"My Mother said, 'I'm a survivor, I pull together Christmas, every year.'"
So says Cristina in her 1981 song "Things Fall Apart," an ironic new wave take on the trials and pressures of the season and life in general. Not all the tunes below are so icy, but they are just as cool. Give these tracks a spin — festive and unexpected, dark or ironically cheesy, ranging from free-jazz to country to R'n'B — and impress all the guests at your hip holiday party.
1. Sun Ra presents the Qualities - "It's Christmas Time" (1960)
Free jazz impresario Sun Ra helped produce this doo-wop band, resulting in one of the most neighborly Christmas tunes ever.
2. Charles Brown - "Please Come Home For Christmas"
A big hit on Chess Records when it came out, this enduring classic conveys that heightened feeling of loneliness one feels precisely when everyone else is bonding.
3. Roland Kirk - "We Three Kings"
Blind multi-instrumentalist plays three saxophones — at once! — while lending some free-jazz inflections to this classic hymn.
4. The Singing Dogs - "Jingle Bells"
Cooler for its history than for the way it sounds, this rendition of Jingle Bells, which was released in the U.S. in 1955, was an early example of sampled-based music reaching the billboard charts (#22).
5. John Prine - "Christmas In Prison"
Somehow Prine makes prison feel cozy as well as desolate, as he pines away for his love, locked away in in the clink, on Christmas Day.
6. Carla Thomas - "Gee Whiz Its Christmas"
Here Carla Thomas cashes in on her earlier, secular Stax Records hit, simply titled, "Gee Whiz."
7. Darlene Love - "Marshmallow World"
Step into a "Marshmallow World" with this tune produced by Phil Spector.
8. The Soul Saints Orchestra - "Santa's Got a Bag of Soul"
Riffing off of James Brown's lingo, The Soul Saints Orchestra rivals the godfather-of-soul himself their funky tune.
9. Universal Robot Band - "Disco Christmas"
Rudolph and Santa get sick of delivering gifts and go clubbing instead! But neither of them know how to do the hustle! Uh-oh, better listen through the whole tune to see how it plays out!
10. Hot and Sassy - "Christmas Strutt"
According to Hot and Sassy, Christmas is all about how they're going to funk us out of the atmosphere — and I'm bound to agree!
11. James Chance - "Christmas With Satan"
Its a quick anagram from Santa to Satan. Makes you think!
12. Cristina - "Things Fall Apart"
James Chance's labelmate (they both released their Christmas songs on a ZE record release worth listening in and of itself, here), paints a bleak portrait of false holiday cheer with this nonetheless rollicking tune.
13. Sparks - "Thank God It's Not Christmas"
Equally disillusioned about social niceties, Sparks' "Thank God Its Not Christmas." Though it appeared on 1974's Kimono My House, which is considered Sparks' commercial-breakthrough album, it's enough of a deep cut (and band) to maintain your hipster cred.
14. Can - "Halleluhwah"
Since this song from Krautrock innovators CAN is obliquely about a snowman, it makes it on this holiday playlist.
15. Cocteau Twins - "Winter Wonderland"
Lead singer Elizabeth Fraser generates a sweet yet detached version of this tune with her ethereal vocal delivery.
16. Iggy Pop - "White Christmas"
Starting this song off with a sinister "Ho Ho Ho," Iggy Pop sludges his way through this holiday standard.
17. Sounds of Blackness - "Soul Holidays"
A truly uplifting tune, with a video to match from this grammy-winning vocal group.
18. Mary J. Blige feat. Angie Martinez - "Christmas in the City"
Though the ice rink at 16th and Arapahoe may not compare to the one at Rockefeller Center, we can all dream, with the help of Mary J. and Angie Martinez.
19. Boyz II Men - "Let It Snow"
Relax and let this smooth jam drift down upon you gently, like snow.
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20. Destiny's Child - "8 Days of Christmas"
Listen to Lady Bey: nothing says Christmas like a "pair of Chloe shades and diamond belly ring!" (Secret Santas and friends of mine: hint hint!)
Like the tunes? Listen to the whole playlist.