Monday, December 22, 2008

24 (Mostly) Good (Christmas) Songs

So I wanted to share some of my favorite Christmas songs. Easy, right? Nope.
See how I did it after the jump.

My Philosophy

I'm not the biggest fan of Christmas music. No, I wasn't one of the kids in the awesome photos Goose dug up being abused by a mall Santa. And no, I'm not Jewish or Kwanzish. No, my reasons are much more pedestrian, unoriginal, and obvious to most people with a good ear for music and a healthy cynical streak. 

Most Xmas songs are over-played, overly-sentimental, or just plain annoying. Rather than following the their muse the way they do the other 11 months of the year, they sound like they are fulfilling homework assignments. But instead of grades, they get bags of cash. Which leads me to The One And Only Rule You Need To Find Good Christmas Songs:

A good Christmas song needs to be a good song that just happens to be about Christmas.

It's that simple. You can add Christmas lyrics to a shit song, but it's still going to be a shit song.

Back Story

This is a collection of songs made in that spirit. It was a mix made just after the turn of the most recent century. It was a heady time. 9/11 was less than a year away, Trapped in the Closet was even farther down the road, and I was coming down the home stretch of an unhappy marriage. Luckily there was a dial-up modem and Napster to keep me preoccupied. 

Yes, I'm old, and no, I wasn't in college with a faster connection. I would start downloading 5-10 different songs before I went to bed and when I woke up, 2 or 3 of them (on a good night) would be waiting for me. But I persevered.

We decided to give this away to our music-loving friends as presents that year. The goal was to alternate song choices between each of us, and that's kinda how it ended up. I picked all of my songs, she chose some songs, and I filled in the rest of hers from artists I knew she liked or at least didn't mind being associated with. The odd #s are "hers" and the evens are "mine".

It's a mix I still distribute, and I still give credit to the ex for her choices. It was a product of that time in my life, and it still holds up for me. 

Stupid Technology

Some of these songs are obscure or are live radio recordings, so no luck using Seeqpod or Imeem. Muxtape would have been perfect, but of course the RIAA made sure an awesome, simple interface for people to check out other people's music would no longer see the light of day. Ditto some other Muxtape replacements like Mixwit. There's OpenTape which seems like it would let you do what Muxtape did, but you needed to upload software to your web server and my hosting account wasn't compatible for reasons I won't bore you with.

I considered just posting a ZIP file of the MP3s, but it's a huge file and it's not streaming.

So eventually I found Fuzz. The interface tries too hard to recreate an actual cassette tape. And songs you upload are only available for a couple of weeks. But since this is a Christmas mix, that's fine. After I set this up, I found SoundCloud, which looks more promising and less restrictive. They'll probably have to be shut down soon too. Thanks major music labels. Love ya.

December 2009 update: So those sites are all done with. So's Imeem. So's Seeqpod. And Grooveshark which seems promising has it's Upload feature undergoing "Maintenance", which is probably code for "legal review.

Let's try this again with Lala. To play all the songs, I think you have to have an account with Lala. It's free and this playlist is good enough to be worth the hassle. Let me know if you have any technical problems.

December 2011 update: Lala is dead too. Email me at if you want a copy. 

December 2013 update: Created a YouTube Playlist that has most of these songs on it. Still need to add "Beer in a Bar". I tried to find videos that were the intersection of weird but true to the version on the CD. Enjoy.

December 2021 update: You can download the songs from my Drive account here.

Less Talk, More Rock

Enough with the chatter, here's the tunes. Some one-liners and vids for each song down the page.
If you dig this, let me know and I'll get you a copy. And feel free to add your suggestions for good holiday songs in the comments.

Press the Play button to open the case and start the music. If you have any problems viewing the embedded player, you can check it out here.

  1. Hava Negila (Live) -- Ben Folds Five
    • So even though I went on and on above about Christmas songs, this mix was intended to include other holidays in a chronological manner. First Hanukah, then Christmas, and finally New Year's. Clever? Hardly. But I was (and am) a big BFF fan and this tune will get even your Gentile toes a-tapping.
    • Here's Ben Folds' ghost doing the song live:

  2. Silent Night (Live) -- Bad Religion
    • The one time a year I didn't mind going to church was Christmas Eve. The sermon was short, there was lots of music, and the service always ended with Silent Night sung a cappella with the lights out and everyone holding cameras. It's hard not to feel something in that moment.
    • This, however, is not that moment. This is Bad Religion blasting their way through your ear drum, stopping only to break out a little My Sharona. Badass.
  3. It's Christmas Time, Pretty Baby -- Elvis Presley
    • Not the biggest Elvis fan, but this is a sexy little number that makes you think of coming down someone's chimney. Or maybe that's just me.
  4. Beer in a Bar -- Marah
    • A well-structured straight-ahead rock song filters the Christmas spirit through that guy at the end of the bar who's always there.
    • This embodies the rule I described above. It's a great song. It could be about sport-fishing off the Keys and it would still be a great song.
  5. Merry Christmas Everybody (Live) -- Oasis
    • I didn't realize this was a cover of a Slade song until I looked it up on the Wiki. It's a recording of a live version that Noel Gallagher did on a British radio station.
    • Apparently this song is as ubiquitous in England as Jingle Bells is over here. Who knew?
    • There are a few skips and the sound quality's not great, but it reminds me of when Oasis was still good and when I used to record songs off the radio by putting a tape recorder up to the speaker.
    • The original version by Slade (I can see why they influenced both Kiss and Spinal Tap):

  6. Merry Christmas From the Family (Live) -- Robert Earl Keen
    • This might be my favorite song on the mix (at least until #8 or #18). It's a live version with the crowd singing along, which helps.
    • Yes, the characters that Keen writes about are rednecks of the highest order ("Mom got drunk and dad got drunk...", "I can't remember how I'm kin to them..."). But the characters are drawn with love and without judgement. While the Christmas he describes isn't one that I can personally identify with, it's one that sounds like a shitload of fun.
    • A live version from the crowd:

  7. Christmas Medley (Live) -- Barenaked Ladies
    • Another live radio recording. They mash up "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", "We Three Kings", and some wacky commentary. It shouldn't work, but their harmonies are excellent and every time one of 'em says that "The Stone Cold Tombs" are a band from San Diego, rather than a lyric from "We Three Kings", I giggle.
    • A more serious version with fellow Canuck Sarah McLachlan:

  8. Fairytale of New York -- The Pogues w/ Kirsty MacColl
    • Jebus, where do I start with this one? It's perfect. It's kind of like "Summer Nights" as written by a drunk Irishman dying in a jail cell.
    • It melds Shane MacGowan's rasp and Kirsty MacColl's cool British voice and a swelling Irish tune into a rueful masterpiece.
    • More Christmas songs should include exchanges like "You're a bum, you're a punk... You're an old slut on junk..."
    • Here's a live version. Try counting Shane's teeth.

  9. The 12 Pains of Christmas -- Bob Rivers
    • Almost all 12 Days of Christmas songs get old quick (there's a reason Bob & Doug Mackenzie's version skips some days). But this one has an Archie Bunker impersonator and a mincing gay voice singing about Christmas cards. That's good enough for me.
    • And here's awesome guy (or maybe 2 awesome guys, tops) acting out this song:

  10. Rock & Roll Christmas -- George Thorogood
    • This was a staple of early MTV Decembers. Just a great Chuck Berry-esque tune.
    • I'm pretty sure I had no idea who John Lee Hooker was, much less that he played Santa in this one. I think I would have recognized and enjoyed the awkward banter that kicks the video off:

  11. Christmas Song -- Weezer
    • This is a pretty generic Weezer song, so it probably fails the rule I laid out at the beginning. But I was starting to run out of "her" songs, so I needed quantity and was willing to concede a bit of quality.
  12. Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You -- Billy Squier
    • Another MTV Xmas staple. It didn't hurt that all of the early MTV talent was in the video for crying out loud.
    • I don't remember liking it much at the time, but it's really grown on me.

  13. Lonely Christmas -- Ben Folds Five
    • It's a Scroogian effort where the protagonist is just trying to eat his Cream of Wheat, and those lousy carolers keep him from that task.
    • This isn't weird or creepy at all.

  14. Marshmallow World -- Darlene Love
    • Phil Spector may be a murderer, but he can produce the shit out of a song. This is one of many killer cuts off "A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector". Instead of hot lead, his gift is 13 tracks of a mistletoe-covered Wall of Sound.
    • The violins kick off the track, but they're a red herring. It's nothing but saxophones and Darlene Love's incomparable voice.
    • This cover makes me want to see what Phil's going rate for contract killings is:

  15. Christmas Time (Is Here Again) -- The Beatles
    • This is just weird. It was originally just released to members of their fan club in 67, and is all over the place.
    • "O-U-T spells OUT"
    • Paul's Xmas wish: "I wish you everything you would wish yourselves for Christmas". Thanks for passing the buck, Paul.
    • It closes with a little Auld Lang Syne and John spouting nonsensical poetry.
  16. Christmas in Hollis -- Run-DMC
    • This was huge when it came out. Fantastic hook.
    • The elf in the video still creeps me out:

  17. Santa Got Stuck in My Chimney -- Ella Fitzgerald
    • This is the one I consistently skip. Too cutesy.
  18. Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year -- James Brown
    • Goose, if you're still reading this, you need to listen to this song (if you aren't familiar with it already). 6 and a half minutes of JB laying down the horns and the funk.
    • And he mixes in some spoken word holiday wishes like only he can.
  19. Alan Parsons in a Winter Wonderland -- Grandaddy
    • They cleverly merge a Christmas theme and the cold studio perfection of the Alan Parsons Project. It works.
    • "In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend that he is Alan Parsons... And he'll say have you listened to my new band?... And we'll say no, but we really like that one song that goes 'Time... keeps flowing like a river'"
  20. Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas -- The Eels
    • A hopeful tune set to a rocking beat. This song should be remembered if only for the lyric "Baby Jesus... Born to rock!" right before a guitar solo.
    • Cracker covering it in a poorly lit room:

  21. Riu Chiu (Spanish Christmas Carol) -- The Monkees
    • I didn't like this one originally, but it sucks you in on repeated listening.
    • A different take on it:

  22. Christmas Morning -- Lyle Lovett
    • Not technically a Christmas song, but it's got "Christmas" in the title and it's sad.
  23. What Are You Doing New Year's (Live) -- Rufus Wainwright
    • I've always had a soft spot in my heart for this song and Rufus' voice.
    • The lyric "here's the jackpot question in advance" always kills me.
    • The version on this mix was recorded off of this Gap TV ad:

      And a live version:

  24. This Will Be My Year -- Semisonic
    • As big as "Closing Time" was, I don't think Semisonic get their due. Feeling Strangely Fine was a really good pop-rock album that still holds up.
    • It seemed fitting both chronologically and thematically to end on an upbeat note as we can all relate with trying to make this New Year's special and a harbinger of better days to come.


Anonymous said...

Robert Earl Keen? Check. Squier? Check.
You're missing 'Father Christmas' by The Kinks and 'I Believe In Father Christmas' by ELP. A handful of others too, but Kinks and Lake are required.

Anonymous said...

How do I get a copy?????

Goose said...

I agree with Roswick - Christmas mix is incomplete without Kinks and ELP. And not only have I heard Let's Make Christmas Mean Something this Year, I have James Brown's Funky Christmas. I'd also throw in Weird Al's "Christmas at Ground Zero for a completist's sake.

I'm definitely not one for Christmas songs, but I can stomach that album. That and Feliz Navidad, although that 's starting to get played out.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, one more thing about Father Christmas... don't bother trying to play it on the Plumstead jukebox in the summertime, because they'll stop playing it, skip to the next song, then refuse to return your jukebox money.

Goose said...

First of all, it was in February. Second of all, a lot of retribution was promised, but not acted upon that night.

Beth said...

I still don't get how you don't see "Santa Claus Got Stuck In My Chimney" as incredibly dirty.

Cline said...

Because I am pure of mind and steadfast of soul.

Also, I find the song annoying, so I don't really think about it that much.

I will listen from the gutter next time.