All right, curmudgeons. Thanksgiving is over. Whatever valid complaints you might’ve had in November, you’ve got no excuse now. We’re well into December and we’re gonna talk about Christmas stuff. Specifically, Christmas songs.
Put down that baseball bat. And that gasoline. You don’t quite have the reason you may think to bash my brains out and/or self-immolate. I’m not here to talk about Frosty the Snowman or Jingle Bells; truth is, I’m a little weary of those myself. As with every other avenue of radio, it seems that stations are stuck in a very specific mindset when it comes to Christmas music. Just as you’re likely to hear the same twenty Blondie or Beatles songs on an endless loop if you tune into a classics station, or you’d get the impression that George Strait is the only man to ever pick up a guitar if you switch over to classic country, anyone ignorant of Christmas music who switched on the radio in 2017 would think there are only like ten holiday songs ever recorded, seven of them in the 1950s. For every “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” or “All I Want For Christmas is You,” we get twenty versions of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. And, yeah, there are certain renditions of certain songs that are classics and should be part of every holiday playlist. But those are certain renditions—we don’t need to hear multiple versions of the same song played ad infinitium. It’s the sort of mindless repetition that’s helped sour so many people on what should be a happy time of year. I know that pain all too well. I worked in a medical office for four years, and every holiday season the contemporary Christian station our office manager (and our patients) insisted on piping in would switch to their holiday playlist. If their already limited selection was enough to almost drive me to homicide, their holiday offering was even more maddening—they were reluctant to play secular Christmas music, which meant like forty different versions of We Three Kings, Mary Did you Know every hour on the hour, and 1,000 uninspired nativity retellings in the best that early-2000s-style-pop-recorded-in-the-2010s had to offer.
I had to put down that baseball bat and gasoline myself on multiple occasions.
The fact is, though, that there are plenty of enjoyable Christmas songs out there that just don’t get the airtime they deserve, and which would be welcome additions to the usual smattering. Here, then, are my suggestions for songs to be added to the usual rotation. Feel free to add your own in the comments section below, or on our social media—maybe we can compile a playlist that doesn’t induce listeners to dread the coming of the season.
If there’s one non-traditional Christmas song that deserves to become a solid part of the canon, this is it. For one thing, it’s a peppy, upbeat little jam that displays the best attributes of 80s music, including a cool guitar riff and some zippy synth work. It’s also a song that perfectly encapsulates the difficult relationship so many people have with the holiday, as the narrator herself bemoans the coming of the Christmas season and vows that she’s going to sit out the festivities this year. At the same time, it’s sort of a romantic comedy in new wave form, as we learn the narrator’s frustrations are compounded by a series of disastrous attempts to reconnect with a guy she met the previous winter. It’s fun, it’s catchy, and it stands out in a pleasant way from the usual yuletide fare. I think I’ve only ever actually heard this on the radio twice—once on the satellite stationed piped into the restaurant where I waited tables in college, and another time at the mall. I’d like to see that change.
Along with Christmas Wrapping, this is the other song I mentioned in a previous article as one I’d like to hear get more representation. If Wrapping is my alternative to the upbeat pop of stuff like Jingle Bell Rock, then this is my answer to more morose tunes like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Yeah, one of the reasons I like Christmas is because it’s a time to put aside all the gnarly crap going on in the world and celebrate something happy for a change, but a little bit of somber contemplation isn’t entirely out of place, and for those feeling a little wistful, River is the perfect soundtrack. It’s the song for anyone who’s happy that the season has rolled around, but who’d rather not participate this year. Probably not one to be played terribly often, but, definitely one to pop on the air once in a while for the sappy romantics while they wrap their presents.
This one might be regional. I grew up hearing this on the radio every Christmas. Then, it seemed, stations either grew tired of it, or forgot about it, or didn’t feel that it would appeal to successive generations. I call BS on that. The Chipmunk Song is f’ing delightful and I want to hear it on the radio again. For several years I fought a losing battle against multiple stations in the Houston area, calling in every December asking to hear it and being disappointed every. Single. Time. That Christian station at my office, in particular, vowed that they didn’t have it, though they apparently had access to every friggin’ recording of The Little Drummer Boy ever put on vinyl, CD, or cassette. I call BS on that, too. Maybe outside of Texas this is part of the radio Christmas canon, but here in the Lone Star State Alvin and company have been banished from the airwaves. I want them back.
I seriously doubt this one would ever enter into such heavy rotation as any of the other songs on this list, but, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer gets some serious airplay, so, who knows? Like that song, this manic little tune isn’t so much a celebration of the holiday but a celebration in spite of it, meditating on a drunken Irishman’s Christmas eve in the county jail as he reminisces about his sordid past. It’s unhinged and bonkers and often a little bit vile, and its use of a derogatory homosexuals that has slightly different connotations in the Pogues’ native Ireland has gotten it banned at various times in the UK, where the song enjoys more recognition. It’s ultimately a song about revelry in total dissolution, and, hey—isn’t that at least part of what Christmas is all about?