Some “Christmas” Songs From a Guy Who Hates Christmas Music

I can’t stand Christmas music. It starts each year around Halloween, and as the days go by, it gets more and more ubiquitous. As the years pass, it seems like it starts earlier and gets even more invasive. We hear it on the radio, on teevee, at the supermarket, at the gas station, at our favorite restaurants and bars. And for those of us in the service industry, we have to hear it all day long at work. It’s impossible to get away from it.

I could go on for pages about the philosophical issues I have with the whole idea behind being coerced into getting “in the spirit of the season”, but I’ll keep that vitriol to myself.

Although I’m here tonight to present a few examples of my kind of “Christmas” music, I just don’t like Christmas music. I resent the fact that it’s forced down our collective throats. I really resent the suggestion that if you’re not into it, you’re a horrible person. If not liking Christmas music makes me a Grinch, then I guess I’m the Grinch. And I’m okay with that.

I think that most people get a little tired of it by the time the season is over, but I get tired of it before it even starts.

People will suggest that Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin or Elvis could turn Christmas songs into Sinatra, Deano, or Elvis songs, and I’m not sure that I buy that argument. It’s still Christmas music.

Some of my favorite musicians have made Christmas records, and no matter how much I like the artist. Kristin Hersh made a quasi-Christmas EP featuring a nifty cover of the Big Star song “Jesus Christ”, but I absolutely hated that disc. Mark Kozelek centered a live EP around his one-minute version of “White Christmas”, but it’s the only Christmas song on the disc, so it doesn’t really count. And I can’t even be sure that he wasn’t doing it tongue-in-cheek. I don’t like it, so I won’t include it here.

Everybody here knows how much I love the slowcore band Low. They did a Christmas album in 2000 that was very cleverly called Christmas. Four originals and three standards, all about Christmas. I almost like the cover of “Blue Christmas”. Most people know that song because Elvis recorded it in 1957 and made it famous in 1964. However, it’s one of those songs that was around for at least a decade before that.

“Blue Christmas” by Low

I like that it’s sung by Mimi. I like that they slow it way, way down. The tempo of their version matches the sad tone of the lyrics. Elvis made it into a peppy song about being sad. That just doesn’t work.

The rest of these songs from my “Christmas songs that I like” list have little or nothing to do with Christmas, but they all have “Christmas” in the title. Except this first one.

In 1993, Cocteau Twins were asked to contribute a song to a Christmas compilation album. They didn’t want to do it, but they assumed that their song would be alongside some Sinatra or something, so they agreed. What they found out was that their song was designed to be alongside Skinny Puppy. They ended up doing “Frosty The Snowman” and “Winter Wonderland”. Liz Fraser couldn’t stand the idea of singing the words “Jolly, happy soul” and all that other stuff, but through Robin Guthrie’s mastermind, they managed to put their own sonic stamp on it. I’m not sure if that compilation album ever came to fruition, but the Cocteaus released their two songs as an ultra-rare single called “Snow”.

“Frosty The Snowman” as done by Cocteau Twins

This actually is one of those songs where the artist made it theirs. It’s a Cocteaus song with some Christmas lyrics. I almost forget that it’s a Christmas song. You won’t have much luck trying to get a copy of the 7″ record, but you can get “Frosty…” on the Lullabies to Violaine Volume 2 singles compilation here.

Next up is an incredibly noisy and long-ish (8.5 minutes) wash of guitars and pink noise from California shoegaze/noise pop royalty Medicine.

“Christmas Song” by Medicine

The song isn’t about Christmas, and it makes oblique reference to Jesus, but it’s called “Christmas Song”, from their spectacular 1992 album Shot Forth Self Living, which was superbly re-issued this year by Captured Tracks Records. Get it here.

Next is a long (10:38) instrumental by Glaswegian post-rock royalty Mogwai called “Christmas Steps”. It comes from their 1999 album Come On Die Young. As it turns out, that album is out of print and remaining copies are expensive. Look for it here, though.

“Christmas Steps” by Mogwai

As with a lot of post-rock, you’ve really got to be patient. It does almost nothing for the first 2.5 minutes, then it slowly builds. Between 4:40 and 6:20, it’s raucous as hell before the long wind-down. If you’re patient, it’s magical.

Next is a song from DC punk royalty Tsunami, and a song called “Could Have Been Christmas”. From the 1995 singles collection World Tour and Other Destinations. This was originally released in 1992 as the b-side on a Christmas 7″ split single with Velocity Girl’s “Merry Christmas, I Love You” as the a-side. This one is actually about Christmas. I guess. As Tsunami songs go, it’s not one of my favorites, but it’s still good.

“Could Have Been Christmas” by Tsunami

Presents with a sticker that says “Don’t open until Christmas”. Kissing under the mistletoe. Blah Blah Blah.

Last but certainly not least is the legendary UK indie band The Wedding Present. This is my favorite of the lot. In 1992, the Weddoes released one 7″ single every month, and each was backed with a cover song. On the July-through-December batch, there would be a common thread running between the a-side and the b-side. Each of the twelve singles reached the UK top 30, matching Elvis Presley’s feat of having twelve top-30 hits in one calendar year. There were some good originals and some remarkable covers. The 7″ record for December was “No Christmas”, backed with a cover of Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas”. The compiled the limited-run singles into two CD volumes — Hit Parade 1 and Hit Parade 2. A French import Hit Parade 3 followed, which was only six covers, including a smashing cover of Pavement’s “Box Elder”. Later, still, someone packaged them all together as a two-disc The Hit Parade, with all of the a-sides on one disc and all of the b-sides on the other.

“No Christmas” by The Wedding Present

I think that this is a stupendous song. One of their best, in fact. It has nothing at all to do with Christmas. It’s about getting dumped.

I love that it starts with the crunchy, fuzzy Psychocandy-esque white noise for 30 seconds before suddenly switching to David Gedge’s hushed vocals and soft guitar for a few seconds. s At 0:51, the sonic hammer gloriously drops, and it’s a big, goopy, beautiful, noisy mess for a while. A sudden gear shift at 2:30 and a gradual fade to nothing but a cymbal being lightly hit. The sonic hammer comes down again at 3:05, but much harder this time.

Oh, and there’s this:

Don’t say we’ve reached the end. You can’t be right
For goodness sake you must know I care about you
Please stay my best friend one more night
I couldn’t face another day alone without you

Alone without you, alone without you , alone without you
I care about you, I care about you, I care about you
Alone without you, alone without you , alone without you
I care about you, I care about you, I care about you

This is one of those songs (and the Weddoes have a lot that I could say the same about) that I play again and again. It’s the sixth of twelve songs on Hit Parade 2, but it may as well be the only song.

Hit Parade 2 seems to be out of print and available copies look dodgy. Just get the compiled The Hit Parade here.

What do all of these have in common? They’re from the 1990s. And by and large, they have nothing to do with Christmas other than having that word in the title. Yeah, yeah. I get it. There probably have been some good “Christmas” songs since then, and even some by bands that I like. I’m sticking with these, though. This is my Christmas playlist.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

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