The holiday season is here, which means playlists are taking shape to reflect this most festive time of year. But we hear the same Christmas songs year after year; from Wizzard to Slade to The Pogues (as amazing as ‘Fairytale of New York’ is), and even the better ones start to grate on you a little. Are there no alternatives, you ask?
Well, yes there are. Loads, in fact. Alex Nelson runs down 50 of the best alternative Christmas songs to get your party rocking to a different beat (or bring it crashing to a miserable end if that’s more your thing)…
1. Sonic Youth – Santa Doesn’t Cop Out On Dope
A slice of the genuinely weird to break you in gently, Sonic Youth bring out the avant-garde noise for which they’re known for this track, featured as part of Geffen Records’ Just Say Noel compilation of 1996. A strange song with an underlying anti-drugs message (believe it or not).
2. Beck – Little Drum Machine Boy
Taken from the same Just Say Noel compilation as Sonic Youth’s effort, Beck here tackles Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and the result is unrecognisable from the trip-hop beats to the robotic vocals.
3. Mogwai – Christmas Song
Scottish instrumentalists Mogwai are named after the furry critters from perennial Christmastime movie Gremlins, so it’s only right that they lent their hand to Christmas songcraft. The result is a sombre piano-driven effort, taken from 2000’s EP+6. See also the 11-minute post-rock effort ‘Xmas Steps’ from the same album.
4. Elastica – Gloria
The third and final entry from the Just Say Noel compilation (it really is a good record), Justine Frischmann and the gang bring their grrrl powered Britpop to a Christmas classic.
5. The Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)
The trademark croon of Joey Ramone sounds a little out of place on a Christmas record at first, but give it a few listens and the catchy chugging guitars will become the centrepiece of your Christmas playlist.
6. Julian Casablancas – I Wish It Was Christmas Today
The Strokes frontman ditches the leather-bound New York cool in favour of some old timey Christmas kitsch for this unashamedly upbeat Christmas number.
7. The Futureheads – Christmas Was Better In The 80s
Was Christmas really better in the 80s? The Futureheads seem to think so and don’t mind telling us on this track. Our thoughts? No Nintendo 64s in the ’80s, so…
8. Glasvegas – A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like A Kiss)
This is the title track from a whole album dedicated to all things Chistmassy/wintery from mardy humbugs Glasvegas. Six whole tracks to slowly cry your way through. Enjoy!
9. Galaxie 500 – Listen, The Snow Is Falling
One of the most beautiful Christmas songs out there, this version of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s original from jangle-poppers Galaxie 500 begs the intriguing question: ‘Can you hear snow?’
10. Arcade Fire – The Christmas Song (Roasting Chestnuts)
Out there in the wilds of the internet is an obscure album from Arcade Fire, aptly entitled A Very Arcade Xmas. It was recorded by the band piling into a room, getting rather merry and recording their interpretations of various carols on the fly. The intoxication is audible, which only adds to the enjoyment.
11. Redd Kross – Super Sunny Christmas
With so many Christmas songs recounting tales of heavy snowfall, it’s sometimes easy to forget that certain parts of the world spend their Christmasses basking in sunshine. Step in Californian alt.rockers Redd Kross with their more sunny take on the festive season.
12. The Cribs – Glandular Fever Got The Best Of Me
Not a Christmas song per se, but those chiming retro synths and lyrics about the most seasonal illness of all bring festive images flashing to our mind’s eye with each listen. All it needs is a sleigh bell backing track. Also worth a watch, this ‘Cribsmas Message‘ version for added living room intimacy.
13. Peace – Last Christmas
Plenty of cover versions abound in this list, and why not? Peace used their version of Wham!’s 1984 classic to announce a bunch of winter tour dates last year. Dates at which they played this version live (and really rather well).
14. They Might Be Giants – Santa’s Beard
They Might Be Giant’s 2000 compilation Holidayland brings together their more festive moments from albums gone by. This one – originally from 1988’s Lincoln – will be stuck in your head for days.
15. Crocodiles & Dum Dum Girls – Merry Christmas Baby (Please Don’t Die)
Another perfectly good song title spoiled by mood threatening parenthesis. File this one under ‘Christmas downers’.
16. The Damned – There Ain’t No Sanity Clause
Skewed Christmas punk from Captain Sensible, Monty Oxymoron and co.
17. The Fall – Hark The Herald Angels Sing
Mark E Smith drops the Scrooge act for a few moments and loses himself in the Christmas spirit. The result is this amazingly unfazed Christmas track. Whoever convinced him to do this was probably fired a long time ago.
18. Cocteau Twins – Frosty The Snowman
The woozy guitars and reverby vocals of the shoegaze genre lend themselves surprisingly well to leftfield Christmas songs, such as this take on ‘Frosty the Snowman’ from the Scottish dream-pop legends.
19. Sciflyer – The Same Thing Goes For Christmas
A largely instrumental piece that encapsulates Christmas mostly in name alone.
20. Stellarscope – Silent Night
Last seen sountracking that opinion dividing Sainbury’s advert, ‘Silent Night’ here takes on a similarly haunting quality, this time through the use of Stellarscope’s droning guitars.
21. The Raveonettes – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
Sickly sweet vocals over drum machine motifs and shoegazing guitars make up the main body of this alternative Christmas classic.
22. Hypomanie – She Couldn’t Find A Flower, But There Was Snow
We’re deep into the shoegaze section of this list it seems, and Hypomanie’s effort is a reminder that under all of the pretty white snow out there, everything is slowly dying. Cheery. Still, some killer fuzz guitars to be had, just save this one for the end of a Christmas playlist; it’s a bit of a dancefloor clearer.
23. Mojave 3 – Breaking The Ice
A jangly, Christmas themed song/video from the Mojave 3!
24. The Layaways – O Christmas Tree (O Tannenbaum)
One of the more subdued takes on our alternative Christmas songs list. Warm acoustic guitars to keep you warm on a cold Christmas Eve.
25. Goldie Lookin’ Chain – Dubstep Christmas
Newport’s finest tongue-in-cheek hip-hop collective give us this bass heavy treat. “It’s not even dubstep!” you cry, and you’d be right. But when it’s this ridiculous, who cares?
26. Low – Little Drummer Boy
Ding dong merrily on Low! A droning masterpiece to set you in a Christmas haze. The perfect song to get your Christmas morning off to a slow, lazy start.
27. Starflyer 59 – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Icy cool ride cymbals, chilly guitars and breathy vocals combine for this loungy version of a much loved Christmas song.
28. The Yule Logs – Wrestlemania Christmas
It takes great dedication to theme your entire band around the season of goodwill, but that’s exactly what the Yule Logs have done. What could be more exciting than coming downstairs on Christmas morning and finding Wrestlemania tickets under the tree? Nothing. And it’s something the Yule Logs can attest you. For a better quality recording of this track, head over to their Bandcamp page.
29. The Killers – A Great Big Sled
The Killers certainly aren’t averse to a Christmas song (they’ve released an original track every year since 2006). This one features Curve’s Toni Halliday on guest vocals for that added Christmas cheer.
30. Smashing Pumpkins – Christmastime
Baldie miserabelist Billy Corgan might not seem your typical harbinger of Christmas cheer, and you’d be right. On ‘Christmastime’ Corgan’s ‘Pumpkins try their best to deliver a glistening, sleigh bell backed piece, but there’s just something in Corgan’s voice that cries Christmas sarcasm to us.
31. Ryan Adams – Hey Parker, It’s Christmas
Adams and his piano make up the bulk of this understated Christmas effort.
32. Eels – Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas
Eels are cool. Christmas is cool. We are cool. You are cool! Everything IS gonna be cool this Christmas! Thanks Eels! A return to happier songs on our list with this rockin’ number.
33. The Kinks – Father Christmas
Rock ‘n’ roll veterans The Kinks manage to deliver a strangely punk take on the Christmas song. The party’s getting back on track now…
34. The Knife – Christmas Reindeer
Electro experimentalists The Knife deliver this very skewed Christmas track, full of pomping synths and drum machine crashes.
35. Sufjan Stevens – That Was The Worst Christmas Ever
Indie Christmas music specialist Sufjan Stevens obviously didn’t get that Nintendo 64 he wanted for Christmas, and instead penned this paean to the worst Christmas ever. Cheer up Stevens! Taken from his 2003 album Ding Dong! Songs For Christmas.
36. Frightened Rabbit – It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop
Frightened Rabbit believe in putting aside one’s differences for the holiday season, though Scott Hutchinson’s strained vocals are unlikely to be soundtracking expensive ads for supermarkets anytime soon.
37. The Long Blondes – Christmas Is Cancelled
The Long Blondes tore up the indie scene in the mid-00s, carried in part by frontwoman Kate Jackson’s sultry vocal delivery. Unfortunately, on this track she informs us Christmas is cancelled. Shame.
38. Slow Club – Christmas TV
Slow Club’s tribute to all things trashy Christmas TV. We all secretly love the Christmas specials that dot the TV schedules like a bad case of the measles. Admit it.
39. Laura Marling – Goodbye England, Covered In Snow
Folk darling Laura Marling wants to get away from it all on this wintery track.
40. Summer Camp – Christmas Wrapping
Summer Camp bring their ’80s indebted sound to the Waitresses’ Christmas classic. It’s a perfect fit too!
41. Poly Styrene – Black Christmas
Reggae and Christmas. Two things you wouldn’t usually put together. Well, hold your prejudices. Poly Styrene is here to prove you wrong.
42. Best Coast & Wavves – Got Something For You
Bethany Cosentino (Best Coast) and Nathan Williams (Wavves) are the power couple of the lo-fi indie scene. This track encapsulates that perfectly, recounting the excitement of picking out the perfect present for the one you love.
43. Los Campesinos! – Kindle A Flame In Her Heart
The madcap tweecore group put the breaks on (relatively speaking) for their attempt at a Christmas classic.
44. Blink-182 – Won’t Be Home For Christmas
While this sounds like every other Blink-182 track, it has lyrics about Christmas. So it’s a Christmas song. Got that?
45. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! – In This Home On Ice
A chilling indie gem of a Christmas song from one of Philadelphia’s most underrated bands.
46. Run DMC – Christmas In Hollis
For those who fancy themselves a more hip-hop Christmas – and aren’t satiated by Goldie Lookin’ Chains effort earlier in the list – look no further than Run DMC’s song, which also features on the soundtrack of Christmas movie classic Die Hard.
47. Fountains Of Wayne – I Want An Alien For Christmas
We asked earlier what could be better than getting Wrestlemania tickets for Christmas. Well, an alien perhaps?
48. My Morning Jacket – Xmas Time Is Here Again
On which My Morning Jacket don’t get the memo about Christmas being the season of goodwill.
49. Saint Etienne – I Was Born On Christmas Day
Are the London indie-pop band insinuating they are the second coming of Christ? Maybe not, but at the very least this Christmas track is a stonker.
50. Pulled Apart By Horses – Merry Christmas Everybody
The Leeds rockers turn Slade’s original from uncool Christmas staple into a thing of beauty with ravaging guitars and an energetic delivery.
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