisters from Chicago won my heart. Or at least my ears.
- Elizabeth Mitchell - Mary Had A Baby
This absolutely beautiful track is from a Folkways compilation of songs taken from Ruth Crawford Seeger's (Pete Seeger's stepmother) collection of Christmas folk songs. I can't get enough of this one.
- Nick Lowe - Children Go Where I Send Thee
Nick Lowe! Christmas album! 'Nuff said, I believe. This version chugs along like a train full of hobos.
- Bad Religion - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
It sounds exactly how you think it would sound, and that is a good thing. (Actually the background "aaah"s in the second and third verses took me by surprise, but in a great way.)
- Kay Martin & Her Body Guards - I Know What You Want For Christmas
Yes, I am a sucker for stupid Christmas songs about sex. So sue me.
- Twisted Sister - Oh Come All Ye Faithful
OK, so this doesn't really hold a candle to Weezer's version (featured in 2010's playlist), but I have to give Twisted Sister major props for just accepting that We're Not Gonna Take It is 90% the same song as this Christmas carol which dates at least to the 17th century (and is possibly even older). The fact that they basically just covered their most popular song with words from an even more popular song, and that the whole thing works, is pretty cool.
- Mike Clark - The First Noel
This instrumental from the keyboard player for The Jicks is exactly the kind of Christmas music I try to make with my own home recording setup, except I'm not as good as him.
- Jewel - It's Christmastime
I don't usually go for the vocal stylings of this Alaskan chanteuse, and I do have to admit that this song is a bit on the cheesy side [much in the same way that cheese is "much on the cheesy side" - Editor] but I have to give her props A) for sounding really nice and B) for writing an original Christmas song that basically sounds like a newly unearthed old English Christmas carol from 200 years ago.
- Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
This version isn't too crazy or massively original, but it's just good old-fashioned swing-band fun. And that's enough for me.
- The Puppini Sisters - Santa Baby
No, they're not really sisters, but that doesn't make their harmonies any less sweet. This is gorgeous ear candy, and a loving paean to a simpler time when all music presumably sounded like this.
- Mark Lanegan - Cherry Tree Carol
The former Screaming Trees frontman has confused a lot of people with his dark, acoustic solo work, but it's a perfect fit for this dark carol from the 15th century (or thereabouts). This weird little song is about Joseph and Mary out in the woods, where they come upon a cherry orchard. Mary asks Joseph to pick her some cherries, and a petulant Joseph responds with "Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee." Not a crazy response, if you ask me. Anyway, at that point, little baby Jesus (from within the womb) commands the cherry tree boughs to bend closer to the ground, and Joseph repents - but in Lanegan's version, instead of repenting, Joseph asks the baby when its birthday will be, and the baby says January 5th. Anyone want to explain that part to me?
- The Smithereens - Christmas Time Is Here Again
A fairly straightforward cover of the Beatles classic, which sounds like a great McCartney track where he jotted down some placeholder words (scrambled eggs, anyone?) and then forgot to come back and fill in the blanks.
- Mary Chapin Carpenter - Hot Buttered Rum
Not only is this song lovely, but the way she sings it, I can't tell if she is likening her love to hot buttered rum, or if her love is hot buttered rum. The lyrics are actually really dark, so the latter interpretation is pretty damn sad. Yay, winter!
- Kelly Clarkson - Please Come Home For Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)
I was also surprised that I put Kelly Clarkson on here. (Playing this playlist here at home tonight, I learned that apparently my wife can recognize Kelly Clarkson's voice instantly.) But her voice is a powerful force, and she uses it responsibly here - holding back just a bit, leaving the listener wanting a touch more, instead of the overkill which seems to be de rigueur these days among her peers. If any blonde white girl had to cover Charles Brown, I'm glad it was her.