‘Tis the season… for really crappy songs about angels and sleigh bells and love in the snow. Let’s face it, even if you like Christmas, most Christmas songs are syrupy, sappy, badly written pap that would never make it on the radio at any other time of the year.
Fortunately, a few bands have taken it upon themselves to make Christmas songs for those of us who don’t want to lower our musical standards to celebrate the season. These songs range from happy to sad, sentimental to bitter, but all of them show a depth of songwriting, singing, and instrumental talent you won’t find in “Frosty the Snowman”. Here are ten of our favorite Christmas songs that don’t suck.
“Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues
Leave it to the Irish to write the world’s most depressing Christmas song. What other holiday fare begins “It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank. An old man said to me, won’t see another one…”
“Christmas in Prison” by John Prine
Apparently jail is a popular locale for Christmas songwriters. A rare underrated gem from one of the greatest American songwriters in history. Prine mixes sweet and sad perfectly with lyrics like “the searchlight in the big yard swings round with the guns and spotlights snowflakes like dust in the sun. It’s Christmas in prison, there’ll be music tonight. I’ll probably get homesick. I love you, good night.”
“A Christmas Carol” by Tom Lehrer
If you despise the overly commercial nature of the Christmas season, Tom Lehrer has the song for you, mockingly celebrating what Americans really worship during the holidays; stuff. You know it’s going to be a good Christmas song when early on you get a line like “On Christmas day you can’t get sore, your fellow man you must adore. There’s time to rob him all the more, the other 364…”
“Grateful for Christmas” by Hayes Carll
Talk about a dagger to the heart. Texas troubadour Hayes Carll takes us through one family’s lifetime of Christmases, with family dying and leaving until in the end it’s just Hayes and his mother celebrating alone. Hayes Carll has always known how to turn the knife and this song is a study in how to do it perfectly with lines like “Hey mom, how you doing? Yeah, I miss him too. No, the Christmas lights don’t make your hair look blue. The cousins ain’t coming, John’s overseas, and I guess my wife loves her family more than me…”
“She’s Underneath the Mistletoe Again” by the Trailer Park Troubadours
The Trailer Park Troubadours’ entire Christmas album Merry Christmas from the Trailer Park is the cure for crappy Christmas music, but this little ditty about a guy who keeps finding his girlfriend “underneath the mistletoe again”, but not with him is the best of the lot.
“Patrick Swayze Christmas” by Crow T. Robot
The absolute best part of Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Christmas episode “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is the host segment with “Patrick Swayze Christmas”, Crow’s attempt to “put an action sequence into Christmas carols” by writing a Christmas ode to his favorite movie, Roadhouse. With lines like “let’s have a Patrick Swayze Christmas this year, or I’ll tear your throat out and kick you in the ear!” we think he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
“Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Not even originally conceived as a Christmas song, this Trans-Siberian Orchestra favorite was actually one piece in the Rock Opera puzzle that was Savatage’s Dead Winter Dead album. But whether it’s Savatage or TSO doing the song, the wailing guitar rendition of “Carol of the Bells” is the rockingest Christmas song you’ll ever hear.
“Oh Come All Ye Faithful” by Twisted Sister
Yes, you read that right. Twisted Sister, the Heavy Metal boogeymen of Tipper Gore’s nightmares did an entire album of Christmas music. The best song of the lot is an uptempo rendition of one of Christmas’ most religious songs. Dee Snider shows off his excellent voice to its best here.
“It’s Cold Outside” by Brian Setzer and Ann Margret
This is another song that’s been covered by everyone on Earth but no one has ever done it as well as Brian Setzer and Ann Margret. Setzer’s smooth guitar is perfect for the song and Margret, even in her sixties, oozes more sexuality than the Britney Spears’ of the world will ever dream of.
“Kidnap the Sandy Claws” by Danny Elfman
Tim Burton’s brilliant Nightmare Before Christmas is the best Christmas movie ever hands down, not in small part because of Danny Elfman’s excellent soundtrack. Nowhere is his twisted humor more on display than Lock, Shock, and Barrel’s rendition of “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” which includes the lines “I say that we take a cannon, aim it at his door and then, knock three times and when he answers Sandy Claws will be no more! You’re so stupid, think now, if we blow him up to smithereens. We may lose some pieces and then Jack will beat us black and green!”
What are your favorite non-traditional Christmas songs? Let us know in the comments section.