Here are 10 Christmas songs that won’t do your head in
It’s the most magical time of the year. You’re hard pressed to avoid a speaker not blasting out a Chrissy song you’ve heard a million times before. Don’t get us wrong, The Pogues and Mariah have crafted some huge seasonal tunes, but they can get a bit much on the thousandth listen. That’s why GARETH WARE has gone and compiled 10 alternative Chrissy tunes that will provide a welcome respite fro the over-saturated anthems.
Allo Darlin’ – ‘Only Dust Behind’
The songwriting vehicle for the Rockhampton raised, Europe-based songwriter Elizabeth Morris, Allo Darlin’ have attracted a devoted following via their meaningful, relatable and romanticised depiction of people, places and situations. On ‘Only Dust Behind’ she recounts a seasonal hangover alongside flashbacks of the night before to create something subtle, deceptively simple and moving. Her claim that ‘last night we were shooting stars, we were leaving only dust behind’ rings ever more poignant with the knowledge that, with the band having played their last show earlier this month, this Christmas is the first following their disbandment.
The Hives & Cyndi Lauper – ‘A Christmas Duel’
One of those collaborations that seems not so much likely as unimaginable, the 1-2 punch of Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and Lauper go to town in a battle of vocal showmanship as the former’s Cramps-esque rumble vies for attention with the latter’s powerful pop tones. To a tune that sounds like the E Street Band doing a Spector classic they attempt something approaching reconciliation as they detail infidelity, torched record collection and attempted hitmen hiring. Whether they succeed is anyone’s guess but it’s a riot to be a fly on the wall.
Paul Kelly – ‘How To Make Gravy’
Alright, so maybe not an alternative Christmas song in the truest sense but how can you not include it? “I have a Christmas song but it doesn’t have a chorus and it’s set in a prison” were PK’s immortal words as he pitched it for inclusion on a Salvation Army compilation, but any doubts they may have had were quickly put aside once they heard it. Proof that love drives even the toughest of situations, try to not be moved as the song’s protagonist longs for a tear-free day from his children and even longs to spend time with his most-hated relative. Throw in a free recipe for gravy – hands up if you’ve actually tried it – and you’ve got yourself a stone-cold classic.
Julian Casablancas – ‘I Wish It Was Christmas Today’
Born out of an early 2000s SNL sketch, Casablancas liberally sprinkles his usual louche New York cool to make something that sounds like a lost new wave classic. Giving the impression that he’s not taking things too seriously – check out the fantastically hammy “chee-UH” “her-UH” etc – he’s either by accident or design made something with a whole heap of singalong simplicity. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but it’s good, undeniably simple fun ripe for any self-respecting seasonal party.
The Magnetic Fields – ‘Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree’
Famed miserabilist – and noted storyteller – Stephin Merritt has had a potted relationship with holiday numbers. On one hand you’ve got the tragic lament of ‘Mr Mistletoe’ (which Merritt insists is funny rather than depressing as the song’s character is singing at piece of mistletoe), the other this fantastically jaunty counterpoint that talks beer, tanks of laughing gas and all-round good times. Merritt telling us all to cheer up and enjoy the season might be a novelty, but it’s one worth savouring.
Eels – ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas’
Like Merritt, Mark Everett has carved a living detailing his many struggles with deft songwriting and self-deprecating humour. On ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas’ he lets his hair down, a full-blown charge into the festive season. Any doubts he might be in the midsts of self-denial are quickly dispelled as he details with wonder how the tree “looks so inspired” and how “there’s a yuletide groove waiting for you to move” (surely one of the finest lines in a Christmas song). Maybe it is gonna be cool this Christmas after all. Cheers, E.
Low – ‘Just Like Christmas’
As succinct as it gets, in two verses Low dispel the notion that Christmas lies in the picture postcard caricature that those in the Western hemisphere habitually imagine. Exuding a rich warmth and a refrain ripe for joining in with it presents the idea that the real Christmas lies in the feeling of togetherness and excitement – even if there’s no snow. Proving its adaptability, a cover version by The Social Interaction Foundation (a spin-off from Manchester’s Help Stamp Out Loneliness) would feature on Myer’s early 2010s seasonal adverts.
Frightened Rabbit – ‘She Screams Christmas’
If there’s an aspect of Christmas which arguably doesn’t get covered enough is that its not always the easiest of times. As the year’s end draws nearer and our reflective sides emerge, the holiday season’s fine if you’ve had a good year, less so if you’ve not. Trust Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson to try and address it, picking over lost loves as he remembers secret song meanings and sings of hungover, wistful walks by the riverside. It might not be the cheeriest of listens, but it’s a reassuring presence to those of us who might not be having the best of times.
The Lucksmiths – ‘The Thought That Counts’
Arguably few things highlight the gulf between Australia and the US like Christmas – the former struggles with the concept of windswept holiday seasons of sub-zero temperatures and single-digit daylight hours, the latter scratches their heads at the idea of scorching summer yuletide periods at the beach. On ‘The Thought That Counts’ The Lucksmiths navigate the trans-global Christmas differences in their typical light, appealing tones. Less a Christmas song and more a reflection on our sense of belonging, it’s The Lucksmiths at their most quintessentially thoughtful.
Sufjan Stevens – ‘Come On! Let’s Boogey To The Elf Dance’
Let’s get one thing straight, Sufjan Stevens bloody loves Christmas. As in, writing around 100 Christmas songs loving Christmas. Knowing where to start is a tricky one, but this is easily one of the most infectious, and combines the mythical (Santa, elves) with the real world (bakeries, K Marts). A loop song that built around a stabbing piano that stays just the right side of McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’, it’s a slow build chanting stunner that’s simple, fun and earworm-level catchy as hell. What more could you want?