Music News

Brave New Xmas

Christmastime is here. It's the most wonderful time of the year. Here comes Santa Claus. We've all heard it before, and we don't need to hear it again. Before you plan a holiday bash or go on a three-hour road trip, burn a mix of these fresh holiday tunes. Winter relief is just a click away, whether you want something funky, punky, jazzy, or funny. Give "Frosty" a rest this year.

A Very Alt Xmas

"The Christians and the Pagans," by Dar Williams

This perky folk tune relates an awkward meal shared between a Christian family and its pagan niece, who's a witch (a Solstice witch, not a Dark Lord witch). Toes will tap as hilarity ensues and life lessons are learned. See also: The Eels' "Christmas Is Going to the Dogs," a bouncy alt-rock nugget that interpolates "Jingle Bells." And the literal "Silver Star" by alt-rock also-rans Emmet Swimming.

Rock Instrumental

"Brave New Christmas," by Gil Mantera's Party Dream

This peppy new-wave synth jam bubbles with clock chimes and a smattering of drum 'n' bass. See also: Los Straitjackets' kitschy surf-guitar instrumental "Christmas in Las Vegas" screams "Viva los Holidays" even without lyrics. Warped snippets of standards whiz through original compositions in Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh's whimsical Joyeux Mutato Christmas album.

Xtreme Xmas

"Christmas With the Devil," by Spinal Tap

The metal fauxtet comically defiles the season, rhyming silent night and violent night over a bluesy riff. See also: In the Misfits' abbreviated live version of "Blue Christmas," Glenn Danzig croons like the King (Elvis, not birthday-boy Jesus). And Fear's "Fuck Christmas" (use your imagination).

Jazz Instrumental

"My Favorite Things," by John Coltrane

A rolling, loop-like piano hook and Trane's tenor and soprano sax make this Von Trapp family favorite a true American classic. Choose between a melodic five-minute single edit, a squonking ten-minute studio blowout, or a 20-minute live meltdown. See also: Jimmy Smith's "Walk on the Wild Side" gives sleigh bells the big-band treatment. And the Vincent Guaraldi Trio's effervescent "Skating" from the must-have A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Show Tunes

"Kidnap the Sandy Claws," from The Nightmare Before Christmas

In this showstopper, three imps — voiced by Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo's main man), Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman), and Catherine O'Hara (the mom from Beetlejuice) — argue about how to best sideline Saint Nick while a soul-searching skeleton hijacks his holiday. See also: Bears dance in Anastasia's haunting waltz "Once Upon a December." And SpongeBob SquarePants' "The Very First Christmas" has an insidiously juvenile chorus that will stick in your head until Groundhog Day.

Snow Tunes

"Weary Blues," by Madeleine Peyroux

Like a weepy Billie Holiday, this siren turns Hank Williams' country classic into Parisian blues, singing "The snow falls 'round my window/But it can't chill my heart" over a muted trumpet and wilting guitar line. See also: Pondering snow-covered alleys, Kristin Hersh wants grace for Christmas in the delicate piano ballad "Beestung." And Neko Case wants someone to slow-dance with in the hushed country-rock of "No Need to Cry."

Blues, Booze, and Junk

"King's Crossing," by Elliot Smith

On this dark Christmas, the former Heatmiser guitarist's Santa was skinny, and the bag he bore wasn't filled with toys. With a hypodermic needle on his Christmas tree, the late singer/songwriter made a chilling Christmas wish that didn't come true. See also: "Clean Up for Christmas," Aimee Mann's wistful power-piano new-year resolution. And join John Lee Hooker or Everlast to spend a night wasted in "Blues for Christmas."

Holiday Hip-Hop

"Christmas Rappin'," by Kurtis Blow

If producer Russell Simmons hadn't waited until the holiday season to release "Christmas Rappin'," it would have been the first rap record. With a bumping bass line, the early artifact is rooted in old-school funk. See also: Kick it old-school with Run-D.M.C.'s brilliant "Christmas in Hollis," and tear the roof off with Bootsy Collins and Snoop Dogg's "Happy Holidaze."

Christmas Covers

"Mr. Heatmiser"

If you absolutely need something familiar, try this song-and-dance number, the highlight of the Rankin-Bass animated specials. The original is worth digging up, but it gets a contemporary makeover both from swing revivalists Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and roots-rockers the Badlees. See also: Bright Eyes' reverent, traditional A Christmas Album and Low's half-original, double-downtempo Christmas EP.

Funny Stuff, Rated PG

"Son of Santa," by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper

Rockabilly eccentric Mojo Nixon starts this offbeat story with Santa's prodigal offspring being released from San Quentin. Will he find redemption — or a one-way ticket back to the pen? See also: Hapless Canucks Bob and Doug McKenzie sing the praises of beer and back bacon in "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Search your file-share service for Elf's store song, Will Ferrell's off-the-cuff instant classic ("I'm singing!").

Funny Stuff, Rated R

"Merry F#%$in' Christmas," by Dennis Leary Actor Leary slips back into the cynical-comic mode that made him famous, leading a chorus through this catchy old-time sing-along: "Old Saint Nick's got bourbon breath/It's so cold you could catch your death/A cop sold me some crystal meth/It's a merry [beep]in' Christmas." See also: Over humming '80s-style keyboards, Grand Buffet's "Stocking Stuffer" sees a philandering Santa Claus knock up a narrator's girlfriend. Rated NC-17 for graphic language and sexual content, Andrew "Dice" Clay's semi-song "Something Soft" caps a New York City Christmas show... And to all, a good f#%$in' night.

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D.X. Ferris
Contact: D.X. Ferris