There are some mildly offensive Christmas songs out there, as Care2 blogger Kevin Mathews has written. Then there are the downright cloying ones that get in your head on endless rewind (“Feliz Navidad”). What is it about “Jingle Bells” that can make hearing it (with sleigh bells jingling in the background) downright exasperating? ”The Twelve Days of Christmas” is great when you start and then can feel like an awful lot to slog through by the time you’re at the seven swans a-swimming.
Tastes differ of course, but the five songs below are mostly cheese-free and show you can mess with traditions and they’ll still survive.
1) “Lullay, Lullow”
This 15th-century version of what is also known as the Coventry Carol has a lilt and a beat suggestive of the original meaning of “carole,” a social dance in which the performers sung. It is stately but also has a bit of a kick, reminding us that the original version of this carol was not dour but spirited.
2) “I want an alien for Christmas”
New Jersey’s Fountains of Wayne sing, in light-hearted ironic earnestness, of a “kinda special” Christmas request that Mom and Dad may find even harder to procure than the trendiest toy. Should they find a “little green guy / about three feet high/ with seventeen eyes,” the plan is he’ll live in the bathtub. So don’t worry about a thing!
3. “The Little Drummer Boy,” Bowie and Bing version
David Bowie shows up at Bing Crosby’s front door, they chat about music (Bowie lists one of the “older” performers he likes as “Lennon”). Then glam rocker and pop crooner join each other at the piano and launch into “The Little Drummer Boy,” with requisite pa rum pa pum pum-ing.
4) A Bare Bones “Silent Night”
Sinead O’Connor sings “Silent Night” slow, simply, with minimal accompaniment and in the sort of breathy whisper she used more recently when singing “Curly Locks” on her reggae album, Throw Down Your Arms.
5) “Fairy Tale of New York”
Christmas is “as much the problem as it is the solution” — as indeed it can be — in the Pogues’ Christmas anthem. “Fairytale of New York” comes up as number one in polls of the best Christmas songs: Not half-bad for one that begins “in the drunk tank,” mentions “cars big as bars and rivers of gold,” describes the beginning of love on a cold Christmas Eve and proceeds to “you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy f—– / Happy Christmas your a—, I pray God it’s our last.”
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