I swear I’m not a grinch, although I have been accused of being “that guy” who believes Christmas has been overcommercialized to the point where nearly everything has lost the lustrous innocence from our childhood, including music. Radio stations, for instance, trample over one another worse than rampaging shoppers on Black Friday to play the most “festive” songs as early as humanly possible. (You know who you are, Star 102.5 in Buffalo!)
Now, I don’t think everything absorbed auditorily in the leadup to the birth of Santa is ALL bad. There are a number of ho-ho-holiday tunes that y’know, actually ROCK, and that I admittedly enjoy. I’m not sure what to think yet of the latest interpretation of “Silent Night” from Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme (along with ragtime-sounding Aussie C.W. Stoneking). It definitely isn’t as awesome as his BFF Dave Grohl’s mashup of “Everlong” with “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Linus and Lucy” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, courtesy of when Foo Fighters were on Saturday Night Live a year ago. Maybe it just needs to grow on me. Anyway, I’ve dug deep into my velvety red gift bag and come up with ten music presents I would consider tolerable as you trudge your way through the mall. And if any of you are thinking of pointing out how I’ve done pretty much this exact same piece in the past, well…consider this my way of regifting!
If you’re a fan of Julian Casablancas, you probably know The Strokes singer contributed vocals to the Daft Punk creation “Instant Crush”. You’re probably also aware of the stocking stuffer on his debut solo album Phrazes for the Young, and believe it to be an instant Xmas classic. Casablancas delivers merriment so effortlessly, you’d swear he was meant to croon carols all along. Much more so than Michael Bublé, even though the latter incredulously won an Album of the Year JUNO for his Christmas.
Julian Casablancas – I Wish It Was Christmas Today
Between the years 2006 to 2016, The Killers released eleven straight Christmassy songs, following in the snowy footprints of bands such as Pearl Jam who like to leave the musical equivalent of cookies and milk for their fans. Pine-smelling frontman Brandon Flowers may warble about how Joel is “filthy” as his own ugly sweater blinks intermittently, but at least Joel’s cleaner than Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. Ew. Or rather, make that hidy ho!
The Killers with Jimmy Kimmel – Joel the Lump of Coal
I did an interview a few years ago with Jordan Pudnik, where we briefly touched on A Very New Found Glory Christmas, his pop punk band’s 2012 red and white coloured cassette release. The EP’s opening track “Nothing for Christmas” is a surprisingly sweet treat, with its acoustically toned down yet still in your face message of love and unselfishness. Just you try to not shout along with the chorus, emo style! Speaking of which, have you heard the brand new 2-song Emo Christmas by Wavves, with its on-brand opening line of “Something about Christmas makes me cry, and I don’t know why”?
New Found Glory – Nothing for Christmas
Punk rock, if you weren’t aware, has a long and storied history with Christmas. There are no shortage of ditties we could have chosen to properly represent the genre, from Shane MacGowan of The Pogues’ famous duet with Kirsty MacColl on “Fairytale of New York” to “Oi to the World!” by The Vandals (I prefer No Doubt’s very ska-ish cover, personally). Bad Religion even got in on the act when they sped up “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. In light of the last original Ramone passing away in 2014 (RIP Tommy, forever in our hearts), I thought it only appropriate that their fast-paced peace-maker be on our list.
Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)
Everything is awesome for Canada’s music wonder twins Tegan and Sara. I mean c’mon, who needs to write a letter to Santa when you’ve done the theme to The Lego Movie? Back in 2010, when Calgary’s favourite daughters were riding a wave of Sainthood success, they recorded a version of the high-pitched cartoony chestnut “The Chipmunk Song”. It’s cutesy enough to bring a smile to even the biggest scrooge’s face, while not being too saccharine that it becomes sickeningly annoying.
Tegan and Sara – The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)
Simplistic, 2-piece garage rock meets yuletide cheer. You would imagine with their red, white and black colour motif and peppermint obsession that The White Stripes probably cut a toy mountain’s worth of Noel-inspired recordings in their just-over 10-year history. Bah humbug-ly, “Candy Cane Children” is Jack and Meg White’s sole offering, although it’s arguably better than any gold, frankincense and myrrh. (If you’re lucky enough to have this rarity, you’ll know that one of the B-sides is a reading of the story of the Magi!)
The White Stripes – Candy Cane Children
Before we go any further, can I express my dismay over how a band named SLEIGH BELLS (another musical duo to boot), doesn’t have a single seasonal song to their credit? Disgraceful! Thankfully, fellow New York noisemakers Yeah Yeah Yeahs came out with “All I Want for Christmas” as a free download in 2008. Good on them for staying wayyy under the Secret Santa spending limit, and oh, take THAT Mariah Carey! As an aside, there may have been a few Christmases where I’ve asked nicely for Karen O under my tree…
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – All I Want for Christmas
Big Sugar’s Gordie Johnson has always had a little bad-boy swagger to him; on this holly-jolly collab with bestie band Wide Mouth Mason, he goes all kinds of naughty. Think “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, only more X-rated, with a porn groove and feral growling that puts something previously taboo like Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Sir Psycho Sexy” to shame. Or “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, take your pick. One thing’s for sure, it’s gonna take A LOT for the bearded blues reggae rocker to get back in Santa’s good book!
I know there have been other hip-hop holiday jamz since 1987, but in my humble egg nog drinking opinion, the only one that really matters in Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas in Hollis”. Not only is it from a golden age of rap music, its accompanying video – featuring the late Jam Master Jay and a pooch posin’ as an ill reindeer – was a sterling example of MTV’s all-powerful influence back then over all aspects of society as we knew it, Christmas included. Still required viewing this time of year!
Run-D.M.C. – Christmas in Hollis
You can have your Chuck Berry and Canadian expat Bryan Adams. Their takes on “Run Rudolph Run” are undeniably rollicking; it’s perhaps the song with the best (and most rockin’) guitar work of any “traditional” fare. One rendition that blows them all out of the water was the special get-together between ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Dave Grohl and the devil incarnate himself, Lemmy from Motörhead (RIP). Because after all, you can’t spell Santa…without Satan. Like the album it appears on says, We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year!
Lemmy, Billy Gibbons, Dave Grohl – Run Rudolph Run
With cat videos pretty much being the reason the Internet exists today, I’m honestly shocked that Jingle Cats haven’t made a Coachella-type comeback with the screen-obsessed iGeneration. My apologies to anyone over 30 years old who I’ve sent cowering in a corner over the memory of frisky felines a-PAW-llingly meowing “White Christmas”, interrupted by the occasional woof. Yes, it is the textbook definition of tacky tinsel ruining something beautiful, yet at the same time is strangely kind of amazing.
Jingle Cats – White Christmas