Music is inherently linked with Christmas, whether it’s Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ playing in the background of a DFS advert or listening to one of your flat mates blasting out Michael Bublé’s Christmas album in mid-November. It’s safe to say that festively themed music is everywhere at this time of year, and ever since the early seventies musicians of a variety of genres have tried their hand at the lucrative, jam-packed Christmas market. The following list is an exploration of some of the lesser-known Christmas songs by more alternative bands that you just have to hear… From bizarre instrumental folk to fast paced pop-punk bangers, here is a collection of some of the greatest tunes from the alternative world that you can try to sneak into your family’s Christmas Spotify playlist!
The Killers – A Great Big Sled
Only three things are certain in life: death, taxes and a new festive Killers song landing around a month before Christmas! The Las Vegas indie rock four-piece are these days as much a part of Christmas as mistletoe, with the band releasing a charity single every year for the past decade. Whilst some have been quite frankly terrible, others have been very good, with a notable mention to ‘A Great Big Sled’, their very first effort in 2006 and my personal favourite. Written at a time that The Killers were at their best, this is a true Christmas anthem set with jingling bells and a Springsteen-esque chorus.
Tom Waits – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis
This slow paced blues song from the husky voiced Californian, paints a rather different, more atmospheric picture of the Christmas love story. An interesting tale of love, deception and debauchery, this is a bittersweet piece of musical brilliance, with Waits depicting a rather different side to romance compared to say Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas’…
Frightened Rabbit – It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop
By far in a way one of the most underrated Christmas songs is Scottish alt-rockers, Frightened Rabbit’s ‘It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop’. A tender winter moment that brings a hint of realism to the rather bloated modern Christmas day. With the band using the medium of the Christmas song to make sharp observations of human behavior during the festive season, ending on the damning final line – the next day life went back to its bad self. Something many of us can relate to…
Gruff Rhys – Post-Apocalypse Christmas
A jangling indie pop tune with an apocalyptic message from Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys, not your average Christmas song! An ironic twist on the traditional festive anthem, Rhys employs an upbeat melody juxtaposed with lyrics of ‘concrete bunkers’.
Blink 182 – I Won’t Be Home for Christmas
An energetic bolt of Christmas cheer, Blink 182’s ‘I Won’t Be Home for Christmas’ is a pop punk attempt at a Christmas song, which works spectacularly. A tale of a man who vents his anger at Carol singers on Christmas Eve, this festive single is filled with humorous lines such as, “It’s Christmas time again, it’s time to be nice to the people you can’t stand”. Blink 182 offer a festive song that you can jump around to and prove that there’s more to Christmas than snow and baubles.
Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)
To an older punk Christmas anthem! Is there a better soundtrack for your festivities this year than the chugging power chords of The Ramones’ ‘Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)’? A simple yet effective song, this track from the Punk legends is a favourite in the alternative community, recently covered by Sleater-Kinney. In typical punk fashion it is quick and to the point, clocking in at around two minutes, spreading peace and wishing you a Merry Christmas.
The Kinks – Father Christmas
This rip-roaring festive track from British seminal rock band the Kinks, is one that flies slightly under the radar, given the band’s lofty status. Adding even more value to the argument that the 70s was the golden age of the Christmas song! In the track Davies sings about a department store’s Father Christmas that gets beaten up by a group of kids who want money rather than toys! An amusing twist on the usual festive antics, however the classic structure is still there, with the track filled to the brim with guitar solos, sleigh bells and giant sized choruses. The kind of song that The Darkness will have wished they’d written!
Pearl Jam – Let Me Sleep (It’s Christmas Time)
Even grunge titans Pearl Jam have recorded a Christmas single! The slow burning folk song sees Eddie Vedder crooning about his Christmases of the past. He growls: “When I was kid, oh how magic it seemed.” A shift away from the hard rock anthems found on the likes of Ten, Vs. or Vitology, with the band displaying a softer side and a more reflective take on the age-old Christmas single concept.
Sufjan Stevens – That Was the Worst Christmas Ever
To pick a single Sufjan Stevens Christmas track in itself was a tough task, with the Detroit born singer-songwriter having produced a treasure trove of festively themed delights. However, for the list I finally decided on one of Stevens’ own Christmas compositions and one his best loved: ‘That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!’ A song that describes how one particular Christmas was ruined by his father yelling and “throwing the gifts in the wood stove”, a scene somewhat resembling an Eastenders Christmas special… However the song remains a poignant and moving edition to Stevens’s Christmas Canon.
Bright Eyes – Away in a Manager
A haunting rendition of the much-loved Carol, Bright Eyes’ version of the Christmas classic gives it a 21st century twist. With stripped back production values and angelic vocals, the Nebraskan three-piece show the world how to properly make a Christmas song your own, rather than just releasing a lazy clone, as seems common practice these days. This is a Christmas carol of the modern age, who needs midnight mass?
Jack White – Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over
This isn’t strictly a Christmas song, taken from the film Cold Mountain, of which White contributed a great deal of music too, however it manages to really encapsulate the Christmas spirit in its own way. A mainly instrumental piece, complete with jaunty fiddles and folk sensibilities, this is a Christmas song of a totally different style.
Julian Casablancas – I Wish it was Christmas Today
2009 saw the coolest named man of all time and Strokes frontman try his hand at the Christmas song, and it didn’t disappoint. ‘I Wish it Was Christmas Today’ is a fully-fledged indie anthem. Catchy chorus, check, yuletide references, check, Christmas bells, check, synth solo, check! Whilst the lyrics may be quite silly, it encapsulates the indie festive feeling and Casablanca’s cool baritone voice just makes Christmas a whole lot more stylish!
Palma Violets – Last Christmas on Planet Earth
Taking us right into 2015, the alternative Christmas tune is still very much in demand, with garage rock band Palma Violets leading us on a particularly chaotic journey of ramshackle guitars and whirling synthesizers. A song that is the embodiment of Christmas Eve down the pub, celebrating the festive season in jubilant fashion. A truly great modern Christmas track and proof that there’s more to the 21st century festive season than just Michael Bublé…
Loose Tapestries – Can’t Wait for Christmas
This project from comedian Noel Fielding and Kasabian’s Serge Pizzorno, is quite simply bizarre and this year’s Christmas effort! Blending comedy, hooky avant-garde pop, sleigh bells and the surreal this is a song that will most certainly turn heads at any Christmas party. However, the highlight, and also strangest moment, has to be Idris Elba’s guest verse, where he raps about wanting an Xbox from Santa this year. If that doesn’t scream the new ‘Last Christmas’ then I don’t know what does!
The Courteeners – Winter Wonderland
Another of this year’s Christmas corkers came in the form of Manchester’s The Courteeners piano led indie rock track, giving a very British perspective on the festive period. A sing-a-long anthem with a dry sense of humour, “Winter wonderland, It looks beautiful on a postcard, It’s bloody annoying after a day”, Liam Fray and co. have embraced the Christmas spirit and produced a single destined to soundtrack sparkly M&S Christmas adverts for years to come! Although that probably isn’t the greatest compliment and it is borderline cheesy, it really is quite a good song.