Happy Holidays! It’s that time of the year when City Weekly tells you what holiday tunes you could be listenin’ to instead of microwaveable chestnuts by showboatin’ chanteuses and Bing Crosby wannabes. Snore. I mean, there’s something to be said for tradition, but does it always have to be so saccharine and sanitized, not to mention seasonal and artificial? Retch.
Irreverence is more festive. Ask cowpunk emeritus Mojo Nixon. In 1992, he and his band the Toadliquors got “real fucked up” in Memphis and recorded some of those same standards (“Sleigh Ride,” “We Three Kings”) as well as a couple of originals (“Trim Yo’ Tree”) and less common tracks (“Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto”). They called it Horny Holidays (Triple X Records). “It’s a Christmas classic,” Nixon says, “if your family’s fucked up!”
The extent of Horny Holidays’ effed-up-edness is exemplified by the first track, “Happy Birthday,” where Nixon takes certain liberties with the b-day standard. You know, the kind that give your momma a heart attack. “My mother’s a nice Southern Christian woman,” Nixon says, “so her head exploded [when she heard me sing], ‘Happy birthday, you woodworkin’ Jew!’ ”
Nixon, who nowadays hosts three different shows on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, made Horny Holidays to bust out of the Christmas-music doldrums. “We wanted to make a holiday album you can listen to en route to Grandma’s house. You know, you get to Grandma’s, you can’t smoke, you can’t curse, you can’t drink—you can’t be snortin’ in the bathroom. But on the way there, you can listen to a fucked-up Christmas album.” It’s fitting, then, that we kick off the 2011 Xmas Music mix with “Happy Birthday,” followed by …
The Ventures, “Frosty the Snowman”
What better nontraditional context for a holiday tune than surf rock? The legendary quartet delivers a relatively faithful (but instrumental, natch) version of the song but for the da-da-da, da-da-dada-dadada guitar chords and some sleigh bells. You’ll imagine yourself on a beach trying to make your own Frosty from sea foam. It was included on Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails, Part Two.
Sonny Columbus & His Del Fuegos, “That Punchbowl Full of Joy”
Rockabilly always sounds festive—but if I hear another Brian Setzer Christmas tune, I’m gonna hunt him down. Ironically, a somber version of “I Saw Three Ships” on watery tremolo guitar opens “Punchbowl,” which becomes a chooglin’ ode to eggnog, jungle juice or some such alcoholic concoction that makes guys say things like, “Snuff the candle, I’ll show you Tiny Tim.” This one’s from A Boston Rock Christmas (1983—out of print) and reissued as part of Ho Ho Ho Spice (Volunteer Records, 2002).
The Three Suns, “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”
From the instro group’s 1952 album, … Present Your Christmas Favorites (RCA), comes another fun classic fueled by kitchsy organ and accordion. The Suns’ performances ape the exuberance heard when rugrats sing this cautionary and anticipatory holiday number.
Was (Not Was), “Christmas Time in the Motor City”
Imagine a pumpin’ new wave beat and soul singers Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowen rapping the following: “I ain’t no Scrooge/ I like December/ but I can’t even remember/ seein’ Santa Claus this year/ well I heard he got a job/ and he changed his name to Bob/ took a shave in the lobby of the Cadillac Hotel/They gave him unemployment but no food stamps.” With a beat-poetry interlude from David Was, it’s probably the weirdest and coolest Xmas tune ever. Check out A Christmas Record (Ze, 1981)
Was (Not Was), “Christmas Time in the Motor City”
James Brown, “Go Power at Christmastime”
Do you shop till you drop during the Xmas season? If caffeine bombs won’t quite get you through, try this funky vial of soul power from Soul Brother Number One’s Funky Christmas (1995). Next time you’re trudging through the mall, the line “Give me some goooo pooow-errr!” will keep you jammin’.
The Moog Machine, “Carol of the Bells”
OK, “Ding Fries Are Done” might’ve become the most popular version of this tune, which originated from a Ukrainian folk song. This Moog instrumental is actually a little creepier, almost like the Goblin/Fabio Frizzi soundtracks to spaghetti-splatter flicks. Lucio Fulci fans rejoice! There’s an entire album’s worth of these: Christmas Becomes Electric (1969—reissued 2011 on Purple Pyramid).
Lovemound, “Shake Your Christmas Tree”
From the Christmas in Tucson benefit compilation of 2007 comes this song, which sounds an awful lot like ZZ Top’s “She’s Just Killing Me” (heard in From Dusk Till Dawn). That’s not a bad thing, ’cause who doesn’t dig fuzzy, stompin’ blues-rock rife with innuendo? “I’m your Santa Claus, baby/ I’m comin’ down your chimney, yeah/ Oh, oh!/ I see you got some presents for me.”
Titán, “Spiritual Guidance”
For the first half of the song, Mexican electronic band Titán uses only sleigh bells, bass, a beat and film samples (from something old and exploitative where spiritual guidance turns out to be sex) to conjure the holiday spirit. Henceforth, horns and keys jump in and the tune becomes a Philly soul cover of “Jingle Bells.” Find it on XFM’s charity Christmas compilation It’s a Cool Cool Christmas (Jeepster, 2000).
Bob Log III, “Silent Night”
Another one from Christmas in Tucson, with be-helmeted, monkey-pawed BLIII transforming Jeebus’s berfday song into 33 seconds of loony slide guitar and thudding kick drum. The only thing better would be some of Log’s signature booby percussion. Or someone rhythmically slapping a Christmas ham.
Steve Stevens, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Shred guitar instros are almost as trite as holiday moldy-oldies. But Stevens—the man in charge of the widdly-woos and whammy-stranglin’ in Billy Idol’s band—starts with almost three minutes of surprisingly classy finger-style picking before launching into about four minutes of the expected electric acrobatics that are more blaxploitation film or TV cop show than holiday tune. From Merry Axemas, Vol. 2: More Guitars for Christmas (Sony Special Products, 2005).
Bob Spasm, “We Wish You A Shitty Christmas”
As if there aren’t enough songs from the Tucson comp. Last one, promise. Spasm, leader of mid-1980s Arizona punks Bloodspasm, captures the antithesis of the holiday season here. “The cocaine is stale/ the cheap beer is too/ your breath smells like shit/ the polite word is poo/ we wish you a shitty Christmas/ hope you’re dead by New Year’s.”
The Jigsaw Seen, Winterland
You really oughta check out anything in the discography of this long-running but obscure power-pop band. They’re so good, in fact, that you could start with their brand-new holiday album, Winterland (Vibro-phonic, 2011). It’s 10 tracks of ridiculously kick-ass tunes that channel XTC sound and smarts—and they hardly sound like Xmas tunes. Listen to them this season and you’ll be using a gift card to pick up their latest studio album, Bananas Foster.
Guided by Voices, “Doughnut for a Snowman”
This may not have been intended as a seasonal tune, but it’s GBV. It’s doubtful singer and songwriter Robert Pollard would write a literal holiday song, anyway. But laying a Krispy Kreme doughnut (“As sweet as life can get,” Bob sings) on a snowman—who can’t get there on his own—just has to give you warm fuzzies. The song is from Let’s Go Eat the Factory (GBV Inc./Fire, 2011)