Needless to say, Christmas 2020 is likely to be much more depressing than previous years, and the last thing we need is the same 10 mediocre, cheesy and clichéd Christmas songs forced into our ears year after year. So, if you’re as tired of Paul McCartney, Slade and Wham! as I am, then this list of my top 10 alternative Christmas tunes is for you!
10. The Damned – There Ain’t No Sanity Clause
This track failed to even chart, let alone reach No.1, in Christmas 1980. UK punk pioneers The Damned based this song off of a line in the Marx Brothers’ ‘A Night at the Opera’ and, aside from the chorus, is probably the least Christmassy of all the songs on this list. If, however, you fancy kicking some adrenaline into your Christmas dinner this year then this is the track for you!
9. The Kinks – Father Christmas
Legends of the 60’s English rock scene, The Kinks released this bizarre single in 1977. It tells the story of a group of poor kids mugging and beating up a department store Father Christmas (“Father Christmas, give us the money / Don’t mess around with those silly toys”). This story of assaulting St. Nicholas is, of course, set to sleigh bells and distorted late-70’s riffs and includes themes of austerity and the class divide (as all great Christmas songs should).
8. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – It’s That Time Again
This obscure tune from shock rock pioneer Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, as far as I can tell, only exists as a live recording with The Fuzztones at Irving Plaza, NYC. It features Hawkins’ signature booming vocals set to a funky rhythm and blues beat and, of course, the occasional scream. Whilst there’s no shortage of soulful Christmas tunes, I think it’s about time we pull this song from obscurity and recognise Jay Hawkins for the genius that he was.
7. The Lovely Eggs – Tyrannosaurus Rex for Christmas
Lancaster punk icons The Lovely Eggs released this Christmas single, about receiving a Jurassic monster as a Christmas gift, in 2011. As you have probably guessed, this is one of the weirdest tunes on this list, but Christmas wouldn’t be the same without vocalist Holly Ross wailing into your ears as she insists that tyrannosaurus is the only acceptable form of dinosaur to receive around the festive period.
6. The Dickies – Silent Night
Nothing quite says Christmas like heroin-addicted punks covering this iconic Christmas carol, released in 1978 and included within the expanded version of their legendary album The Incredible Shrinking Dickies (1979). This track should be pretty self-explanatory; it’s a fast-paced, energetic and chaotic rendition of one of the dreariest Christmas carols in existence and I, for one, think we should accept The Dickies version as the definitive example of Silent Night.
5. The Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)
Taken from 1989’s Brain Drain (the same album which features ‘Pet Cemetery, from my ‘Halloween bangers’ list – thus cementing ‘Brain Drain’ as a certified holiday album), the New York CBGB icons’ one and only Christmas song features heart-warming lyrics about arguing with your significant other. The title is an unusual message, coming from a band whose guitarist and lead singer didn’t speak to each other for the majority of the band’s career, but what is more Christmassy than a big, noisy, family row?
4. The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
An undisputed Christmas classic, and also likely the most well-known on this list, Ohio’s contribution to the 80’s New Wave scene, The Waitresses, came out with this tune in 1981. The song includes vocals from lead singer Patty Donahue which I wouldn’t call ‘rapping’, but it’s fairly close. The horns, upbeat tempo and occasional sleigh bells along with the lyrics of a Christmas love-story make Christmas Wrapping perhaps the only cliché Christmas song that won’t want to make you rip your ears off.
3. The Sonics – Don’t Believe in Christmas
Garage rock, proto-punk pioneers The Sonics are one of the most underrated bands of all time, so it makes sense that this is one of the most underrated alternative Christmas tunes of all time. Released in 1965 at the height of the American garage rock scene, ‘Don’t Believe in Christmas’ is a cynical, “Bah humbug” take on a Christmas single. Set to a fast-paced tempo reminiscent of Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and backed up with fuzzy horns and an organ solo, there’s no way you can listen to this tune sitting still.
2. Run-DMC – Christmas in Hollis
Kings of Golden Age Hip-Hop, Run-DMC, came out with this Christmas banger in 1987. Referring to Hollis, Queens in New York and sampling Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman – among others – ‘Christmas in Hollis’ brings much needed hip-hop beats to Christmas music. Telling the story of a homeless man in a park that turned out the be Santa Claus, and the Christmas traditions of Queens where Run-DMC hail from, these Christmas bars are sure to pump some much-needed energy into your Christmas.
1. The Fall – No Xmas for John Quays
Mark E. Smith’s iconic Mancunian sneer is sure to bring a smile to everybody’s face come Christmas day. This chaotic post-punk Christmas rant (taken from one of the Fall’s greatest albums: Live at The Witch Trails) gives us Christmas from an addict’s perspective – “No Xmas for John Quays” being a homophone for “No Christmas for junkies”. If you are craving the Pogues’ drab ‘Fairy-tale of New York’ for some festive melancholy, why not swap it out for this far superior, and weirdly upbeat, Christmas tune featuring similar themes of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. Even more bizarrely, this is not the only Christmas song The Fall released. 2003’s ‘(We Wish You) A Protein Christmas’, whilst a must for every Christmas playlist, sadly did not make this list.
Listen to Ben’s festive recommendations below:
Header image: The Kinks’ Father Christmas official video. Credit: The Kinks on YouTube.