Are we really the only ones who are utterly sick of Christmas music? The upbeat festive soundtrack typified by Wham! and Mariah may be pleasant…for a time. But as any retail worker, and they’ll tell you that the incessant jingles will quickly send you insane. Most lists of the best Christmas songs therefore fail to capture our occasionally warped imagination…so we went ahead and made our own.
If you also dread the sinister turn Spotify recommendations take this time of year, you’re in the right place and this is the Christmas playlist for you. Here are the best alternative Christmas songs as selected by Stuff Inc’s team of resident grinches (and actual music lovers).
1) Bright Eyes – Blue Christmas
Bright Eyes has a legitimate claim to the most depressing Christmas album ever, which sees festive classics like Silent Night revisited through the lens of the newly dumped after a bottle of whiskey in rural Nebraska. Blue Christmas is arguably its most memorable song, though, and is positively mainstream by this list’s standard, having once graced The O.C. soundtrack.
2) The Vandals – A Gun For Christmas
Not content with just this one festive song, The Vandals went and recorded a whole punk rock Christmas album (Oi To The World), and it’s completely brilliant. Go on, turn up your stereo and have a little mosh around the tree – just be careful not to pogo all over your presents.
3) Big Star – Jesus Christ
This joyous, jangly ode to the big man himself would be at home on any happy-clappy Christian rock album. Instead, it sits incongruously in the middle of Big Star’s Third, one of the bleakest records ever made. One suspects that the sentiments behind it might not be entirely sincere.
4) Christopher Lee – Silent Night
This is possibly the loudest version of Silent Night I’ve ever heard, full of shredding guitars and topped with a wizard baritone. Legendary thespian Lee, who sadly died in 2015, came late to the metal scene – at 91, he was the oldest ever artist to make the Billboard singles chart with Jingle Hell.
5) Gruff Rhys – Post Apocalypse Christmas
Imagine the horrors of Fallout 3 set against a jaunty tune by him out of Super Furry Animals and you have this. “Deep inside the concrete bunker, post apocalypse bunker /We lick our wounds to kill the hunger, post apocalypse Christmas.” More mulled wine, vicar?
6) The Poets of Rhythm – Santa’s Got a Bag of Soul
Wooden horse? Check. Candy canes? Check. But what else can we expect from Santa this year? That’s right, a great big bag of soul! The Poets of Rhythm’s Santa’s Got a Bag of Soul is an infectious, funk-laden banger of a record that wouldn’t sound out of place in a 1970s dancehall. If you want to celebrate the festivities with some funky sax,
7) Mogwai – Like Herod
Admittedly the Yuletide elements of Like Herod begin and end with the title, but the poor chap always gets overlooked in carols. You’d think going around killing babies was somehow anti-festive. But he gets a look-in here courtesy of this classic ‘quiet, quiet, quiet, OH SO LOUD’ Mogwai track.
8) King Stitt – Christmas Tree
Switch the turkey for some jerk chicken this Christmas with King Stitt’s Christmas Tree, a tropical-tinged carol that urges you to drink wine, and feel fine. While other selections on this list will likely make you feel a little despondent upon listening, it’s near-impossible not to be put in a good mood when the reggae guitar of Christmas Tree kicks in.
9) Run-DMC – Christmas In Hollis
When Run-DMC were asked to record a Christmas track for a Special Olympics benefit album in 1987, they initially refused, thinking it would wreck their street cred in one corny swoop. Instead, a sample of Clarence Carter’s funky Back Door Santa provided us with an unusual seasonal classic.
10) The Fall – Hark The Herald Angels Sing
Mark E Smith may be indie’s answer to Ebenezer Scrooge, but when it comes to Christmas he’s a big softie. The Fall have recorded several festive songs over the past 40 years, including a ragged take on Jingle Bell Rock and this, a merry gem with falsetto backing vocals.
11) Ryuichi Sakamoto – Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence
Don’t bother listening to any of the loungey pap he’s done since, but Sakamoto’s original theme for this deeply cheerless 1983 film has a haunting charm. The film stars David Bowie as a POW who’s a bit of a rebel (rebel), and Sakamoto himself as a camp commandant with issues. This song however, is simply one of the most songs ever produced…Christmas or otherwise.
12) Eels – Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas
Not all alternative Christmas songs are dark-hearted or wrapped in knowing irony. Mark ‘E’ Everett proves there’s still a place for power-chord optimism with this fine bit of tinsel. Most importantly, it includes the lyric “Baby Jesus, born to rock”.
13) Aidan Moffat – The Fir Tree
So you want to find the best alternative Christmas songs? How about the inner monologue of a Christmas tree taken from the woods and chopped into January firewood? Trust Black Flag vocalist Aidan Moffat to come up with one of the most beautiful yet absolutely terrifying Christmas tunes. Taken from the album Ghost Stories for Christmas, which is in itself a fantastic album of droned Christmas carols, The Fir Tree tells the story of a lowly Christmas tree making its way into a loving home. Is it happy? No. Will it be joyful? Also no. Will you never look at a Christmas tree int he same way again? Yes.