It's Christmastime, and with the wind chill and spiked cider comes the unyielding, inescapable barrage of holiday music. No matter where you go over the next three weeks, you won't be able to shake these jingles -- they're playing at home on the television, in your car on the radio, and when you're out and about via the sound systems of restaurants, shopping malls, and even airport terminals. Don't get me wrong, I love seasonal music just as much as you all do -- it's ubiquitous for a reason. But as much as I love those time-honored, mainstay songs, sometimes we need a little variety in our year-end arsenal besides the classic Bings and Franks and Rods and Nat Coles. So, with that notion in mind, I've tossed together a list of 10 seemingly underrated -- and certainly nontraditional -- Christmas tunes that nevertheless deserve a spot in your playlist as you deck the halls this holiday.
10) "Father Christmas," The Kinks
There are very few songwriters out there deft enough to write a Christmas track so assured that it simultaneously doubles as a seasonal treat and an appropriately caustic satire of the holiday's endless, soulless march towards complete commercialism, but Ray Davies nails it here. Younger rock fans may want to check out OK Go for an admirable (if pretty much uninventive carbon copy) cover version.
9) "Christmas Tree," Lady Gaga
"Christmas Tree" was released as a digital Easter egg in the winter of 2008 but quickly faded away with little to no commercial or critical fanfare. Five years later, I wouldn't be shocked if Gaga herself can barely remember it. That's a shame, though. Coming in at a slim 2:22 running length, this single has everything that originally bewitched us about Ms. Germanotta in the first place: There's the pulsing, futuristic electro beat, the great chorus hook, and a near-limitless trove of yuletide sexual innuendos. So many sexual innuendos. Like, more than there were in "Poker Face," and that's saying something. In fact, on second thought, as catchy as Gaga is, maybe it's best to not play this one when you have Gandma and the kids gathered around the fireplace.
8) "O Come All Ye Faithful," Jim Nabors
The song itself is by no means an unheralded carol -- in fact, it might be the most beloved of them all. But in recently years the most prominent covers of "O Come All Ye Faithful" (or "Adeste Fideles," depending on who you're talking to) have been provided by megastars like Mariah Carey, Josh Groben, and even Twisted Sister. Though they feature marvelous vocal performances, these more popular, more contemporary versions unfortunately fail to truly capture all of the 18th-century carol's potential power. That's not the case with Nabors', erm, faithful take on the classic. His baritone will make your spirit swell.
7) "Christmas in L.A.," The Killers
Since 2006, Brandon Flowers and his bandmates have been releasing special charity Christmas singles in conjunction with World AIDS Day and the efforts of the Product (RED) charitable foundation. 2007's "Don't Shoot Me, Santa" and '08's "Joseph, You're Better Than Me" have been particularly good, and their latest, festive offering comes bearing a new video featuring Owen Wilson and Harry Dean Stanton.
6) "Somewhere in My Memory," John Williams
With all due respect to a seminal film from my childhood, this carol is too good on its own merits to forever go through life simply as "Theme From Home Alone." Having been penned by Williams just 20-some-odd years ago, it's a relatively young song that nevertheless feels as old and established as any long-time classic.
5) "Christmas in Harlem," Kanye West and guests
As minimalist, brilliant, solitary-schizoid, and unique as an album like Yeezus is, Mr. West is always at his true best when he opens the treasures of his own vault to the rest of the rap world from time to time. Here we have a posse cut to end all others, with producer/mastermind West blending two canonical Marvin Gaye samples ("Mercy Mercy Me" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing") into a relaxing, endlessly listenable, old-school hip-hop beat that simply exudes the easygoing warmth of the holiday season. On his own verse, West is as confident ("Don't trip, you know I drive crazy"), corny ("It's a wonderful night to be alive, baby"), and mischievous ("Gave her the hot chocolate, she said it's D-ricious") as he's ever been, while CyHi, Big Sean, and Pusha T lend nimble support when their numbers are called. And then wily veteran Cam'ron nearly steals the whole thing out from under them all at the 4:30 mark. (That quip about his legal counsel is A+.)
4) "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," Bruce Springsteen
If you're a regular listener to classic rock radio -- or an occupant of the governor's mansion in New Jersey -- then you've probably already heard this gem. For those of you that haven't, fix that immediately. Popular rock musicians providing their own riff on a holiday track is nothing new (see the aforementioned Twisted Sister, Joan Jett, practically the entire discography of the TransSiberian Orchestra, and more), but very few make the classic their own as playfully and superbly as the Boss does here. This isn't just a great cover version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"; it's the definitive version.
3) "A Christmas Duel," Cyndi Lauper and The Hives
A unlikely 2008 duet between the Swedish rock band The Hives and '80s-icon-cum-Broadway-maestro Cyndi Lauper earns its self-given distinction of a duel. This is a Christmas song whose eggnog has been spiked with acid, and whose definition of holiday cheer comes with a complimentary kick below the belt. It's also an absolute riot. In a different, more fun world this would be a limitlessly popular, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light"-esque anthem for the Christmas holiday -- perfect for any group dynamic, with exuberant, back-and-forth, male-vs.-female singalongs breaking out every time it emanates from a tavern jukebox or apartment party playlist. Until that unlikely scenario, alas, you'll just have to settle for rocking out with it on your iPhone or in the car instead.
2) "Christmas in New York," Shilelagh Law
Shilelagh Law has gained local prominence as one of New York's most popular traveling pub bands, but true recognition has largely eluded them outside the five boroughs. While their music definitely possesses a sense of culture that's very specifically rooted to that area, a song like "Christmas in New York" is undeniably accessible and universal, regardless of your location. It's a stark reminder of why we come together during the holidays, as family and friends and neighbors, to celebrate and recall something larger than ourselves.
1) "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," DMX
If you ask for the holiday showtunes, X gon' give it to ya. Seriously, who wouldn't go out and buy a two-disc compilation Christmas album from DMX if one existed? Get on this ASAP, Def Jam.
Thomas McKenna is an aspiring writer and blogger. He was also an editorial fellow for HuffPost Sports. Follow him on Twitter @tmckenna1.
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