Admit it: It’s not Christmas yet, and you’ve already become completely and utterly sick of Christmas songs. Which makes sense, because they’re ubiquitous. They’re the soundtrack at every store, in every elevator, on every TV and radio commercial. And God help you if you voluntarily listened to KOSI-101.1’s eternal Christmas Death March, which answers the question: Just how much Josh Groban and Mariah Carey can one person take before declaring a moratorium on radio in the car?
So, yeah, we feel your pain. But fear not, for we bring unto you tidings of great joy, which should be to all people who are tired of hymns and carols and anything that Vince Guaraldi could adapt into a ’60s jazz riff and sell to Charles Schulz. It’s not all "Rudolph" and "Angels Up on High," people. Stretch, and enjoy the holiday — alternative style.
10. Weezer, "The Christmas Song"
Weezer delivers this song on its aptly titled — at least for the purposes of this list — Green Album from 2001. It’s a solitary and sad little thing, this song, all loneliness and isolation and a Christmas tree. “Here I sit waiting beside the tree all by myself,” the song pines (no pun intended…no, really), and that’s something that we can, and often do, replicate every Christmas…perhaps while listening to this very song. Make sure there's rum in the egg nog.
9. Dropkick Murphys, "The Season’s Upon Us"
“I’m so glad this day only comes once a year,” this 2013 entry from the Quincy, Mass Celtic punk band claims. Rightly so, given the parade of "ne’er-do-wells" that are tallied off as the song progresses. But we all have some people in the family that we enjoy seeing rarely, right? “If you think yours is crazy/Well, you should see mine.” Hey, Dropkick Murphys: It’s not a contest.
8. The Ramones, "Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)"
This surprisingly earnest 1989 song from the Ramones is really about what it sounds like: a couple trying for once not to fight, at least for Christmas. If you haven’t had a relationship like this, one that gets temporarily salvaged and in some ways completely doomed by the holidays, then you probably haven’t dated enough. The video is a little more jaded than the song itself, as the fighting, well, it never really ends for the holidays. At best, you’re on holiday hiatus and will be splitting in January. Happy New Year!
7. Blink 182, "I Won’t Be Home for Christmas"
This 1997 tune didn’t really hit the American market until 2003, when it was included on the album A Santa Cause: It's a Punk Rock Christmas. “It’s time to be nice to the people you can’t stand all year,” the song goes, adding: “I’m growing tired of all this Christmas cheer.” Which is pretty much what this list is all about.
6. Tom Waits, "Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis"
Tom Waits is almost a better storyteller than he is a musician, and he’s a damn good musician. In this bluesy, piano-drenched 1978 song about, yes, a holiday note from a prostitute, there’s a whole novel's worth of suffering and bitter beauty. Do you want to know the truth of it? The only reference to Christmas in the whole song is in the title, but that’s okay: It’s the heart of the gorgeous sadness that pervades the most wonderful time of the year.
5. The Vandals/No Doubt, "Oi to the World"
Whether or not you prefer the original Vandals version from 1996 or the comparably bright and shiny belly-shirted No Doubt cover from the very next year, this song is a Christmas punk standard (though “punk standard” is admittedly a complete contradiction in terms). The bass line alone is a perfect Christmas gift. Everybody wins.
4. John Prine, "Christmas in Prison"
Prine is one of America’s best and perhaps least-known singer-songwriters, and deserves far more fame than he’s been able to draw over the years. This song from his 1973 album Sweet Revenge is a melancholy paean to the holiday season when you’re in jail and away from everything that means anything — a sentiment that you don’t really have to be behind bars to experience. “It’s Christmas in prison. There’ll be music tonight/I’ll probably get homesick. I love you. Good night.” Been there? We all have.
3. The Killers, Please "Don’t Shoot Me Santa"
Mix one part Pearl Jam’s "Jeremy," one part "Silent Night, Deadly Night," a bit of "Bad Santa," and a dash of the Violent Femmes’ "Country Death Song," and you have this 2007 double shot of holiday spirits. You might think that title is a metaphor, but nope: It’s a straight-out plea, and from a narrator who seems to deserve something in the way of punishment. Maybe not a bullet, but probably more than the traditional coal in the stocking. At least the video ends well; the song is a little more vague as to the outcome, trailing off with a ghostly “Believe me, Santa…Santa.”
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
2. Joni Mitchell/Robert Downey Jr., "River"
It’s worth noting that this soft little song of sadness at the holiday might have originated with the legendary Joni Mitchell back in 1971, but you can thank Iron Man for bringing it back into the mainstream. Or at least Robert Downey Jr. (who, I’m sorry, Robert, but who will from here forward never be anyone else but Tony Stark), who re-popularized it on a Christmas episode of Ally McBeal. It’s the most mainstream song on this list, covered on more than a few artists' holiday albums, from James Taylor to Herbie Hancock to Aimee Mann, but still, the line “Oh I wish I had a river/I could skate away on” is something that will resonate with everyone, no matter how jolly your holiday.
1. The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl, "Fairytale of New York"
It’s such a great alternative Christmas song that it has almost entered the canon of the traditional — but the subject (and some of the lines, including “an old slut on junk” and “you scumbag, you maggot/you cheap lousy faggot”) of the 1987 song will forever keep it on the periphery and off the playlist at Target, and thank God for that. It might be about spoiled love at the holidays, but when the chorus resolves to the line "And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day,” it all becomes perfect.