Christmas music is one of the greatest genres in the world, in my opinion. While I am personally a firm believer of no Christmas until after Thanksgiving, come December 1st I go full out Christmas-crazy. My favorite yearly tradition is making the Christmas playlist. The sheer number of amazing musicians who produce Christmas music each year is unheard of.
There’s no reason to constrain yourself to hearing the same Irving Berlin song 800 times on the radio. Don’t put yourself through Christmas Shoes more than once in one season. Christmas music doesn’t just mean Rudolph and a White Christmas. Go home Judy Garland. So put down that Christmas Classics CD, pick up your lights, and check out my picks for the top 10 non-traditional Christmas songs.
10. Come To Christmas – Spirit Animal
Who knew that Santa and drop D chord sounded so good together? This definitely falls under the category of “if the word Christmas wasn’t in it, I wouldn’t know it was a Christmas song.” This single was released in 2013 from Spirit Animal, a band who’s hits include “The Black Jack White” and “BST FRNDS.” Consider this the alternative Christmas song that the 14 year-old punk in you always wanted. Also enjoy getting it incessantly stuck in your head.
9. Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus? – Guster
While not a Guster original (it was actually first recorded by 12-year old Augie Rios in 1958), Guster brought it back in 2004 to remind everyone that America doesn’t have a monopoly on Christmas music and made a pretty good argument for setting all Christmas music against a sick background beat. I think it’s a nice change from the traditional “Feliz Navidad” and I personally would have preferred to be singing “On Poncho, On Pedro!” during my 5th grade Christmas festival instead.
8. Santa Claus, Go Straight To the Ghetto – James Brown
“James Brown’s Funky Christmas” is arguably one of the best Christmas song compilations ever, and if you don’t own it you should buy it immediately for yourself, or your father, or really just everyone. (Rolling Stone rates it at number 3 on their list of top 25, but everyone hates Rolling Stone, so we can ignore that obviously slight to the Godfathe.) Released in 1995, it’s a collection of the best songs from Brown’s previous three Christmas albums. “Santa Claus, Go Straight To the Ghetto” is a catchy and moving R&B ballad, and also a social commentary that is still incredibly timely.
7. Christmas In the City – Nick D’ & The Believers
Not to be confused with the Marvin Gaye track of the same name, this brand new 2014 release from newcomers Nick D’ & The Believers is extremely good. Like….really good. The harmonies. The beat. The chorus. I’ve had it stuck in my head for days. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, the band has some really promising tracks, though the Christmas song is hands-down my favorite of their discography. Not ashamed at all to say that I will be listening to this track year round.
6. Getting Ready for Christmas Day – Paul Simon
My deep obsession with Paul Simon isn’t exactly a secret, but God is this song good. It’s everything that is perfect about Simon’s music: an incredible beat, beautiful harmonies, interesting lyrics, and a general aura of happiness. This isn’t a classic Simon song either—released in 2011, it was off his more recent album “So Beautiful or So What.” I refrained putting it higher on the list because some have said I allow my love of Paul Simon and his turkey costume to bias my judgement. But if you don’t make this song a staple of your holiday season, you’re dead to me.
5. Christmas In Hollis – RUN-DMC
If RUN-DMC’s Christmas track is not a staple on your yearly Christmas playlist, shame on you. This 1987 classic is one of the best hip-hop Christmas songs out there in my opinion. Effortlessly catchy and incredibly relatable (even if you aren’t from Queens), if this song doesn’t make you feel happy, you are a grinch. Also, who else got really excited when it was featured in that weird Honda Odyssey commercial a few years ago? And speaking of commercials, that leads us to…
4. The Christmas Song – The Raveonettes
I don’t really think I could tell you any other track by The Raveonettes, (which is probably a large failure on my part) but God is this song good. It perfectly captures the mood of a snowy winter night, Christmas lights blinking and a nice fire to keep you and loved one’s warm. It also featured prominently in one of my favorite Target ad campaigns a few years ago, along with a hysterical Circuit City commercial (RIP). Regardless of its commercial prowess, this song is catchy and perfect for the Christmas season.
3. Back Door Santa – Clarence Carter
And on to my favorite genre—Christmas innuendos! Infinitely better and dancier than “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and free of any of the played out “jingle my bells” or “under my tree” jokes, “Back Door Santa” is the gem of the genre. Released in 1968, this Carter track has been covered about a thousand times (but special shout out to the surprisingly good Jet version) and makes you get really pumped for Christmas—and then feel a little weird about yourself and wonder what you just listened to.
2. Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
“Christmas Wrapping” has basically become a Christmas classic, and everyone knows it. But it’s still shockingly sparse on the airwaves. I guess people don’t enjoy a nice dose of seasonal cynicism? But then again, it was covered on Glee, so I guess that’s the mark of whether a song has “made it” nowadays. I’ve appointed it the number two spot due to its prevalence, and also the fact that even though I love Christmas with the best of them, I can seriously relate to the bah-humbug sometimes.
1. Father Christmas – The Kinks
Only The Kinks could deliver a Christmas song that makes me confused, doubting the world a little and yet entirely pumped up. “Father Christmas” is the best Christmas song, and is the perfect 20-something Christmas track—”Father Christmas, give us some money.” In true Kinks style, what seems like a light hearted Christmas romp somehow turns into a sobering social commentary, as these kids tell Santa that toys are impractical and they’d rather have him give their dad a job. Catchy, yet depressing. Thanks Ray Davies.
What’s your favorite non-traditional Christmas song? Tweet it to us @litdarling