2017 Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck Playlist

It's Christmas music season! Woo hoo! [Sorry, I've been holding that in since August.] The problem, of course, is that most Christmas music sucks. Most holiday music in general is comprised of uninspired cash grabs or low-budget covers of public domain classics banged out by people with more aspiration than talent.

Then there's my playlist. I do the hard work of scouring the holiday music landscape to cherry-pick the very best of the best for you, then I whittle it down to a digestible playlist (harder than it sounds) rather than just posting all 500 of my favorite tracks.

So without further ado, pour yourself some eggnog, pull your chairs up round the fire, and turn up your speakers for the 2017 Wired For Music Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck Playlist.

  1. Destiny's Child - 8 Days Of Christmas
    Not sure what happened to the other 4 days of Christmas on this track, but with a hook this good, who gives a shit? This is the title track off the group's Christmas album, which of course has 9 tracks, not 8. I think one of the members of this group went on to have a successful solo career, but I'd have to double-check.
  2. Alan Lacy - Deck The Halls
    Arlington, TX's Alan Lacy has a bunch of great metal-guitar Christmas songs, and brings a real joy to whatever he plays, including this somewhat meandering version of Deck The Halls. I particularly like around the 2-minute mark where he starts playing the main theme over a progression of minor chords and then just goes full dissonant for a minute before returning to the main theme. Check out his stuff here.
  3.  Colorfair - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
    I'm a sucker for beautiful vocal harmony, and this song's got it where it counts. This husband & wife duo from California make lovely little pop songs, capitalizing on lead singer Lily Jones's breathy, gorgeous delivery. The accordion on this track (at least I think it's an accordion) is surprisingly tasteful and adds an old-country feel to this oddly named classic. Their Christmas EP is great - sparsely produced but full of rich sound nonetheless.
  4. The Pretenders - 2000 Miles
    This song is a stone cold classic, written as an homage to the band's original guitar player, who died in 1982. Although Chrissie Hynde has said that she hates both her vocals and lyrics on this song, she's wrong and the song is absolutely beautiful. Doesn't make a ton of sense, but it's beautiful.
  5. Ludacris - Ludacrismas
    This song gets credit for the title alone, but it's also just a silly, enjoyable little rum ball from the Fred Claus soundtrack. Here's what Rotten Tomatoes says about Fred Claus: "A slew of talent is wasted in this contrived and overly sentimental Christmas film, which can't quite get the balance between slapstick humor and sentimental family moments." I've never seen it, but I'm prepared to say this song is the only good thing about that movie. Edit: I have just learned that Ludacris is actually in this movie, which makes me kind of want to see it. I mean, Paul Giamatti plays Santa, how bad could it be? [Ed. note: rhetorical question] It also features Kevin Spacey as the villain, so, timely!
  6. Jackson 5 - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
    The way the bassline descends along with the vocals on "our troubles will be out of sight" is cause enough to include this on this year's playlist, but it's got plenty more going for it. The backing vocals are fantastic, and the bass over all is just doing whatever it wants, which is great. The only downside is that whichever Jackson sings the lead isn't the one with the best voice, but this song still feels like a hot toddy going down, just maybe a little heavy on the bourbon. Oh, and be sure to stay tuned for the coda.
  7. Emilie-Claire Barlow - Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! 
    Canadian vocalist Emilie-Claire Barlow not only sings a great, jazzy rendition of this seasonal classic from the time-before-global-warming-when-it-still-snowed, she's also voiced two characters in Sailor Moon. So, there.
  8. DMA and Oreo Jones - Xmas Woes
    This is from the really fun and occasionally bizarre Sufjan Stevens Chopped and Scrooged mixtape of remixes of some of this Christmas tracks. I'm not familiar with these particular artists but A) Oreo Jones is a cool fucking name, and B) this track is dope.
  9. KT Tunstall - Sleigh Ride
    I love this stupid song. My first holiday playlist featured the Spice Girls' version, which is actually amazing. I heard KT Tunstall's version on one of the Sirius XM holiday stations a couple years ago, and I fell in love. It's playful and cute and boppy, and Tunstall's Wikipedia bio begins like this: "Born in Edinburgh to a Hong Kong-born exotic dancer, she was adopted by David and Rosemary Tunstall of St Andrews."
  10. Ariana Grande - Last Christmas
    I really don't want to like Ariana Grande, because I'm old and grouchy, but she can sing (or fake it well enough) and she can put an original spin on one of the last entries to the pop holiday canon, which is no easy feat.
  11. Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors - We Three Kings
    Tennessee folk rock with a decidedly Phish vibe, at least to my ears. But don't worry, it's a good thing.
  12. Loretta Lynn - To Heck With Ole Santa Claus
    Loretta Lynn is country music royalty, and listening to her original holiday album Country Christmas, it's easy to see why. The album is infused with personality, wit, and damn good music. 2016's White Christmas Blue is also good, and will probably show up on a future playlist.
  13. Ed Harcourt - In The Bleak Mindwinter
    Ed really puts the "bleak" into this one, but it's still a fun track that makes good use of some Christmasy sounds (like a glockenspiel) to sparkle up a straight-ahead (if bleak) rock track. I got this one off a Mojo Christmas compilation. I'd never heard of this guy before but he's definitely got a Nick Cave vibe lurking in there.
  14. Good Lovelies - Another Year To Wait
    To me, this group's voices are the equivalent of slowly pouring honey into a mug of warm tea. I don't even really like tea that much, but while I do pour honey into my coffee, that feels less seasonal to me for some reason, anyway this song is great and if I do these playlists long enough I will eventually use every track from the Good Lovelies Christmas album.
  15. Joseph Spence - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
    This is the most bizarre version I've ever heard of this song, and that's counting Bob Dylan's. Bahamian guitarist and "singer" Joseph Spence specializes in drop-D tuning, which he capitalizes on to play his own bass lines on the guitar. But what's really impressive about this song are the vocals: he growls out a small handful of the words, spitting out odd syllables and grunts for the rest of it, sounding like a man possessed, speaking in tongues. 
  16. Mariah Carey - All I want For Christmas Is You
    Yes, this song is overplayed. Yes, you can hear this song on other playlists. Yes, people have every right to be sick of this song. And yet. When was the last time you actually listened to it? It's not only a virtuoso vocal performance on top of slick (for the time) production and a ridiculously memorable arrangement, it's also the last song to make it into the Christmas canon, pop or otherwise. And in this age of media diffusion and customized playlists, I think the odds of another song breaking in any time soon are pretty low. If you haven't listened to this song in a while - really listened to it - do yourself a favor and listen again. And enjoy Slate's dissection of why this song works so well while you do. (Hint: diminished chords!)
  17. MONEY - A Cocaine Christmas And An Alcoholic's New Year (Live)
    MONEY are a band from Manchester, England, England [not a typo], and this is the only song I've ever heard by them. For a clue as to their sound, the title of their latest album is "Suicide Songs." The chorus of this song is "I've wasted all my time/On cocaine at Christmas and bottles of wine/And I'm as happy as a child." If you like sad Englishmen, you are in for a treat! 
  18. Low - Just Like Christmas
    Low's Christmas EP is another one where, given enough time, I will eventually include every track from it on a future playlist. It's that good, and this spare little number is no exception. Sad, energetic, and featuring drums tuned to sounds like timpanis and an organ, this song has a velvety feel to it that I just love.
  19. The Joseph And Mary Chain - Twelve Days Of Christmas
    I definitely misread their name at first and was beyond excited that the Jesus and Mary Chain had released a Christmas track. Even after that disappointment, this track won me over with its odd little lo-fi charm. That main riff is just so cute and catchy.
  20. The Dave Edmunds Band - Run Rudolph Run
    A little rockabilly, a little boogie-woogie, the tinkling piano in this one is what gets me the most. Apparently Dave Edmunds is Welsh. I learned that today.
  21. Gwen Stefani - Jingle Bells
    Gwen Stefani is responsible for possibly my favorite non-traditional Christmas track of all time, but I still wasn't predisposed to like her holiday album. In fact I was downright wary, but boy was I proven wrong. Her take on Jingle Bells is pure candy cane sugar.
  22. Shudder To Think - Al Hanisim
    A minor song from a minor holiday, Craig Wedren infuses so much emotion into this one, it might as well be a kaddish. The song is an expression of gratitude for miracles, and has a line about God delivering the wicked into the hands of the righteous, which sounds pretty fucking great in 2017.
  23. Sufjan Stevens - Come On! Let's Boogey To The Elf Dance!
    Not every track on his 6- or 7-disc (or whatever it is now) Christmas collection is memorable, but some of them are real winners. This one's a bit of an underdog; the lyrics in the chorus are "Santa Claus is coming/Hear the banjo strumming" and yet there's like 2 notes of banjo in the whole song, but still. The backing vocals in the verses more than make up for that.
  24. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis featuring René Marie - 'Zat You, Santa Claus?
    Sassy, sexy, and silly, René Marie's voice is capable of a great many things, many of them in this song alone. The band is of course excellent, and together they bring something totally new to Louis Armstrong's classic.
  25. The New Anxiety - Snowed In On Christmas
    Every year the good people at Arbor Christmas (about whom I know nothing) put out a Christmas compilation on Bandcamp, and every year there's at least a few good tracks, it not more. This track from The New Anxiety (about whom I know nothing) feels perfectly wintry and to me, and is catchy as hell to boot. "I was just glad to be/At home with you/Snowed in forever/With nothing to do." Yeah, that sounds pretty nice.
  26. Jackie Wilson - Silent Night
    It's Jackie Wilson. He's singing Silent Night. What more could you possibly need to know, that this song is like a warm cup of cocoa sipped from under a thick fleece blanket? Well, it is.
    I can neither confirm nor deny that I wrote this song with my sometime musical collaborator from Norway, synth wizard Kristian Børresen.
Folks, that's the end of the sleigh ride for this year. Thanks for coming along on this journey. I hope you found something here you liked. If you did, tell a friend, if not, tell an enemy. And no matter what, enjoy this 1973 video of Wizzard playing their classic I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day featuring Roy Wood in full psychedelic Santa regalia, which the BBC announcer describes as "Roy Wood dressed as Baby Spice." Ah, that dry British wit.

Be sure to check out previous years' playlists while you're around.

1 comment:

shmoo said...

I love that Low song.

That Spence song was, as you said, bizarre. I love how there are all those applause at the end.

- Eric K.