Some Songs Considered #035: The Festivus of Christmas Music columns
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
Finding the Perfect Spotify Christmas Playlist
by Justin McCarthy (@JustinSMcCarthy)
So you’re handed the aux cord on Christmas, and you immediately realize that this is a tougher gig than it appeared at first glance. Your mom loves Bublé, your dad can’t stand him. Your old relatives want the big hits, but you want to impress your sister’s fiancée from the Pacific Northwest by busting out something a little more uncommon. You’d love to use “Christmas at the Zoo” as an opportunity to introduce your little cousins to the Flaming Lips, but your aunt who’s seen Springsteen 32 times wants to do the same thing with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and you know in your heart of hearts that they’ll probably like that better.
So how can you honor everyone’s musical Christmas list and keep your reputation as a critically-thinking music fan intact? Random Nerds is here to help…
Our DJ’s Little Helpers have ranked every Spotify U.S. Christmas playlist.#
But wait – we have something else for you too. It didn’t cost us much, but we put a lot of thought into it. It’s our favorite songs from the below playlists, all mashed up into one convenient list!
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Jacks be White.
#22. Christian Christmas
Come on, pastor; crack open a frosty bottle of Mad Elf and put the religious overtones on hold. That being said, feel free to reverse the order of this list if you’re spending Christmas with a Republican presidential candidate.
#21. Acoustic Christmas
There are no less than three Jack Johnson songs on this playlist, meaning you have a 1-in-24 chance of hearing Jack Johnson when you press shuffle on this playlist. Just be aware of that.
#20. Indie Christmas
As is typical of its indie collections, Spotify manages to offend both in its inclusions (OneRepublic? Coldplay?) and its exclusions (no LCD Soundsystem?).
#19. Metal Christmas
We can’t really endorse this one, but props to Spotify for trying. Next year: more Gary Hoey, less KoRn.
#18. Tropical Christmas
There is nothing tropical about these songs, and there is nothing Christmas-y about Echosmith’s “Cool Kids.” Next.
#17. Christmas Blues
Someone really wanted to put The White Stripes’ “In The Cold, Cold Night” on a Christmas playlist, so hats off to that guy.
#16. Contemporary Christmas
As a rule, playlists with the word “contemporary” are full of landmines. You might hit Whitney Houston’s transcendent “Joy to the World,” but you’re just as likely to land on Train’s rendition.
#15. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
With a paltry 20 songs running 58 minutes, you won’t be able to leave this list running for long, despite the presence of sneaky oft-forgotten classics like Mabel Scott’s “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.”
#14. Jazzy Christmas
“Jazzy,” mind you, not “jazz.” Add a letter, and all of a sudden you can put Kelly Clarkson on a mix with Ella Fitzgerald. This one is perfect if you’re in charge of the holiday music at Nordstrom’s.
#13. Christmas Magic
You can’t do wrong with the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” or The Temptations’ “Little Drummer Boy,” but unfortunately Christmas Magic goes off script too many times. The Jim Carrey Grinch soundtrack? The Polar Express soundtrack? John Denver and the Muppets? Pass.
#12. Christmas Morning
The title is misleading – these songs are relentlessly downtempo, from Brian Mcknight’s languid “Adeste Fidelis” to Barba Streisand’s painstaking “A Child is Born.” Rather than wake-up music, this is the sonic equivalent of melatonin. Final note: Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” is not Christmas music, not now, not ever.
#11. Country Christmas
This could be a breakout hit at your Christmas shindig, but you have to keep your eye on it. The definitive Elvis “Blue Christmas” and Willie Nelson’s downhome “Rudolph” can easily give way to Brad Paisley’s cringe-worthy “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.”
#10. A Long Christmas Day
Mainly a mash up of crooner classics (Dean Martin, Harry Conick, Jr.) and pop Christmas hits (Mariah, Wham!), watch out for the wild cards like Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” and The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.” Still, not a bad attempt at a one-size-fits-all collection.
#9. Pop Christmas
From the Mariah and *NSYNC classics to surprisingly sound contemporary efforts from the likes of Ariana Grande, this playlist does an admirable job of bridging generations. Plus, there’s a healthy variety of crowd-pleasers from the worlds of country and acapella to please the whole party. As always, the Destiny’s Child “Carol of the Bells” is fire.
#8. Hip-Hop Christmas
The standards, from Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’” to G.O.O.D. Music’s “Christmas in Harlem,” are mostly represented. We could’ve used a few more tracks from A Dipset Christmas, or maybe the inclusion of a song from Smoke DZA’s Sweet Baby Kushed God, but considering how poorly this list could’ve gone, we’re happy with what we got.
#7. Christmas 50
Like a cooler, more discerning version of the Pop Christmas playlist, this one keeps Ariana Grande and Sam Smith, and checks Chris Brown and Dave Matthews at the door.
#6. Folksy Christmas
At 131 songs, Folksy Christmas is the longest list by far. The Civil Wars “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is sparse and captivating, and Okkervil River’s “Listening to Otis Redding At Home During Christmas” is a very welcome inclusion indeed. And of course Sufjan Stevens does his quirky seasonal thing all over it.
#5. Night Before Christmas
Night Before Christmas contains just 28 songs, but don’t worry, you can let this one play through. Even obscure choices, like CeeLo Green’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River,” are surprisingly strong and help to break up the tried-and-true standbys like Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock.” Quality > quantity.
#4. Classical Christmas
With a balanced mix of the choral and the orchestral and a total of 100 songs, it’s fairly unimpeachable. Bonus points for spanning seven centuries compositionally and still sounding pretty darn cohesive.
#3. A Family Christmas
This one is all about the classics, occasionally delivered in their most well-known form (Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”), but sometimes filtered through excitingly atypical versions (Otis Redding’s “White Christmas”). This is a good one to play without looking at the songs – we all think we don’t like The Eagles until “Please Come Home for Christmas” comes on.
#2. Soulful Christmas
Soulful Christmas is the only holiday playlist Spotify offers that consistently surprises you in a good way. So you didn’t think New Edition had an amazing Christmas song? What about the O’Jays? What about Ne-Yo? If you don’t know, now you know. Merry Christmas.
#1. Under the Mistletoe
Don’t be a Grinch; the best Christmas songs are all romantic in one way or another. Under the Mistletoe has the best blend of styles, the best balance of original vs. traditional, and at 51 songs, it’s the perfect length. It’s got a relatively un-creepy “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Sharon Van Etten and Rufus Wainwright, it’s got the Christmas radio staples, and it’s got deep cuts by Bright Eyes and Camera Obscura for when you’re sick of those radio staples.
A Very Realist Christmas
by Lindsay Hogan (@LindsayHogan88)
What is a Christmas song but an entirely too grandiose re-telling of a religious myth or a kitschy re-telling of a myth created by Coca-Cola? Not to bring the iron curtain of realism down on you, but most classic American Christmas songs are only still relevant because of a baby boomer population desperately hanging on to what they perceived as “simpler times.”
But what is Christmas really? It’s a religious holiday for some. However, in my modern, liberal-learning, east coast bio-dome, Christmas is a much needed break from the daily hustle. It’s a sliver of time when I get to spend a day or two in (relative) peace with the people I love before the start of a new year. It’s a marker of the winter solstice and, religious overtones aside, it tends to give us feelings of hope, reflection, renewal, melancholy, depression or an achy mixture of all five. Even the staunchest atheist can’t deny the emotional weight of the Christmas season.
With those newly realistic parameters of what “Christmas” really means, I hardly need to look beyond my own playlists of indie rock, folk, and electronica for music that reflects the spirit of the holiday while not actually being about the holidays themselves. I’ve been melding playlists like this for years, mostly as a way to listen to my own music at Christmas without hiding under headphones like a bratty teen. But the seasonal family-friendly playlist has the added value of exposing your kin to the “good” music they should be listening to anyway. Trust me, start making these playlist once a year, turn them up during the least stressful stretches of holiday time, and you’ll find even your crustiest uncles giving you hot music recs in a year or two.
To get you off to a good start, I assembled a playlist of some of my greatest wannabe-Christmas songs from the past decade, some recent 2015 additions, and a few bearable Christmas songs thrown in for authenticity (thanks Sufjan).
A Festive Celebration of A Santa Cause: It’s A Punk Rock Christmas
by Bryce Rudow (@BryceTRudow)
In November of 2003, I was a high school junior with his own car and an emo streak a mile wide. And as the fall season began to chill into winter, the Christmas Spirit was accompanied that year by the greatest gift a 16-year-old Bryce could have ever received: A Santa Cause: It’s a Punk Rock Christmas.
Released by Immortal Records, A Santa Cause was a compilation featuring some of the hottest bands in the pop-punk/emo scene caroling their very own original Christmas songs, with the proceeds going to The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Everyone from Something Corporate to Saosin was represented, and while a majority of those festive power-chord jams are best left back in 2003, there are still a few gems worth unboxing with the childhood Christmas ornaments each year.
Fall Out Boy – “Yule Shoot Your Eye Out”
Fall Out Boy may have fallen off a musical cliff these past few years, but there’s no denying that when these Chicagoans were first coming up, there wasn’t a pop-punk band alive that could touch them. What you might not know, however, is that Fall Out Boy is actually at their best when they strip it down and do their acoustic thing (see: their very underrated cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”# that I will go to my grave defending).
With a song that gets its name from a timeless Christmas movie, Fall Out Boy steers into the emo curve and crafts a song with a sentiment not normally heard in most holiday songs:
Don’t come home for Christmas
You’re the last thing I wanna see
Underneath the tree
Merry Christmas, I could care less
Blink 182 – “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas”
Like Fall Out Boy, Blink 182 takes a standard concept for Christmas songs — being home for the holidays — and flips it on its head. However, instead of getting all emo about it, the trio that became household names for a song called “What’s My Age Again” and an accompanying music video in which they ran around naked, Mark Hoppus narrates the tale of someone snapping on Christmas Eve and attacking a group of helpless carolers:
Well I guess it’s not cool to freak on Christmas Eve
Cause the cops came and arrested me
They had an unfair advantage
And even though the jail didn’t have a tree
Christmas came a night early
Causes a guy named Bubba unwrapped my package
Fun fact: This song was released as a radio promo in 1997 but was eventually reissued internationally as a single by MCA Records in 2001, where it charted at #1 in Canada, eventually becoming the longest running #1 single in Canada that year.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “This Time of Year”
If all of that punk misanthropy above has got you down, let the skatastic Migthy Mighty Bosstones’ “This Time of Year” and their enchanting horn lines warm your soul like some very strong egg nog.
The bells, the bows, the flashing lights,
the mistletoes and the ‘Silent Nights’–
It’s all for show, but that’s all right.
That’s not why I love this time of year.
This time of year,
It gets me, and never lets me
Act like I don’t care.
This time of year,
Is my favorite time of year,
‘Cause all of us are here together.
MXPX – “Christmas Night of the Living Dead”
MXPX eventually released an entire album of Christmas songs — 2009’s Punk Rawk Christmas — but on A Santa Cause we’re treated to “Christmas Night of the Living Dead,” to my knowledge the only Christmas song about zombies.
That is, besides the whole Jesus resurrection thing…
New Found Glory – “Ex Miss”
(Speaking of the birthday boy…) Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, how did we listen to Jordan Pundik’s voice for hours on end without getting Lost-like nosebleeds?
Nevertheless, New Found Glory’s song “Ex Miss” is not just a staple of any pop-punk Christmas playlist, it’s without a doubt the best Christmas/emo pun you’re ever going to find stuffed in your sonic stocking.
Happy Holidays from the Some Songs Considered team!
– Justin, Lindsay, and Bryce
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