Every year, we hear the complaints from friends and Internet memes: “Christmas music already?” “Calm down—it’s October.” In fact, these alternative holiday playlists started as a similar reaction. Bah humbug! Christmas music sucks. Take all that seasonal cheer and cram it up your chimney.
Well, this year, I think I’m kinda feelin’ the spirit—some kind of burning … in my bosom. Or maybe it’s E.T.’s heartlight, or the Grinch’s acute organomegaly. Anyway, I’ve been lookin’ forward to this holiday season and compiling another mix list of nontraditional, or just plain odd, Xmas tunes.
For adults, Christmas isn’t as fat with surprises as it was when we were younger, so it’s nice when something does catch you snoozing. This year, it was Cleopatra Records’ Psych-Out Christmas compilation.
Psych-Out leads off with Len Maxell’s “Christmas Monster Party,” a ghoulish, silly intro more suited to Halloween—but Tim Burton already cross-pollinated the holidays with A Nightmare Before Christmas, so whatever. What follows are 16 more tracks that run the gamut from mellow, trippy psych-pop (Elephant Stone covering the Beatles’ “Christmastime Is Here Again”) to wacky instrumentals (Quintron & Miss Pussycat breathing new life into the stale “Jingle Bell Rock”) and full-on garage rock (The Fuzztones’ “Santa Claus”). There’s even a recontextualized cover of The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” from Sons of Hippies—why didn’t someone think of that sooner? And Sleepy Sun’s version of “What Child Is This?” liberally interprets the idea of reverence, starting off like the theme from Shaft and finishing in a delightfully fuzzy cacophony. Topping it all off is Iggy Pop playing Bing Crosby on “White Christmas” (Guitar Stooge Version)—it’s at once faithful and … different. You’ll love every last track.
And here’s a big ol’ plate of other alt-Xmas goodies you should enjoy. If not, return them to Walmart. I hear those chumps still don’t require a receipt.
Apollonia, “Holiday ID” (Winter Warnerland, Warner Bros., 1988)
Dead Flowers, “A Lot Like Xmas”
(single, Idol Records, 2013)
This Dallas band’s single was another surprise, popping up shortly before I submitted this thing. A sleepy-eyed mid-tempo rocker that could’ve been a lost Replacements tune, it’s a total bummer: The Dead Flowers frontguy Corey Howe is missing someone who’s on a beach while he’s drinking cocoa on the street. It’d be trite, but you can feel his loss. “Oh, my dear/ I wish you were here/ Oh, my love/ I wish you wouldn’t have given up.” Check out the song on YouTube and stream the album at Deadflowers.bandcamp.com.
Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band, “Xmas at Kmart” (New Wave Xmas: Just Can’t Get Enough, Rhino, 1996)
Clyde Lasley & the Cadillac Baby Specials, “Santa Came Home Drunk” (Bummed Out Christmas, Rhino, 1989)
Nadroj & the Wolrats, “Forget It” (A Midnight Christmas Mess, Midnight International, 1984)
The Frogs, “Here Comes Santa’s Pussy”
The Star Wars Intergalactic Droid Choir & Chorale, “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb)?” (Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album, RSO, 1980)
Mirror Image, “O Tannenbaum” (Yuletide Disco, Cutout, 1979)
Far-out space rockers Wooden Shjips’ version of the tune clocks in at nine minutes, and it’s recognizable only in spots. The main hook pops up intermittently throughout the loopy aural miasma to remind you what you’re listening to—and damned if that doesn’t epitomize alternative Xmas music.