Maybe it is the seven or so years that I worked retail, but I really can’t stand Christmas music. Every time I hear the joyous bells and sappy vocals of Christmas songs, I flash back to standing in front of an angry, yelling mob forgoing kindness in favor of holiday stress. It’s scary. Even for those who haven’t worked during the Christmas season, the constant radio play of these songs for two straight months is enough to drive anyone insane. Yet, sometimes there are songs that rise above the disgusting gaudiness and sugar coating of Christmas and make even the most hardened cynic among us embrace the season. So as our own little gift to you, The Wild Honey Pie presents ten songs, five classics and five soon-to-be-classics. Enjoy the list and as Evil Robot Santa says, “get jolly on your naughty asses.”
1. “I Wish it was Christmas Today” — Julian Casablancas
Like every good indie girl, I am head over heels in love with Julian Casablancas. When he actually recorded, with only a bit of winking, a song from an SNL sketch, I somehow fell even more in love. Best known as a sketch where (surprise) Jimmy Fallon couldn’t stop laughing, Casablancas turned a song that was once just a uke and a keyboard into a rocking song you can even listen to in July.
2. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — Judy Garland
The ultimate classic, listening to Judy’s iconic voice quiver and shake is enough to bring a tear to any eye. She captures all the hope and promise of Christmas and when she sings, “next year all our troubles will be miles away.” The longing in her voice makes you almost believe that the fates will allow for everyone to be together and for the suffering to stop. And that’s what Christmas is all about, forgetting the pain of the world, if only for a day.
3. “Reindeer” — The Knife
What is Christmas time without some electro from Sweden? Reindeer is dark and brooding, like all songs by The Knife, but they sing about Santa and make you want to dance! It is a dark picture of Santa who doesn’t look like he is going to finish delivering the goods, but just like good experimentalists, The Knife follows the big guy to the end.
4. “Blue Christmas” — Elvis Presley
No Christmas is complete until those “oohs” coo over the speakers. This is one of the ultimate Christmas classics, and even a hundred years from now, this song will still mark the start of the season. Just like Judy, joy and heartbreak are conveyed in the King’s voice. The beginning is probably one of the most iconic first few bars in any song, much less a Christmas song—and it’s guaranteed to make everyone listening happy
5. “Christmas Song” — The Raveonettes
The Raveonettes giant, fuzzy sound works perfectly for Christmas music. The magnitude of the noise wraps around you, while the pretty harmonies keep you warm. It is enough to make you pour just one more cup of really strong eggnog and stay wherever you are just a bit longer.
6. “Merry Christmas Everybody” — Slade
Yeah, that’s right, Slade made a Christmas song. This is apparently a classic Christmas song in the UK, which goes to show that the UK has awesome taste. Unlike most of the best classic Christmas songs, this one is has no heartbreak — just pure joy. It’s a giant, sing-a-long-a-the-bar song. I mean, seriously, the chorus is “Everybody’s having fun.”
7. “What Child is This, Anyway” — Sufjan Stevens
I had to put some incarnation of “What Child is This” on the list. Based on Green Sleeves, there are some seriously creepy minor harmonies that make the verse about the horrible way the baby will die even freakier. Sufjan Stevens, with his talent for extraordinary instrumentation and lullaby voice, amps up the haunting, but makes it a lot easier to listen to.
8. “The Christmas Song” — Frank Sinatra
Again, no list is complete without some of Frank Sinatra. “The Christmas Song” always struck me as a really smarmy song. I don’t know exactly why, but it sounds like a cheap seduction. Leave it to Frank to make what was once slimy and gaudy, charming and smooth. He makes this go down even smoother than the fine scotch he’s drinking.
9. “Hey Parker, It’s Christmas” — Ryan Adams
Having just moved to New York City, I am still sort of awestruck at how much New York loves Christmas- and how well the season fits the city. There is something so perfect about the streets, the cabs and the lights for the season. Ryan Adams captures what Christmas in New York City looks like while reminding us that before he married Mandy Moore, he was with Parker Posey.
10. “Linus and Lucy” — Vince Guraldi Trio
You didn’t think I forgot Charlie Brown Christmas did you? That jazz piano is how every Christmas party at my house starts and is the only song I absolutely have to listen to on Christmas morning. While there is nothing spectacularly Christmas-y about it, apart from its inclusion in a TV special, everyone still knows exactly what it means and where it fits. In that way, “Linus and Lucy” is the perfect Christmas song.
From The Wild Honey Pie, 12/23/2010: http://www.thewildhoneypie.com/christmas-songs-old-vs-new/