Earlier this week, the Music Mix premiered a video of My Chemical Romance’s Yo Gabba Gabba! performance of “Every Snowflake Is Different (Just Like You),” a song that will hopefully become a standard for years to come.
Luckily for everybody, My Chem’s foray into winter cheer isn’t a rarity. Traditional Christmas music can’t help but grate on the nerves, simply because of its sheer overexposure.
But every year brings a new crop of holiday tunes that turn up the rock and help provide a bit of respite from yet another choral version of “Deck the Halls.”
In fact, some bands have made trying to break free from the holiday doldrums an annual tradition. The Killers have produced a Christmas song every year since 2006, with a few of those tunes (most notably 2008’s “Joseph, Better You Than Me”) ranking among the band’s best work. This year’s track is called “The Cowboy’s Christmas Ball” and is adapted from a poem of the same name. It’s the honky-tonk stomp Brandon Flowers’ mustache always promised, even though his excellent facial hair is absent from the video below.
My Morning Jacket are also familiar with spreading musical cheer come December, dating back to the 2000 EP My Morning Jacket Does Christmas Fiasco Style. Their new iTunes Sessions EP features five new versions of Christmas classics (plus a new song called “Welcome Home” and an alternate version of Circuital‘s “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” Their cover of the Band’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight” is especially warm.
But where do these songs stack up against some of the rockingest offbeat Christmas tunes in history? Take a spin through some of our favorites below (many of which are on a compilation my wife and I put together for friends called We Wish You A Purry Catmas), and cast your own votes in the comments.
The Pogues featuring Kristy MacColl, “Fairytale of New York”
Any discussion of Christmas songs that rock have to begin and end with this classic, which spins a narrative of love and drunkenness on Christmas Eve. Though there’s a lot of domestic disturbance in the lyrics, it still manages to provide a lovely, uplifting sing-along. It’s one of those songs that even sounds great when terrible bands cover it. “Fairytale of New York” would be totally badass even if it wasn’t a holiday classic–you know, just like Die Hard.
Lemmy Kilmister, Billy Gibbons, and Dave Grohl, “Run Run Rudolph”
OK, so it’s not an original, but any time Lemmy gets to growl about Santa’s sleigh, you can’t help but smile. This comes from a mostly turgid compilation called We Wish You A Metal Christmas, but between Lemmy’s savagery and a handful of boogie-woogie guitar solos care of ZZ Top axman Gibbons, it’s enough to turn “Run Run Rudolph” into a metal staple.
Prince, “Another Lonely Christmas”
Obviously, Prince’s contribution to the Christmas songbook is still sort of about sex, but it’s got a surprising amount of pathos for a depressive Christmas Day slow jam. This track was the B-side to the “I Would Die 4 U” single, which is more proof that 1984 ruled.
Sonic Youth, “Santa Doesn’t Cop Out On Dope”
From a low-fi alt-rock holiday compilation called Just Say Nöel, Sonic Youth spin a noisy narrative about traveling to the North Pole to visit Santa and all his little “dwarves” to discover that St. Nick does his job completely sober. It’s best summed up by the line “On Donner/ On Blitzen/ But never on smack!”
The White Stripes, “Candy Cane Children”
When they were still a band, the White Stripes issued a lot of rare singles around Christmas time that have become collector’s items among people who still fetishize 7-inch vinyl. “Candy Cane Children” is simultaneously a tribute to holiday violence and to the group’s diehard fans, who often referred to themselves by that title because of the group’s commitment to their color scheme.
Billy Idol, “Yellin’ at the Xmas Tree”
Why is it that so many of these songs are about drinking on Christmas? This track, from Idol’s totally underrated 2005 comeback album Devil’s Playground, tells a prototypical drunk dad story that also contains the lyric “Santa’s balls are jingling,” which is just filthy. Idol apparently liked getting into the Christmas spirit so much that he recorded an entire album’s worth of standards in 2006 and called it Happy Holidays.
Tom Waits, “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis”
Despite its scandalous title, “Christmas Card” is actually a pretty saccharine song. Recorded for Waits’ 1979 album Blue Valentine, it’s a typical Waits narrative about people living on the outskirts of society in rough, blues-ready circumstances, and though it doesn’t talk about the Yuletide season specifically, it does tap into the spirit of end-of-the-year reflection and the torrent of both sadness and possibility the season brings.
Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”
Though he fronted one of the most powerful punk combos of the genre’s first wave, Joey Ramone was a softie at heart, and his band’s Christmas anthem (one of the only highlights of the otherwise wretched Brain Drain album) is as joyous and sweet as any chorus of “Jingle Bells.”
Now that you’re thoroughly in the spirit, pour some eggnog and let us know what tracks you crank up when you’re looking to stay festive but don’t want the same old songs.
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