Christmas songs are like fruitcake; Something you endure in the spirit of the holidays, but you wouldn’t even consider enduring for the rest of the year. But believe it or not, there are actually a few Holiday songs with enough craft, enough soul, enough edge that you’d he happy to hear them on your iPod any day of the year. Here’s my top 10 countdown of great songs that just happen to be about Christmas.
- Ramones: “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)The Ramones apply their own kind of Wall of Sound to a Christmas song that’s even cooler than Phil Spector’s classics of the 1960s.
- Frank Sinatra “Let it Snow:” Frank Sinatra signing a Sammy Kahn/Jule Styne song written in southern California on one of the hottest days on record? What’s not to like? Sinatra’s performance fits the song like a glove.
- Lou Monte: “Dominic the Donkey:” Of all the outright silly Christmas songs, this 1960 classic by Lou Monte is the most gloriously goofy. But couplets like this one–”a pair of shoes for Louie and a dress for Josephine. The label on the inside says it’s made in Brook-a-lyn”–remind us that Christmas predated Toys R Us and the Apple Store.
- The Pogues “A Fairytale of New York:” Ask anyone in the UK of a certain age what’s their favorite Christmas song, and they’re likely to cite this Pogues classic.With good reason. This song captures the melancholy that’s part and parcel of the season, but it retains a smidgen of hope.
- John Fahey: “Joy to the World:” No guitarist ever played with timing more brilliantly than the late John Fahey. Here he deconstructs Handel’s melody in a way that lets you listen to this timeless tune afresh.
- Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: “Ain ‘t No Chimney In The Projects” We lost this beautiful lady and talented performer this year, succumbing to her long battle with cancer. Along with her many legit soul masterpieces, we are left with this tongue-in-cheek take on Christmas in the more challenged areas of our country.
- Big Star: “Jesus Christ”A refreshingly unpolished, irony-free original from the last of three albums by these star-crossed alt-rock pioneers.
- Tom Waits “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis:” From Jesus in the Manger to Dickens’ Tiny Tim to Frosty the Snowman, Christmas is all about stories, and no stories are more powerful than the ones we tell ourselves. “Charlie, for Chrissake, if you want to know the truth of it, I don’t have a husband, he don’t play the trombone. Need to borrow money to pay this lawyer. I’ll be eligible for parole come Valentine’s Day.”
As Waits has said elsewhere, it’s a sad and beautiful world.
- Otis Redding”White Christmas:” Otis Redding could sing the phone book into a cell phone with a head cold and it would be worth a listen. But here, the genre’s greatest voice imbues this Christmas classic with his trademark brand of aching soul. Move over, Bing Crosby.
- Robert Earl Keen “Merry Christmas From the Family:” Robert Earl Keen’s masterpiece is not only laugh-out-loud funny but brilliantly specific. “Send somebody to the Quick Pack store, we need some ice and an extension cord, a can of bean dip and some Diet Rite, a box of tampons and some Marlboro Lights.” But throughout this romp, we’re laughing with Keen’s kin, not at them.