Ten non-traditional Christmas records you should listen to this year
Stop! You don't have to!
So we're well into the Christmas season, and chances are good you're getting a bit tired of Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby and the Time-Life Christmas collection in general. What had been a charming return to familiar holiday standards -- and perhaps the only reason to voluntarily listen to Delilah -- is getting repetitive.
What to do? Well, first turn off that Lite Rock channel. Second, check out these albums, which manage to be seasonal without being soporific. And we're totally not condoning this, but most of these songs are on YouTube already, so you can make a sweet mix and just plug your laptop into your speakers if you'd like.
10. Nick at Nite's Classic Cartoon Christmas 1 & 2, Various Artists
If you've ever watched the handful of Christmas specials (thanks, Rankin/Bass!) during the holiday season, you'll want these two discs to help you remember the good old days. (The first disc is almost awesome, missing only the very-mandatory original versions of "Heat Miser" and "Cold Miser" from Year Without a Santa Claus.) If you prefer your Christmas morality plays with a healthy dose of claymation, this is the collection for you.
9. Christmas With Weezer, Weezer
As a relatively cheap download of a short Xmas list ($4.50 for six songs), this handful of songs does the job. It is what it is: Weezer doing Weezer versions of Christmas standards. So if you're a Weezer fan, or if you just like fun takes on old songs, this collection works -- unless you take your religious carols seriously. The only non-religious track is the first one, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," which gives the line "We won't go until we get some figgy pudding" a characteristic Weezer whine.
8. Everything You Want for Christmas, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Do you like horns? I mean, do you really like horns? This is important, because if you don't, you're really going to hate this big-band Christmas bit from the Ventura, California-based swing band. And not to hit the awesome button on "Heat Miser" too often, but Scotty Morris's version on this disc burns up the joint.
7. Christmas Special, Boy Least Likely To
The British duo's new holiday CD contains a few standards and a lot of new compositions, including an inspired track about George Michael and Andrew Ridgley of Wham! reuniting on Christmas Eve at a Cornish pub. It probably won't be a Yuletide classic, but it's a hell of a lot better than hearing "Last Christmas" for the eleventy-thousandth time.
6. Christmas Caravan, Squirrel Nut Zippers
Like most of the Squirrel Nut Zippers' work, this CD takes you a bit by surprise, then grows on you strong. The hot jazz stylings, combined with more traditional country rhythms in some tracks, actually works to create a Christmas collection that doesn't sound familiar (yet), but nonetheless sounds right to fit the season.
5. Oi to the World, The Vandals
Really, all you need to do to decide whether or not you want this CD is to read the track list. When it includes songs such as "Christmas Time for My Penis," "My First Xmas as a Woman," and "Hang Myself From the Tree," it's either something you want, or something you want to mention to your Bible Study Group at church in order to pray for those who listen to it voluntarily.
4. Does Christmas Fiasco Style, My Morning Jacket
The Kentucky alt-country band dusts off its vocal harmonies for this set of new music ("Xmas Curtain," "I Just Wanted to Say" and "Christmas Time Is Here Again") and lesser-known Christmas classics (Elvis's "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" and Nick Cave's "New Morning"). Short but sweet, and the cheesy leisure suits on the EP's cover art are worth the price of admission alone.
3. Songs for Christmas, Sufjan Stevens
Much unlike the two short-disc EPs on this list, this five-disc Christmas set is chock-full of holiday goodness and will take you over four times as long as the EPs' half-hour to experience fully. Just given the impressive number of songs on this generously-priced set (just over $20 retail for a five-disc collection is more than the spirit of giving), its natural that some tracks hit better than others. But the span of styles here -- from synthy pop to mellow folk -- also means there's something for almost every listener. Given Stevens's geek cred, one has to wonder if the number of tracks on this collection is purposeful: Forty-two is, after all, the answer to life, the universe and everything.
2. A Santa Cause 1 & 2, Various Artists
This compilation of punk, pop and rock classics mixed with a healthy dose of holiday originals first came out in 2003 as a charity disc to benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. The second disc came out in 2006, to benefit Cure Autism. Now both discs are being re-released as a set, still benefiting charity, still giving Christmas a sharp, silvery edge.
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Gueraldi
Okay, okay, perhaps this isn't what you might think of as "alternative," especially since the disc does include relatively traditional arrangements of some serious old-time Christmas religion ("Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "What Child Is This," to name only two). But think about it: This is one of the best and most pervasive Christmas collections out there, and was one of the first ever. Songs like "Linus and Lucy" and "Christmastime Is Here" were new additions to the old Christmas songlists, and they've become classics themselves.
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