Introduction. I'm always on the lookout for unusual lists of Christmas songs, and this one really took the prize - especially by unearthing a few bizarro masterpieces I'd never even heard of. So, if the annual deluge of holiday music hokum is driving you to suicide-by-fruitcake - here are 25 of the weirdest, darkest, most awesome Noel-wave oughtabe
classics you'll never hear in a mall this season. Written by Charles Aaron, Chuck Eddy, Steve Kandell, David Marchese, and Douglas Wolk and originally published by Spin Magazine in their December 2010 issue.
#25 Dana Dane Is Coming To Town
Dana Dane (1987)
A stylishly garbed kid from Brooklyn's
Fort Greene projects, Dana McLeese
started out as a member of Slick Rick's
Kangol Crew, adopting Ricky's British
accent and indulging his own knack for
fanciful storytelling. In this typically
windy tale (from Profile Records' Christmas Rap), produced with a drum machine
flourish by Hurby "Luv Bug"
Azor (Salt-n-Pepa, Kid 'n Play), Dana visits
three wise men, traverses the desert in
his Bally loafers, invades a palace, and
saves the Christmas spirit by vanquishing -
who else? A sucker MC. - C.A.
#24 Feliz Navidad
El Vez (1994)
There are Elvis impersonators, and then
there's the mighty El Vez: the Mexican
punk-rock Elvis. (When he takes off the
'68-comeback-special jumpsuit, he's Robert
Lopez of L.A. punk vets the Zeros.) EI
Vez's juiced-up version of the insipid Jose
Feliciano holiday standard "Feliz Navidad"
first appeared on his Merry MeX-mas album and has since become the theme
song of his holiday-season tours. The
secret ingredient: the sour riff from
Public Image Limited's 1978 slam dance
"Public Image," which keeps turning up
whenever the well-wishing starts getting
a little too cheery. - D.W.
#23 Christmas With The Devil
Spinal Tap (1984)
It's no accident that a lot of the songs
Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and
Harry Shearer wrote as their faux-metal
alter egos have turned out to be more
enduring than the ones they were ostensibly
lampooning. (And really, is "Big
Bottom" any more or less of a joke than
"Whole Lotta Rosie"?) This single, which
they debuted on Saturday Night Live in
May (!) of 1984 (and later appeared on both the CD reissue of This Is Spinal Tap and their 1992 sophomore album Break Like The Wind), features leather-clad
elves and chained-up angels and offers a
more extreme alternative to fireside
revelry. And what ode to Lucifer would be
complete without some eerie backward masking buried at the end? "This is Spinal
Tap, wishing you and yours the most joyous
of holiday seasons. God bless us
everyone." So evil! - S.K.
#22 Christmas With Satan
James Chance (1982)
In 1981, dance-oriented NYC new wave
label Ze Records put together the hippest holiday
compilation ever to lack Phil Spector - from
Was (Not Was) mourning Detroit to
the Waitresses forgetting cranberries, A Christmas Record was a hoot. Noise-funked
saxophone sadist James Chance
(a.k.a. James White) was absent at first.
but when a slightly altered version
appeared in '82, he was there for six
minutes - arriving at Beelzebub's eggnog
party even before Spinal Tap. Not to
mention honking the living skronk out of
Christmas-carol fragments, while
detached disco dollies behind him
explained, "There's no angels or wise
men, and certainly no virgins." - C.E.
#21 David Christmas
Fucked Up (2007)
Canadian hardcore frontmen don't come
much jollier-looking than Damian "Pink
Eyes" Abraham, but caroling along with
this charity single's anthemic A-side will
warrant need for a lozenge. The all-star
b-side, "Stars on 45," features holiday
wishes from the likes of James Murphy, Nelly Furtado, Davey Havok, Black Lips'
Cole Alexander, and 90210's Shenae
Grimes (see Couple Tracks, 2010). So close was this to an arch cover
of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" that they actually recorded one
with their pals for another charity single
two Christmases later. - S.K.
#20 Back Door Santa
Clarence Carter (1968)
A blind Alabama belter, Clarence Carter
recorded some of the 1960s' most boisterous
soul sides ("Slip Away," "Snatching
It Back," "Too Weak to Fight"). He also
had a signature devilish chuckle and a
proclivity for double entendres, so this
salacious Christmas blues from Soul Christmas was not out of
character. Notably, the narrative is not
confined to the holiday season: Carter's
"Santa" brings the ladies good cheer 365.
As he slyly puts it, "Well, I ain't like the
Old Saint Nick / He don't come but once
a year." The bawdy horn riff was later
sampled on Run-DMC's "Christmas
in Hollis." - C.A.
#19 If It Doesn't Snow On Christmas
Joe Pesci (1998)
Based on a Gene Autry standard, this
goombahtization is peppered with copious
F-bombs (Santa equals "fat fuck"),
courtesy of Pesci at his post-Good Fellas/My Cousin Vinny peak. Since Joisey
Italian-American cliches are so in vogue
now in pop culture, this one seems game
for a revival. (The song first appeared on Pesci's Vincent Laguardia Gambini Sings Just for You and was later collected on Little Steven's Christmas A Go-Go.) - S.K.
#18 It's Christmas Time (Jingle Bells)
David Banner (2003)
For four songs near the end, TVT's elbow-heaving
Crunk and Disorderly sampler
turns miraculously into a Christmas
album. Banner's contribution, set to the
same midnight-massed "God Bless Ye
Merry Gentleman" gloom beloved by
dark metal bands, is the most moving and
confounding: It opens with somebody
shivering in the snow; then Mississippi's
best educated rapper takes the role of an
out-of-work ghetto resident who robs to
feed his kids and put gifts under their
tree. A bogus justification, and Banner's
smart enough to know better, but its
class resentment rings true. Before it's
over, you'll shiver, too. - C.E.
#17 Jingle Bells (Greetings From Esquivel)
Juan Garcia Esquivel, the natty Mexican
composer, pianist, and band leader, innovated
a dazzlingly goofy style of jazzy
instrumental pop in the 1950s that later
came to be known as "space-age bachelor
pad music" and helped soundtrack the
retro-chic movement that peaked around
the 37th time Vince Vaughn called someone
"money." This playfully disorienting
track, produced by cocktail revivalists
Combustible Edison, was one of Esquivel's
final recordings and led off Merry Xmas
From the Space-Age Bachelor Pad. It also features spoken-word patter from Esquivel
himself, who departs with his timeless hipster
flare, "Feliz Navidad, baby!" - C.A.
#16 Merry Christmas From The Family
Robert Earl Keen (1994)
Texas troubadour Keen first warbled this dysfunctional
drink-along on his Gringo Honeymoon album, and it's become enough of a
white-trash standard since that both right-leaning
Montgomery Gentry and lefties
Dixie Chicks have covered it. A partial rundown:
Little sis brings her new Mexican
boyfriend, who belts out "Feliz Navidad';
thrice-married bro Ken brings his brood
plus latest chain-smoking, AA-spouting
spouse; convenience-store-run lists include
extension cord, ice, bean dip, Marlboros,
Midol, Pampers, and/or tampons. Sound
familiar? If not, are you even American? - C.E.
#15 You Son Of A Bitch, You Stole My Woman, Now I'm Gunna Burn Down Your Christmas Tree Farm
Red Swan (2004)
Jealousy, revenge, and arson do not take
time off for the holidays-certainly not in
the frostbitten coniferous Michigan backwoods.
Tom Muth huffs and puffs frantically
about dousing rags in gasoline, filling
knotholes with kerosene, lighting it all
with a Lucky. The chestnut roast harks
back to Killdozer or Big Black, whose
Steve Albini produced three other songs
on Red Swan's After the Barn Goes debut,
from whence this comes. - C.E.
#14 Thank God It's Not Christmas
L.A.'s weirdo Mael brothers had just
relocated to England when they put out Kimono My House, which made them stars
in Blighty. This track's poperatic, protogoth,
prog-glam, piano-cabaret avoidance
of seasonal affective disorder is still endearing
to those among us who would just as
soon jump ahead to January and circumvent
all the stress or loneliness. "Caroling
kids, a trifle premature," Russell Mael hiccups.
"Will the mood allow one dissent?"
Sparks disciples Queen, who put out a
single called "Thank God It's Christmas" a
decade later, maybe thought not. - C.E.
#13 Teenage Christmas
Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth were two
velvet-jacketed, scarf-wearing English dandies whose band, Jacobites, traded in the kind of romantic ramshackle rock that posits all music men as tragically flawed mountebanks and women as their brokenhearted saviors. Which made them naturals to
write a kick-ass Christmas song (from God Save Us Poor Sinners). When these cutout-bin Glimmer Twins yelp, "Santa Claus is coming! With parcels full of joy,"
as Chuck Berry riffs slash alongside tinkling sleigh bells, it sounds like they're awaiting the kinds of gifts only very naughty little boys would even think to ask for. - D.M.
#12 All Hail Santa
Anyone can grumpily object to the forced good cheer of the holiday season. But only these Atlanta aggro-punks went as far as to brand St. Nick a child-molesting, arms-profiteering skinhead with manipulation skills that Himmler would envy. And that title is a little misleading: The chorus actually goes, "Ho ho ho / Sieg heil to Santa / The fight has just begun." (From their album Don't Tread On Me.) - S.K.
#11 Hey America
James Brown (1970)
Between 1966 and 1970, the Godfather of
Soul made a string of Christmas records, some of them funky ("Santa Claus Go
Straight to the Ghetto"), some of them
deep (a spectacular soul version of "The
Christmas Song"), and some of them totally
bizarre. This one is the weirdest: a churning,
overwrought orchestral groove, over
which JB apparently improvises a totally
incoherent rant about Christmas, peace
protesters, God, partying, and (tellingly)
wine. By the end, he's quoting "Hava Nagila"
and "Volare." The original single included
an instrumental version labeled "Sing Along
With James," as if that were possible. - D.W.
#10 Merry Crassmas
What were the gleefully blasphemous British
anarcho-punks Crass (who also brought
us Christ: The Album) doing making a
Christmas record? Having a laugh, as usual.
"Merry Crassmas" is a chirpy instrumental
medley of holiday favorites: "Jingle Bells,"
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Nagasaki Nightmare," "Punk Is Dead"... most of
Crass' early repertoire, in fact, gets the
twinkly Casio treatment between snatches
of Christmas carols. The record's sleeve offered
a competition to identify all the Crass
songs included herein: "First prize, bath
salts. Second prize, one Exploited single.
Third prize, two Exploited singles." - D.W.
#9 No Xmas For John Quays
The Fall (1979)
Frankie Lymon's final Christmas was 1967;
two months and two days later, he died of
a heroin overdose at 25. In this rant (from Live At The Witch Trials) about
junkies (say "John Quays" fast) who don't
have time for myrrh or mirth, art-punk legend
and crank sage Mark E. Smith calls out
Lymon by name, then twice screeches a
line from "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." The
drone is a sort of stunted rockabilly, six
notes repeated for four-and-a-half minutes,
repetition as both weapon and shield. - C.E.
#8 Homo Christmas
Pansy Division (1992)
The b-side of a three-song Lookout!
Records 7-inch (along with "Smells Like
Queer Spirit"), this celebratory sacrilege
features frontman Jon Ginoli cooing over
jangly pop punk: "Licking nipples / Licking
nuts / Putting candy canes / Up each
other's butts." Ginoli even saw the song as
therapy of sorts: "Christmas can be stressful,
especially since it's a 'family' time, and
I wrote (the song) thinking that it would
give certain people hope on a day that
sometimes sucks, especially when the
person you really want to be with doesn't
fit into certain definitions of family." (Also appears on Pile Up, Punk Rock Xmas, and Xmas Snertz.) - C.A.
#7 Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto
Snoop Doggy Dog featuring Dat Nigga Daz, Nate Dogg, Big Tray Deee, and Bad Azz (1996)
Inspired by an earnest James Brown
original - in which JB implores Santa to
please pay a visit to the "soul brothers" - Snoop
and his Dogg Pound elves fly
through the night in their '64 Impala
sleigh, elucidating the yuletide realities of
the "needy and greedy." But amid all the
gangstas and dope fiends, the song (from Christmas On Death Row) is
really about the power of Christmas to
evoke feelings of innocence and family,
even if you've gotta harvest your turkey
down at the church shelter. - C.A.
#6 If We Make It Through December
Merle Haggard (1973)
If anything can put a damper on shopping
season, it's getting shitcanned, so this
hardscrabble, honky-tonk lament might
feel even timelier now than when it was
released amid the oil crisis and market
crash of '73. One of the 20th century's
most commanding voices sings of being
laid off at the factory, figuring if his family
survives until spring they can move someplace warmer. It topped the country chart
as a single, then showed up as the title
track of Hag's 1974 album. - C.E.
#5 Little Drum Machine Boy
"Little Drum Machine Boy" never appeared
on a proper Beck album - it came out half a
year after Odelay on the alt-leaning Geffen
compilation Just Say Noel. But this might be
the most convincingly audacious cut-and-paste
experiment of his career. Its self-proclaimed
"holiday robot funk" goes for
seven minutes, which lets Beck stuff lots of
goodies into your stocking: medievalesque
minor-key melodies, freakazoid 808 beats, random vacuum-cleaner-like noises,
cowbells and sleigh bells, and Caribbean
schnitzels with rain-forest noodling. Not to
mention plenty of seemingly stoned asides
about Hanukkah pimps, and a chance to
rhyme "menorahs" with "lawyers." - C.E.
#4 Christmas Bop
T. Rex (1975)
By 1975 the glam kids over which Marc
Bolan once ruled had wiped the glitter off
their cheeks, making it hard to hear the
funk-indebted misfires of mid-70s T. Rex
as anything other than crises of confidence.
But as Chinese-restaurant owners
know, Jews have a knack for adapting
Christmas to their own needs, and with
"Christmas Bop" the man born Mark Feld
delivered a holiday R&B bubblegum
burst, singing about cold being bold over
disco high-hat, choppy rhythm guitar,
and backup beauties wailing "T.Rexmas."
Too bad the song wasn't officially
released until 1982 - five years after
Bolan's death (though it frequently appears on European collections like Greatest Hits). - D.M.
#3 Depressed Christmas
Everyone gets a little blue this time of
year; these nihilistic Houston punks took
that sentiment to its logical conclusion.
Culturecide's most notorious album, Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America,
consisted of the band singing rewritten
lyrics over various hit records (totally unauthorized,
of course). That same proto-karaoke
approach worked for their
Christmas single, an easy-listening pisstake
of "White Christmas," overdubbed
with a slurred voice mumbling, "My slit
wrist glistens... as I listen... to the last
Christmas song I'll ever hear" The kicker?
There is no singing at all in its second
half. (The single's flipside is "Santa Claus
Was My Lover," a hilariously sordid tale of
degradation sung along to Michael
Jackson's "Billie Jean.") - D.W.
#2 Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa
De La Soul (1991)
From Macy's Santa land (and the album De La Soul Is Dead) comes an even
more disturbing story than David Sedaris'
diary. De La's Posdnuos and Trugoy the
Dove (with assistance from producer
Prince Paul) unveil the elaborate
picaresque of Millie, a Brooklyn-via-Philly
girl who's a bruised victim of the "touchy touchy
game" at the hands of her father,
Dillon, a social worker all Millie's friends
think is the "coolest elder in the school."
Nobody believes her cries of abuse, so
Millie plots revenge, toting a pistol into
the department store where Dillon is
working as a Claus; she "bucked him,
with the quickness it was over." Ho ho,
bang bang. - C.A.
#1 Fuck Christmas
If the key to timelessness is simplicity, how come
Lee Ving isn't Burl lves? For the frontman of John
Belushi's favorite punk band, misanthropy and
mistletoe seemed a natural fit. On Fear's second
single, which was appended to the CD reissue of
their debut album The Record (as well as Rhino's Punk Rock Xmas), Ving keeps things
concise enough - a four-sentence verse followed
by the title shouted a dozen times in 45 seconds - to
make "Fuck Christmas" one for the canon.
"Finally, someone had the intestinal fortitude to
stand up and say something definitively negative,"
recalls Ving. "But if you had enough money to do
some goddamn Christmas shopping, you had
nothing to complain about." - S.K.
[top of page]
|Now, you can hear the Christmas music I write about! My Christmas Jukebox is bulging with over 350 tracks, and I'll be adding more rockin' Yule tunes throughout the year. [listen now]