Monday, December 1, 2008

Top 15 Non-Traditional Christmas Songs

EVERYONE. We put the tree up. Operation Christmastime has been initiated. The only thing left to do is wait... and sing!

(I apologize... my patter is rusty after the four day hiatus. More like, "Hi! Ate, us," as in, "Hello, we just ate," because BOY did I eat this weekend. Oh, shut up.)

15. Dogs Barking “Jingle Bells”

If Rob wrote this list, it'd probably be Number One. If dogs wrote this list, it'd probably be Number {Barking Noises}. (That was a little dog humor for y'all, y'all.)

14. "This Christmas", The Dismemberment Plan

Yeah, yeah... this is an obscure cover of song made popular by a totally different artist. Whatevs, man. Whatevs. This song and D-Plan are a perfect marriage. Seek. It. Out.

13. "Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas", Okkervil River

Emo as all get out, but even sad kids love Christmas. And the "float room to room like a ghost" imagery nails the feeling of visiting your old house over vacation. I wouldn't gather 'round the piano to belt this one out, but it's worth a somber, solitary listen.

12. "Family Business", Kanye West

Yeah, why not. I like driving around my old neighborhood to this song. Sometimes it is good to play to one's strengths.

11. "Bizarre Christmas Incident", Ben Folds

Caitlin lobbied really hard for this one and I have to agree, it's a pretty festive treat. Any song with a "Santa is a big fat fuck" sing-and-clapalong a cappella breakdown is welcome at my tree-trimming.

10. "Blue Christmas", Elvis Presley

This is one of only a handful of Elvis songs I'm legitimately into. Does that make me a bad person? Or, like, un-American? I pay taxes, I vote, I'm down with the whole "Never Forget" thing. But I don't get all aesthetically hot and bothered by Elvis.

9. "Same Auld Lang Syne", Dan Fogelberg

Honestly, I should have put this at like, number two, because goddammit, I love this song so much and I don't care what sort of ridiculous person that makes me. I am not entirely sure how much sense this song makes, but every time I hear it in a deli or a cafeteria or in a dentist's office, I want to stand up and sing along, because every word of it is the ecstatic truth. Every moment, from the uber-80's piano intro to the cheesy sax coda, is pure, unbridled, the-mundane-as-the-sublime brilliance.

8. "River", Joni Mitchell

This one time, Rob, Laksh, a bunch of dudes, and I were at West Way Diner after a play, and we broke into this song. We knew all the words, it was amazing. (I think Laksh was a little over it after the first verse, but we kept going.) To be frank, it's only a "Christmas song" because she opens with "It's comin' on Christmas, they're cuttin' down trees..." And y'know what? It's a hell of a downer. It's about a girl who regrets ending things with a guy, so she asks for a river to skate away on. But it's pretty and the piano line is memorable and it evokes a certain, my-parents-love-this-and-now-I-love-it-too feeling, because when you sing it, you feel closer to that time and place, I guess.

7. "Fairytale of New York", The Pogues with Kristy MacColl

As far as Christmas songs go, this is pretty gritty fare. (Not too many of them drop the ol' "faggot" bomb.) It plays like brutally honest, kitchen-sink stuff, though... love is twisted and bitter, life is long and uncertain, you can always look forward to Christmas--somewhere in the whiskey-soaked middle of these truisms, there is a kind of painful peace.

6. "Christmas Time is Here", The Vince Guaraldi Trio

Ubiquitous? Kind of. Semi-eerie? Now that you mention it, yah. Over-played? Never.

5. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding", Elvis Costello and Stephen Colbert, with friends

I've been gushing about this for a full week now, so I'll try to keep it short. Seriously, watch the special. Sweet harmony.

4. "Last Christmas", Wham!

This is just a flat-out classic. As far as the video goes, though... sure, George--you "used to date" Andrew Ridgely's girlfriend. We all believe you, pal. If you were Ric Ocasek, you would have written "My Best Friend's Girl". But you are a better man than Ric Ocasek. You gave us "Last Christmas". Thanks, guy.

3. "Little Drummer Boy", Bing Crosby and David Bowie

One of my favorite things in the world is Caitlin's love for Christmas. Some people pull for baseball teams, others pull for senatorial candidates, Caitlin pulls for Christmas. When she puts this song on, we always pick parts and mumble through what we remember of the opening dialogue. I guess it's our little non-traditional tradition.

2. "Jesus’ Birthday Party", Caitlin Shure/Shruti Kumar, as performed by Mark Junek

Okay, this one's a little inside. All I'm gonna say is, once upon a time, there was a musical called XMAS: A Secular Spectacular. Caitlin and Shruti gave it birth, Tom and Becky and I wrote a script, Geo and Olivia got us moneys, and Jordy was our mom/choreographer. And this song was the centerpiece. Because on Jesus' birthday party, it's your birthday, too.

1. "Christmas in Prison", John Prine

My dad used to sing this at family Christmas parties, during that awkward part of the evening right before presents... all the little kids fidgeting and sneaking over to the tree, all the adults checking their watches and refilling their drinks. My mom would join in on the harmonies and every time my dad sang the line "Her heart is as big as this whole goddamn jail," he'd smile at me, because he knew how nervous cursing made me. (I was a weird fuckin' kid, man.) Anyway, that's my Christmas memory and this is my favorite Christmas song. There are no actual John Prine versions of this song on YouTube, but this cover is pretty damn good, and WHAT--the Mountain Goats did one, too.


Lakshmi said...

Last Christmas should have been number one.

Anna said...

If this list were titled "Songs to have sex to" then the dog barking song would have been number 1.

Rob said...

Let me note that "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love and produced by Phil Spector should have made this list.

Also, I agree with Anna.