Hanukkah is here, Christmas is in the air, and the speakers of every big-box store are pumping the same corny jingle-jangle ditties to remind you of the holidays — and all the stuff you’re supposed to buy. Thankfully, Colorado artists set a precedent for writing winter-holiday songs that capture the specialness of the season without making you want to fall down a chimney. Sure, notable Denver acts have done Christmas-themed covers — The Lumineers’ “Blue Christmas,” The Fray’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ “Baby It’s Cold Outside” — but we’re more interested in whether anything original can be said about the most wonderful time of the year. In alphabetical order, here are twelve holiday songs by Colorado bands:
Big Head Todd & the Monsters, “I’m Glad It’s Christmas Time”
A few days ago, Todd Park Mohr and company released an upbeat blues-rock jam called “I’m Glad It’s Christmas Time.” It’s a parody of ZZ Top’s “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” substituting Santa Claus for the highway-cruisin’ narrator of the original: “Easin’ down the highway in my red Christmas sleigh…” The single came out as part of the band’s free “Monsters Music Monthly” series, and the video shows all members getting groovy in a basement studio wearing festive hats and reindeer antlers.
Bison Bone, “Late December”
Last month, the Americana rock band Bison Bone put out “Late December” just in time for a melancholy end of the year. The track boasts the band’s usual moody “cosmic country” and Courtney Whitehead’s deep twang, lamenting holiday heartbreak — “You walked out the door/On December 24th” — in a way that doesn’t sound cheesy at all.
Judy Collins, “The Blizzard”
Legend of Colorado folk Judy Collins has released multiple collections of holiday-themed songs. But we recommend her track “The Blizzard,” which first appeared on 1990’s Fires of Eden, the first outright tribute she ever wrote to her home. The rippling piano ballad recounts a night spent stranded in a blizzard near Estes and meeting a kind stranger. The song is a Collins classic, but its message of comfort and compassion is pure holiday spirit: “There’s a light in the window and a place called home/At the end of the storm.”
Cross Me Off Your List, “Home for the Holidays”
This Denver screamo duo put out its No Sleep Till New Years EP in 2011, including this track that details feelings of being “Home for the Holidays”: loneliness and desire for both escape and belonging.
John Denver, “Christmas for Cowboys”
John Denver always represented for his adopted Western home, no matter the season. On 1975’s Rocky Mountain Christmas, he doubled down on the Colorado atmospherics, including the meditative “Aspenglow” and the cringey “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” Our pick, however, is the lovely “Christmas for Cowboys,” hinged on Denver’s unending appreciation for this magnificent landscape: “So many gifts have been opened today/Ours is the sky and the wide open range.”
Dressy Bessy, “Hopped Up (on Xmas)” and “All the Right Reasons”
Indie-pop favorite Dressy Bessy spices up its festive winter offerings with manic jingle bells in the background. On “All the Right Reasons,” Tammy Ealom sweetly encourages going outside to build a snowman with lighthearted-yet-tongue-in-cheek fa-la-la-la-la’s, then fades out over a hum of dreeeeidel dreidel. On “Hopped Up (on Xmas),” Ealom raps with distorted vocals over mad-making organs, asking Mom to exchange her gift for “cold hard cash.”
King Cardinal, “Christmas List”
Indie-folk band King Cardinal loves the holidays. With the bouncy, horn-laced “Christmas List,” the Brennan Mackey-led project has again released an annual winter-spirited single; last year the group shared “Alone on Christmas Eve,” a romantic — if slightly desperate—plea for companionship, complete with soft strumming and delicate chimes. This week, King Cardinal is hosting its fourth annual Holiday Spectacular with Whippoorwill and Porlolo at Syntax Physic Opera.
Moon Magnet: Kyle’s Christmas Special The Soundtrack 3
Okay, this is actually ten songs. In 2017, Rubedo’s Kyle J. Gray collaborated with friends from Denver to Santa Fe to create this holiday-themed compilation, recorded and mixed at Moon Magnet Studios. The songs range in style from parody twang to experimental electronica, but all deal in jubilant silliness. On hilarious and catchy “Why Did I Buy a Tie,” the Denver rappers in Fed Rez ruminate on the pointless pressure of giving gifts to people you only kind of know. With tracks like “I Don’t Mind Getting Coal” and “Mr. Christmas Times Intervention,” this playlist is more than twenty minutes of Christmas music that doesn’t insist on the saccharine but still makes you feel good.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “Colorado Christmas”
Though “Colorado Christmas” was written by a Chicagoan, the late great songwriter Steve Goodman, the beloved Nitty Gritty Dirt Band hit describes the experience of so many Californians ditching the beach for a home in the mountains. The tune is an ode to winter in the Rockies, deemed “the closest thing to heaven on this planet anywhere.”
Papa Pain, “Papa Pain vs. Santa Claus”
We don’t know much about who this artist is, or where he’s currently based, or what he’s doing now — but this is hilarious.
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Plume Varia, "Hanukkah Light"
Plume Varia released this somber, hypnotic piano ballad just before the start of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. The holiday celebrates resistance, tradition and light amid overwhelming darkness, but the duo's track illuminates the current mourning following the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue and evidence of rising anti-Semitism. Yet its quiet layers also build to a powerful, haunting progression.
The Yawpers, "Christmas in Oblivion"
From Bloodshot Records' 2017 13 Days of Xmas, the Yawpers' contribution is a message of despair delivered with a gently crescendoing Springsteen growl over the whisper of jingle bells in the distance. At the end, the song appropriately fades out — until next year.