I once had a college roommate who loved Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and played it every day from Thanksgiving to winter break. If you’re like me and need a break from Carey and her Christmas radio mega-hit comrades (or are just looking for some creative and lesser known tunes to spruce up that mix CD of Christmas songs you put together in 1993), Ideasmyth is here with a few Christmas songs that will leave you amazed at how expansive the world of Christmas music actually is (it’s not just Mariah, Elvis, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra)–and might even have you asking, if you missed him hosting the Oscars, “The creator of Family Guy can sing?”
Note: Click the song titles to hear each song.
And yes, indeed, you did read that correctly. Seth MacFarlane, best known as the creator of such TV and movie comedy hits as Family Guy, American Dad!, and Ted, has quite the set of pipes. Here, he pairs with a personal pop fave of mine, Sara Bareilles for an adorable, heartwarming rendition of a holiday staple. The pairing of these voices will warm you enough that you’ll be just as reluctant to go outside as are the singers–although the image of Stewie (one of the myriad Family Guy characters MacFarlane voices) singing this song might just have you running out into the cold anyway.
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I’ve been a fan of holiday mashups since my first viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas. But whereas Tim Burton’s Jack Skellington is delightfully flawed and interesting, this depiction of a frightening, Halloween-ified Santa is just plain creepy (“He knows where you live, he knows that your window’s open, he knows what lives under your bed.”). If you can get past the terrifying intro Santa gets in this song, Cooper’s “Santa Claws is Coming to Town” is certainly the unexpected sort of Christmas gem that you might put on just to bask in the irony that this is, indeed, a Christmas song–after which you might feel the need to go lock all your windows and close off your chimney.
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In typical campy Killers style, “The Cowboy’s Christmas Ball” video takes several things not likely to fit together–an 1890 poem of the same name by William Lawrence Chittenden, an unbelievably melodramatic group of desert town residents, three gun-toting cowboys, and two alien robots–and somehow manages to make them all work. Lead singer Brandon Flowers’ vocals have their usual unusual alternative rock charm, making this song a delight to listen to–and if you’re looking for some dance moves to impress your relatives with this Christmas, check out that alien’s rendition of the robot at the end of the video.
I’ve been listening to this song since my elementary school best friend’s dad first played his A Rock and Roll Christmas album for us my fifth Christmas, and I can attest that never has a Christmas song provided a wiser message. There is no better time to profess your love than when you are barraging people with gifts–and really, is there anything more likely to get an “I love you” out of you than a barrage of gifts? Mussy-haired arena rocker Billy Squier (known for hits like “Lonely Is The Night”) reveals a surprisingly tender side as he lets us know what’s what–”Christmas is the time to say ‘I love you,’ and a feeling that will last all through the year,” as long as it takes for the new update of that e-reader you just got comes out.
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Christmas is usually evocative of images rife with comradery–families gathered in front of fireplaces and sitting at tables together, sharing some ham or turkey and a bottle of wine. But the truth (at least to my experience) is that no holiday get-together passes without at least one disgruntled sigh from your aunt Elizabeth over one of her husband’s comments and one hush in the conversation while your aunt Christine yells at your cousin June for trying to open her brother’s gifts. Luckily, the Ramones have unexpectedly put together the sort of Christmas song we sometimes really need to hear–not “faithful friends who are near to us / gather near to us once more”, but “Christmas ain’t the time for breaking each other’s hearts / Merry Christmas, I don’t want to fight tonight.”
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Growing up, my parents changed the station when a lot of Christmas radio staples came on, but they always left Bowie and Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy” playing. Of course, I didn’t realize how truly legendary this meeting of musical heavyweights was–I just dozed off to the sound of Crosby “pa-ram-pam-pam-pam”-ing. But “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” is a big deal. It’s a meeting of two legends, low-voiced and high-voiced, clean and cool jazz and changeling pop–and allegedly Bowie explained his commitment to do the performance by saying, “I just knew my mother liked him,” making this meeting of musical masterminds all the more unlikely.
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Conor Oberst, the man behind indie act Bright Eyes, has a reputation largely informed by hi lyrics. Oberst is one of the most original, literary lyricists on the indie scene today, an aspect of his work that has always drawn me to his rather diverse exploration of genres (but especially to his breakout album I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning). It is rare to hear a recording of him singing someone else’s lyrics, but he ended up recording an entire album of Oberst-ified Christmas classics. In this take on “Blue Christmas,” Oberst is as moody as ever, an atmosphere that fits the tone of the lyrics so well that it’s almost as if Oberst wrote the song himself.
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From its very opening bars, Jack Johnson’s rendition of a song common among American public elementary school choirs will definitely give you life. And whereas the song traditionally tells Rudolph’s story for him, Johnson gives voice to the reindeer himself (providing the reindeer with the sort of moxy we always wished he’d had), singing: “Well Rudolph he didn’t go for that / He said, ‘I see through your silly games / How could you look me in the face / when only yesterday you called me names?’”
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The queen of contemporary indie crooners, Cat Power takes her brand of bittersweet warbling to Christmas–a move that, although not out of the realm of imagination, certainly surprised this Cat Power fanatic. The song’s slow simplicity sends a reel of old Christmas memories skimming in silent home film form through my head and makes me want to go home, cuddle with my cat, and remember all the warmth and light that all of my favorite Christmas moments have helped me experience–and hopefully it does the same for you, because song certainly epitomizes the lyrics, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Let your heart be light / From now on our troubles will be out of sight.”
Ideasmyth client Isabel Rose certainly knows how to spice up a song with that perfect mix of soulful sultriness that many songs need. Not often known as the sort of holiday conducive to jazzy sassiness (thought certainly known for its warmth), Rose brings her unique brand of sophisticated energy to the otherwise subdued holiday of Hanukkah. In this case, she takes her liveliness to the classic, “Hannukah, Oh Hanukkah,” “chasing the cold and the darkness to play” even more than the menorahs she sings about.
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Bonus Buys (you don’t even need to put them on layaway):
The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s–All I Want For Christmas
Because who doesn’t love the sound of Karen O singing “Fa-la-la”?
~~Kim Kaletsky is Ideasmyth’s editorial and tech assistant, and a senior at NYU studying English and American literature, creative writing, and web programming. When she is not busy running her lit mag blog, Brouhaha Magazine, she moonlights as a music fanatic and boasts a music collection of nearly 12,000 songs–and a mental repertoire that is twice as large.