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Yes, its that time of year again, when every radio station, shopping centre and office is full of the sweet sound of Christmas music. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with ‘White Christmas‘ or ‘Fairy Tale Of New York‘, but listening to any song on repeat over a short space of time can be enough to cause even the jolliest among us to weep into our mince pies. But its doesn’t have to be that way – there are many genuinely great yet unusual Christmas songs out there that time has forgotten, or are just criminally under-played. Below is our pick of the best to give you a little inspiration for your Christmas party playlist.
1) The Soul Saints Orchestra – “Santa’s Got A Bag Of Soul”
Guaranteed to get the ‘bah humbug’ out of any Christmas gathering, this hidden funk gem is a raw slice of Christmas cheer. Though it has a distinctly retro feel, the song was actually released in the mid-90’s by the German collective The Poets of Rhythm, under the pseudonym The Soul Saints Orchestra.
Good luck finding an original though – there were only 250 copies created!
2) Run DMC – “Christmas In Hollis”
Keeping it up-tempo, here is a slightly better-known offering, but still one that gets missed off many Christmas playlists. Produced by the band and the legendary Rick Rubin, Christmas in Hollis is a shoutout to the Queens neighborhood where the band grew up.
Fun fact: it is featured in the limo ride in that classic Christmas movie, Die Hard.
3) Sufjan Stevens – “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!”
If you thought our friend Sufjan was going to put out a Christmas themed EDM banger, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.
Perfectly sparse instrumentation is reminiscent of his more famous Casimir Pulaski Day, and creates an atmosphere that is well suited to staring out of windows with a glass of mulled wine.
4) Ryan Adams – “Hey Parker, It’s Christmas”
No stranger to off-the-wall offerings (his 1989 cover album is certainly worth a listen), it is no surprise that Ryan Adams has produced an underground Christmas classic.
The introspective, lush arrangement compliments the evocative lyrics that transport the listener to a snowy New York City – you can almost taste the pastrami and pickles.
5) Louis Armstrong – “‘Zat You, Santa Claus?”
One of the greatest vocalists of all time, Satchmo could sing the phonebook (if they still exist?) and make it sound magical.
Luckily this song is more than a match for his voice, and the combination of his growl, horn stabs and loud snares creates a vaguely ominous feel to the festive story he tells.
6) The Killers – “A Great Big Sled ft. Toni Halliday”
The Killers and Christmas have history – the band has just released their TENTH official Christmas song. There are some great songs in that collection, but the one that kick-started it all in 2006 might just be the best.
And with all the proceeds from the song going to AIDS charities, what’s not to like? Oh, and if you were wondering, Toni Halliday was the lead singer in 90’s alt. duo Curve who, though not Christmassy, are well worth a listen.
7) Duke Ellington & His Orchestra – “Jingle Bells”
The only song on this list without vocals and perhaps something of an acquired taste, this cerebral version of Jingle Bells nevertheless breathes fresh life into a song most of us would rather avoid over the winter holidays.
The song was first released in 1962 on the Columbia Records compilation Jingle Bell Jazz, which also featured Miles Davis. Miles was not overly enthusiastic about the album however, and was quoted as saying ‘The less said about it the better’. Well, there is no accounting for taste.
8) Gayla Peevey – “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas”
Despite the inherent impracticalities of housing a 4 tonne semi-aquatic mammal is what appears to be a small Mid-Western house, Gayla Peevey is pretty set on her Christmas present.
There is something to be said for her determinedness of course, but with hippos being notoriously ill-tempered and unpredictable, Christmas Day could take a nasty turn if said hippo found itself lodged beneath a pine tree covered in wrapping paper.
9) The Boy Least Likely To – “The First Snowflake”
The Boy Least Likely To are experts in twee nostalgic gems, and this is no exception, with sweetly plucked acoustics and glockenspiels aplenty. It is the last track on the 2010 album The Boy Least Likely To Christmas Special and the song was also featured in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy – not quite Die Hard, but still something.
10) Lemmy Kilmister, Billy F. Gibbons, Dave Grohl – “Run Rudolph Run”
Let’s be honest, if you get these three in a room together, the result is always going to be worth a listen. A hard rock cover of the Chuck Berry classic, this is the perfect song to throw on when the Christmas party starts to get messy. Which is more than likely if Lemmy, Billy and Dave are at your party.
Special Mention for Jonnie Common – “Yipee-ki-yay, Father Christmas”
Stoking that classic Christmas debate “Is Die Hard a Christmas film?” (Yes, it is. It’s set at Christmas, it opens with a Christmas tune, there’s a Christmas party…need we say more?), is Jonnie Common with the instant earworm that is “Yippee-ki-yay, Father Christmas”. This has become one of our all-time favourite unusual Christmas songs, and we hope that you enjoy it just as much.
Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns. After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery.