Every year, I try to find new Christmas music to act as an alternative to the usual songs played on repeat. I seek out songs with a sense of fun that subvert familiar holiday themes or even have an anti-Christmas message.
This year’s pursuit of something different was made easy as a publicist who read last year’s collection of songs reached out to me with the song “Christmas is B.S.” by JC Cassis.
I actually adore Christmas. I still wake up early on Christmas Day to huddle around the Christmas tree to exchange gifts while drinking hot cocoa. That being said, even I get driven up the wall by the never-ending cycle of the same dozen or so songs played ad nauseam. It is enough to turn Kris Kringle himself into Scrooge.
A song like “Christmas is B.S.” speaks to that sentiment. The song replicates the sounds of Christmas with a horn section, jingling bells and choir-like back-up vocals, but the lyrics flip the cheeriness on its head.
Cassis, a multi-talented artist from New York City, even addresses her potential critics, stating in the song: “I’ve tried Christmas: 35 times. It is not working for me. But they say, ‘Don’t complain about a problem without offering a solution.’ Fine, next year, no Christmas, just two Halloweens.” I can actually get behind that.
Here's a sampling of some other quirky favorites:
This song is often mislabeled as being performed by William Shatner. It is easy to understand the confusion as Larson's broken speech patterns do indeed bring to mind Shatner's riffs on such songs as “Rocket Man.” This beatnik take on “Twas the Night Before Christmas” is most definitely way out.
After the “Monster Mash” became a hit this quickie sequel was churned out. There are some amusing riffs on holiday classics, but it is mostly a shameless rewrite of the original. It was a minor hit, but didn’t remain a holiday classic.
This rare show rehearsal starts out simple enough with Simon doing a lovely version of this classic song, but soon Simon's singing becomes mere backdrop for Martin deadpanning through a cynical monologue on the true meaning of Christmas that ranges from goofy to racy.
Leave it to The Kinks, the same band that sang about an encounter with the transvestite "Lola," to write a song about mugging Santa. Ray Davies' sunny delivery masks the nastiness in lyrics such as "Father Christmas, give us some money/Don't mess around with those silly toys/Well beat you up if you don't hand it over."
Strange and frightening things began to happen after the tremendous success of the original “Star Wars,” including an astoundingly awful 1978 holiday special. Lessons weren’t learned and two years later producer Meco — hot off his successful disco version of the “Star Wars” theme — produced a Christmas album from a galaxy far, far away. “Christmas in the Stars” is so bad as to become campy fun.
English punk band The Damned released this song just in time for the holiday season, but it failed to chart perhaps because no one wanted to have the Santa Claus bubble popped for the youngest yuletide revelers. The lyrics are barely intelligible, but it is the sing-along anthem-like chorus that brings this one home.
Clearly, English punk bands really had it out for Christmas in the early ’80s. Elton John's 1973 holiday classic "Step Into Christmas" gets rewritten and reworked into rollicking anti-Christmas anthem that is a welcome antidote for those overdosing on Christmas cheer.
Monty Python were always known for loopy songs that often pointed out the hypocrisies or the idiosyncrasies of society. In the film "The Meaning of Life," Graham Chapman sings a caustic song about the consumerism and commercialism that runs rampant during the holiday season that includes lyrics like: "There's great films on TV/"The Sound of Music" twice an hour/And ‘Jaws’ one, two, and three."
Weird Al's song parodies are usually goofy and innocuous, but Al also has a macabre and twisted sense of humor that occasionally shines through. Written in 1986, "Christmas at Ground Zero" is a biting satire on Cold War paranoia filtered through the sound of a festive holiday tune. Are lines like: "It's Christmas at ground zero/There's panic in the crowd/We can dodge debris while we trim the tree/Underneath the mushroom cloud" riotously funny, or simply in bad taste? You be the judge.
This is a happy hip hop holiday song about Christmas in Queens, N.Y. The song, which memorably appears in "Die Hard," includes such endearingly goofy lyrics as "It was December 24th on Hollis Ave in the dark/When I seen a man chilling with his dog in the park/I approached very slowly with my heart full of fear/Looked at his dog, oh my God, an ill reindeer."
The Ramones were still kicking around in the late 1980s, cranking out three-chord ditties. Surprisingly, one of the best songs from this era is a Christmas song about the tensions of the season and the need for forgiveness.
Everyone is familiar with Sandler’s "Chanukah Song," but he actually did a Christmas themed song that pre-dates its by a year. In this one Sandler sings about all the reasons he won’t be getting a visit from Santa. Best line: “Santa don't like bad boys...especially Jewish ones.”
There have been numerous parodies of the “12 Days of Christmas,” which is your favorite really comes down to personal preference. As a youth in the 1990s, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the warped antics of this dog and cat team.
Hidden in the closing credits of the film “Houseguest,” a largely forgettable comedy that lives on as cable TV filler, is an amusing medley of barbecue-themed Christmas songs. Hartman even reprises some of his most famous “Saturday Night Live” impressions, including Frank Sinatra and Bill Clinton.
"The Little Drummer Boy" gets morphed into an odd dance and rap flavored Chanukah anthem featuring "the holiday Chanukah robot of funk." Beck is a chameleon-like musician who blends different genres with amazing skill. It is hardly traditional, but certainly original and memorable.
Don't be fooled by the sweet guitar strumming of the open; this Christmas carol turns humorously sour fast. Yankovic turns his twisted mind on Christmas in the story of the night Santa finally snapped and became a "big, fat, disgruntled yuletide Rambo."
Years before Fountains of Wayne recorded its breakup out “Stacy’s Mom,” the band recorded this cheerfully loopy song that seems to be a modern riff on “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” It is hard not to smile at such lyrics as “I want a little green guy/About three feet high/With 17 eyes.”
Goofball pop/punk rockers wrote this anthem for all those who are driven up the wall by the holiday season. The song features bitter, but funny lyrics like: "It's time to be nice to the people you can't stand all year/I'm growing tired of all this Christmas cheer."
Faith Hill's "Where Are You, Christmas?" got all the attention, but this song is probably the best thing to come out of Ron Howard's bloated film version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Written from the perspective of the Grinch, the tongue-in-cheek piano-man perfectly captures the Dr Seuss tone in a way the movie it appeared in never did while also adding his own quirky sense of humor.
This aptly named song unfolds a dark tale of a man encountering Santa in the night. The song answers the question of what would happen if Santa got stuck in the chimney. Needless to say, it doesn't end pretty. Best enjoyed by those who like their humor black.
On “Barenaked for the Holidays” the Ladies presented a collection of Christmas favorite as well as original songs featuring their quirky sense of humor. On this song an elf complains “I make toys, but I've got aspirations.” Bonus: this song features vocals from Michael Bublé.
The song first appeared in the 1974 stop-motion animation special "The Year Without Santa." Thirty years later the swing revival group Big Bad Voodoo Daddy recorded the definitive version of the song for their holiday album "Everything You Want for Christmas."
Robert Smigel contributed a series of animated shorts to “Saturday Night Live” called “TV Funhouse.” This was one of the best with soul singer Love providing the vocals to a song that describes what Jews do while gentiles “stay at home and party with their goyishe family.”
Christian punk/pop band Relient K's do a fast, rocking cover of the novelty song “I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas.” The snarling punk attitude and crunching guitars suit lyrics like “I broke my bat on Johnny's head/Somebody snitched on me” quite well.
Stephen Colbert did a hilarious parody of holiday specials in 2008. The special's songs either subverted pre-existing songs or, in this case, are something completely new. Lyrics like “The tree is frozen, the winter’s bright/Who’d have thought the wise men look so white” are made all the funnier by Colbert's authentic crooning.
Leave it to Lady Gaga to co-write a Christmas song filled with dance beats and dripping with sexual innuendos. It is most definitely not family friendly, but the audacity is admirable.
This female comedy-folk duo combines disarming charming and simple hooks with goofy and/or raunchy lyrics. In this case the duo leans toward the silly side as they sing about the all too familiar face people make when they get a present they don’t like.
It was perhaps inevitable that there would be a zombie-themed Christmas song. Punk rockers MxPx present this bloody tale of Christmas carnage featuring the chorus: "Christmas night of the living dead/My face is green and the snow is red."
Originally a goofy tune performed on “Saturday Night Live” by Horatio Sanz, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan, Casablancas, the lead singer of The Strokes, fleshes it out into a full-fledged rocking Christmas song. The added production value manages to enhance the simple charms of the skit rather than undermine it.
This uke-abilly band vents their frustration for Christmas in this infectious two-minute ditty. The cynical lyrics include sentiments that anyone can relate to, if only fleetingly: "It's Christmas, forgot about the pagans and Jews/It's Christmas and it makes me blue."
Yep, Devo, those quirky new-wavers recorded a song for the holidays. Blending cheery, generic holiday music with the synthesizers and drum beats they are known for, the band creates an infectious little ditty. Devo often used their songs to satirize society, and that's most definitely the case here as they proclaim: “Believe what you want, nothing's really true.”
The Muppet’s classic “Mahna Mahna” becomes the spine for this joyous collaboration with CeeLo Green, in which Green proclaims all he needs is love for Christmas. Slick modern pop production combined with the silliness of the Muppets make this hard to resist.
Boston’s beloved Celtic punk band offers up their take on the holiday season. The song gleefully embraces familial dysfunction and chaos with such lyrics like “My sisters are wack jobs, I wish I had none/Their husbands are losers and so are their sons.”
“Saturday Night Live” is always a reliable source of Christmas satire. Here Kenan Thompson plays Sump’n Claus, who, unlike Santa Claus and his judgmental list, declares “everybody’s gettin' sump’n” and that something is cold hard cash in a white envelope. Just don’t ask where it came from.
A cappella group Straight No Chaser is joined by actress Bell for a perfect mix of sincerity and satire in looking at love and the holiday season in the modern age. Playful lyrics like “I don't care if you spell things right/I just want to hear from you tonight/Stroke those keys with your delicate touch/And type those little words that mean so much” are delivered with a charming sweetness.
Every year, a new crop of artists release Christmas-themed albums. Typically, they are filled with covers of the same holiday standards with a couple originals thrown. Refreshingly, Sia’s “Everyday is Christmas” features all new songs that perfectly blend Sia’s idiosyncratic pop sensibilities with the upbeat sounds of the season. Lead single “Santa’s Coming For Us” is effervescent and catchy in way that never becomes insufferable.