The Christmas Twist: Some Alternative Holiday Songs

According to this XKCD chart, Christmas is music has been stagnating since the late 1940’s and early 50’s. Although I love to sing along with the classics, for the last couple of years I have tried to seek out some modern and alternative holiday music. This year I augmented my holiday playlist with some non-holiday songs that still fit the Christmas spirit, at least for me. My Christmas gift to you, music friends, is to share this list of modern holiday and non-holiday songs that you might enjoy as a respite from “Rudolph” and “Frosty”, and yet still be in the spirit of the season. I’ve tried to link to decent videos where possible, as well as noting what versions I listen to at home.

What would you add to this list? What would be in your personal list?

Modern Holiday
Sarah Siskind‘s 2010 EP “All Come Together Now” is among my favorite new holiday music, with original songwriting band Sarah’s beautiful voice. For example: “May Love Fall Like Snow“. Grace Potter also has a pair of freshly rockin’ holiday songs.

Nerdy Christmas
Among the songs on John Aneallo’s holiday EP, two stand out for the kid in me: “Batman Smells – A Rebuttal” and “The Millennium Falcon for Christmas”, a song with which I can truly identify since I never got one. Johnathan Coulton‘s Christmas card from the Anderson family is a favorite at our house: “Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime“. “Christmas At Ground Zero” by Werid Al Yankovic is a must have for all Dr. Strangelove fans. One more for the geek’s Christmas is Space Zombie Christmas” by Hecktor Zick Zack and Death Ray.

Dysfunctional Family Christmas
The Pogues great duet from Shane McGowana and Kirsty MacColl “Fairytale Of New York“. “Christmas In Prison” by John Prine – a great song for which I could not find a good YouTube of Prine singing it himself, but judging by the number of home videos I am not the only one who loves this one. “Merry Christmas From The Family”  – Robert Earl Keen. Mom got drunk and dad got drunk at the Christmas party…

Old Time
Breaking Up Christmas” performed here by one of several great fiddle players we lost in 2011: Benton Flippen of Mount Airy, NC.  Another is West Virginian fiddler French Carpenter’s “Old Christmas Morning“. A great version of “Hard Times Come Again No More” was sung by Mavis Staples on the “Songs of Stephen Foster” compilation,  but I love the Emmylou Harris version as well.

Folk Rock
The Simon & Garfunkel classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is quite at home in a holiday mix, though I like Johnny Cash’s version from American IV. Another from that album is The Beatles song “In My Life”, which bring out memories of family. Jethro Tull’s “A Christmas Song” is a personal favorite. Hey, Santa, pass us that bottle, will ya?
Leonard Cohen’s beautiful “Hallelujah” fits right in, but I prefer Rufus Wainwright’s singing or  Jake Shimabukuro’s ukulele instrumental. “Ring Them Bells“, a Bob Dylan song performed beautifully by Sarah Jarosz, whose first two albums are always in high rotation at my place.

Other Spirituals
Several Gillian Welch songs fit in this section: “By The Mark“, “Red Clay Halo” and “Rock Of Ages” are in the mix, as well as her duet with Allison Krauss on “I’ll Fly Away”, though I also love this fresh version by Del McCoury & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band from “American Legacies”. “Amazing Grace” was an obvious choice. My favorite versions are an instrumental by guitarist Andy Falco, and Ani DiFranco jamming on it with a full orchestra backing. Hank Williams’ song “House Of Gold” is also in tune with the season of giving and receiving. I like both the Willie Nelson version from his recent album “Country Music”, as well as Darrell Scott & Tim O’Brien’s duet on “Real Time”. I could not find a YouTube of either of those, however, so enjoy this one from the Secret Sisters. Another Hank Williams classic spiritual is “I Saw The Light“, with my favorite version by banjo innovator Earl Scruggs. Last but not least, the haunting vocals of Blue Highway singing “Wondrous Love“. Highly recommended.

For the Non-Believers
A trio of tunes for the agnostics, humanists and all-of-the-aboves in your life: “Let The Mystery Be” by Iris Dement, the hilarious “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” by Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers, and the Grateful Dead acoustic classic “Ripple“.

Movie Themes
With so many TV specials and movies that come out for the holiday season, there are bound to be some that strike a chord of nostalgia. For me there is “Linus & Lucy”, the theme from the Peanuts. Probably because they both came out around Christmas, “May It Be” by Enya, from the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings soundtrack and “Hedwig’s Theme” from the Harry Potter soundtrack. It would not be Christmas at our house without a little Jack Skellington. We love the whole soundtrack by Danny Elfman, but the “Christmas Eve Montage” I find fits best in the playlist.

How about you? What are your alternative holiday songs? What are your favorite obscure ones?

About Mike Ward

Connecting the digital to the local - website management, social media and event promotion.
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2 Responses to The Christmas Twist: Some Alternative Holiday Songs

  1. Under dysfunctional, check out “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” by Tom Waits. Love it. My favorite winter cd has got to be “Through the Bitter Frost and Snow” by Lindsey Horner and Susan McKeown. These two musicians performed Auld Lange Syne on NPR and the listener response was so huge that they put together an album. If I had to peg it I’d say jazz/folk. The focus is on bass and vocals, and the album is like warming up by the fire while the wind howls outside. Spare yet rich. Unforgettable.

  2. Lanea says:

    Don’t forget about Joni Mitchell’s “River.”

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