Even when it’s out of season, alternative Xmas music is a riot. But when the stores break out the cinnamon- pine-cone stench and equally noisome Christmas muzak and maudlin mainstream country covers, it’s essential.
Throughout the year, I periodically check various sources for new alt-holiday music to add to my collection. As December approaches, I download-binge like it’s the last Xmas ham ever and compile the best of it in this annual column. This year, I happened to find a treasure trove of odd holiday tunes in one place: eMusic.com.
Now, I’m not the website’s paid spokesperson, although I wouldn’t mind a promo account (Pssst! Santa?). I just finally redeemed the trial code I pick up at South by Southwest every year, which gives you about $18 worth of free music. I thought I’d spend it fairly quickly, but being a good virtual-crate digger, I dug. And dug. Soon, I had a huge wish list, so I didn’t cancel as planned. Even on the $32 plan (for $36 of eMusic credit), I still couldn’t cover it all. That was two months ago, and I still haven’t pulled the plug.
So … not a commercial, but an endorsement. I still prefer rummaging through actual crates looking for tangible treasures, but the assortment of rare and out-of-physical-print music on eMusic feels like Xmas to me. Anyway, here’s a fraction of the good Xmas stuff I found.
Guitar Joe & the Angry Neighbors: “Alternative Christmas” from dEsignated dRunkard
Although it’s consummate morning-show-DJ fodder, this fratty novelty-rock tune orders a sex change for Santa but has absolutely no fart sounds—and appeal that reaches beyond the aforementioned contexts/crowds. Best Xmas-song lyric ever: “The best gifts you give won’t cost you a cent/ I won’t come down your chimney without your consent.”
“Santa Came on a Nuclear Missile” from The American Song-Poem Christmas: Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four?
Song-poems: lyrics by a crazy cat lady, music by starving musicians. She got the cash, they got bills to pay. “Santa came and took away my smile/ Santa came on a nuclear missile/ gone were the silver whiskers on his face/ he looked like a creature from outer space/ instead of my favorite teddy bear/ he gave me a gun that was a laser.” I love this fucking song.
Jimmy McGriff: “Hip Santa” from Christmas with McGriff
McGriff, the most rippin’ Hammond B-3 player ever, swings like a mofo on this tune, which could perfectly score a Mad Men office Xmas party. At a lean 3:05, this jam will be over in time for you to watch the new episode.
Charles “Packy” Axton: “Holiday Cheer” from Late Late Party (1965-67)
Packy co-founded the legendary Stax and played a mean sax. This tune is from his work with the Martinis, and it’s the same deal, just shorter and built around his blowin’.
Tommy Tutone: “867-5309/Jenny (Christmas Version)” from Christmas Rocks!
This is for real, and it’s awesome. They’re milking the one hit, and paraphrasing standards all the way. Dig this line: “Santa, I got your number/ I’ve been real good all year/ I just can’t wait for Christmas/ Santa Claus is comin’ to town.” There are 54 other tracks on this comp from folks like Dweezil Zappa, Gilby Clarke, the Bay City Rollers, The Flirtations, Musical Youth, Iggy Pop, Donna Fargo and—holy crap—Leif Garrett. There’s some surprisingly good stuff, but about half the album is warmed-over covers by (all-star?) groups called Christmas Rockers, The Rock Heroes and Christmas Players.
Alien Jourgensen: “It’s Always Christmastime” from Alien Christmas
Ministry/Revolting Cocks frontguy has done breezy synthpop before, but it’s really hard to imagine this Christmas spirit coming from him unless it came in the middle of a really good smack euphoria. But who would’ve pressed “record”? This Flock of Seagulls rip-off (sounds a lot like “Space Age Love Song,” Al) was actually a three-song vinyl single that included the tunes “Voices in My Head” and “Walkie Talkie.”
Sunlounger: “Found (Downtempo Version)” from Christmas Chills: The Best Chill Out Ever
What these 15 songs (various artists, including Lustral and Arnej) have to do with Christmas is a mystery—but, hey, that works. I swear none of these songs has so much as a sleigh bell on it. This dreamy song is what they should pump into department stores on Black Friday in order to soothe the savage bargain hunters—the soundtrack to the cool side of the pillow.
The Golden Gate Quartet: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from Negro Spirituals at Christmas
This is labeled a bonus track, perhaps as a wink to those of us who would crack jokes about enslaving a ruddy-nosed Xmas icon (To paraphrase Sam Cooke, “That’s the sound of the deer, workin’ on the chain … gaaaa-aa-aang …”). Maybe three other tracks are holiday-themed, while the rest are as advertised.
Hammercult: “Santa Satan” from Anthems of the Damned
Also no joke: In 1:45, these Israeli thrashers (their own label; this is more blackened death metal) make a joyfully evil noise and manage to sneak a few bars of “Deck the Halls” into the solo. The album also comes with the hit power ballad (my label) “Devil Chainsaw Fuck.”