Headed off to celebrate but dreading your next encounter with the little drummer boy? Even folks with a natural aversion to the saccharine sounds of the season don’t need to go all grinchy this December. These fine collections will get even the most jaded atheist on the planet in the mood to haul out the holly and put a smile on a child’s face. Music snobs need Christmas too, and here are a few titles you can download from all the usual spots for a proper alternative to “Jingle Bell Rock”.
Xmas Snertz – Have A Very Gulcher Christmas (Gulcher)
Criminally overlooked, this glorious set was compiled by MX-80’s Rich “The Jew That Loved Christmas” Stim, and covers a wide range of ulra-indie territory. It has Pansy Division’s “Homo Christmas”, one of the sweetest holiday rock songs ever made, and MX-80 contributes “Christmas With The Devil”, not a cover of the Spinal Tap classic but a sound poem in which Stim drinks egg nog and exchanges gifts with the Prince of Darkness. Several ex-Gizmos make memorable contributions; Eddie Flowers and Crawlspace deconstruct the Beatles’ “Christmastime Is here Again”, Krazee Ken Highland gives a high-energy booty call in “Can I Please Crawl Down Your Chimney”, while Teddy Niemiec sings a love song that doesn’t have much to do with Christmas. But the big winners are the power-pop tracks by the Automatics and Phil Hendricks/Stiffs UK, and X-Ray Tango’s surf-psych rendition of “We Three Kings.” The whole set maintains a Christmasey feel even at its most far-out.
Little Steven’s Underground Garage Presents Christmas A-Go-Go
From LS’ satellite radio show comes one of the most complete and consistently spirit-raising comps on the market. Lots of the all-time biggies are here – “Father Christmas”, “I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day”, “ Back Door Santa”, the Ramones, Bob Seger, even the hard-to-find Keith Richards take of “Run Rudolph Run.” But it also brings some well-chosen newcomers to the party, with great tracks from The Chevelles, the Boss Martians and Cocktail Slippers. If you only own one rocking Christmas album, it should be this one.
Soul Christmas (Rhino)
This set is essential for Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” and Otis Redding’s dynamite take on “Merry Christmas Baby”, two of the most joyous things you’ll ever hear. William Bell’s “Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday” and Solomon Burke’s “Presents For Christmas” should be holiday standards of their own by now. Filled out with tracks from Carla Thomas, Booker T and the MGs, King Curtis and Luther Vandross (strangely out of place in this company, but not bad), it’s one of the best front to back collections you’ll find.
Blues, Blues Christmas 1925-1955 (Document 2-CD)
This is a deep dive into holiday songs from the early years of Christmas records, lots of back-porch blues and country, swing bands, string bands and barrelhouse boogie, some of it sexually charged (the slide-down-your-chimney metaphor is popular), some of it downright bizarre. “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” is a street-corner sermon where the congregants are being chastised for their unthrifty ways in an extended talking blues. Butterbeans and Susie’s “Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus, Mama Ain’t No Christmas Tree” is a transcript of a bickering couple’s blowout after a few too many glasses of nog. But tracks like “Hep Cat’s Holiday” and Sonny Parker’s “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” are guaranteed to bring a smile despite occasionally scratchy, 78-sourced sound quality.
Elton John’s Christmas Party (Hip-O)
One of the best star-curated comps out there, Elton has some truly fine picks in this set (originally released at Starbucks in a 21-song version, find that one if you can) including Kate Bush’s magnificent “December Will Be Magic Again”, Rufus Wainwright’s brilliant “Spotlight On Christmas”, and the Band’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight,” placing Rick Danko in the middle of the flocks outside the manger, as well as El Vez’s wicked, PiL-quoting pummelling of “Feliz Navidad.” Erasure’s overlooked “It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas” is a blast of perfect computer-generated snow. And Elton’s own “Step Into Christmas” is always a pleasure; like the best rock Christmas songs, it showcases his best qualities, and adds a little tinsel.
Badd Santa (Stone’s Throw)
Turntablist and holiday jam archivist Peanut Butter Wolf curated this set, and it includes several of the better holiday-themed underground hip-hop jams you’re likely to hear – Hard Call Christmas’ “My Christmas Bells” sends the LL Cool J anthem to the North Pole before the protagonist gets stabbed by a jealous girlfriend. But he also pulls out some unexpected white-funk gems. The Free Design’s “Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas)” is a relic of a different age, seeking studio perfection before computers, acrid harmonies twisting around gnarled horn lines and a funky beat. And electro pioneer Bruce Haack’s 1981 single “I Like Christmas” is a cheerful, plink-plonk synthpop hymn to the holiday in a mechanical voice that still sounds futuristic, giving hope that the machines that rise up to replace us might at least be cheerful.