Have Yourself a Miserable Little Christmas
November 18, 2010 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for Christmas music that is mostly melancholy, and often about loss or abandonment. Think Joni Mitchell's the River or Tom Waite's Christmas Card from A Hooker in Minneapolis. Any suggestions?
posted by PinkMoose to Media & Arts (66 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Aimee Mann, One More Drifter in the Snow, perhaps?
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:28 AM on November 18, 2010

Conveniently, the original lyrics to Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas qualify:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, pop that champagne cork,
Next year we will all be living in New York.

No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.

posted by Zarkonnen at 9:28 AM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Iron and Wine/Calexico, Sixteen Maybe Less.
posted by Catseye at 9:30 AM on November 18, 2010

I mean, there are standards on there, but have yourself a merry little christmas, and I'll be home for christmas, are about as melancholy as it gets,
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:30 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Last Christmas by Wham
posted by fire&wings at 9:31 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fairytale of New York, by the Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl is a classic melancholy Christmas tune. No Flash at work so you may have to find a better rendition on YouTube than the one I linked to.
posted by griphus at 9:32 AM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Willie Nelson's Christmas Blues stays on my ipod year round.

And of course Christmas in Prison, John Prine.
posted by CheeseLouise at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fairytale of New York -- Pogues with Kirsty MacColl.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2010

Argh, should have previewed...

...so how about Counting Crows, "A Long December"? Not Christmas, but it has that looking-back, end-of-year melancholy.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:35 AM on November 18, 2010

Best answer: David Bazan's version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. His added lyrics are heartbreaking in the context of his bout with alcoholism and his loss of faith (he was formerly a devout Christian).
posted by puritycontrol at 9:41 AM on November 18, 2010

There is a fantastic song by Erasure called She Won't Be Home which fits the bill.

Also -

Miss You Most (At Christmas Time) - Mariah Carey
Blue Christmas - Elvis
posted by yawper at 9:42 AM on November 18, 2010

Nox Arcana has two albums of dark and depressing holiday music:

Winter's Night

Winter's Eve

posted by mfoight at 9:42 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Eagles, Please Come Home for Christmas
posted by spinto at 9:43 AM on November 18, 2010

Best answer: Merle Haggard's If We Make It Through December
posted by kimota at 9:45 AM on November 18, 2010

If you like Joni Mitchell's River, you might like to hear the Robert Downey Jr. cover.
posted by ejazen at 9:47 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you don't mind really traditional, there's The Coventry Carol (also known as "Lullay, Lullay"), which refers to the Massacre of the Innocents where King Herod kills every infant boy in Bethlehem. In the carol, a mother sings goodbye to her baby, knowing he is doomed. Doesn't get much more haunting than that.
posted by castlebravo at 9:48 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I listen to Dolly Parton's Hard Candy Christmas every year. I love it and it gets me every time.
posted by bobber at 9:49 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Diana Krall's rendition of Christmas Time Is Here. The lyrics aren't particularly melacholy, but the execution...

Jonathon Coulton's Christmas is Interesting
posted by chazlarson at 9:54 AM on November 18, 2010

I always think of Ryan Adams' Hotel Chelsea Nights as a Christmas song, even though I guess it isn't, just because he keeps singing about being strung out like some Christmas lights, out there in the Chelsea night. And as much as I love it, it's so depressive and ridiculous, it's almost like a parody of a sad song.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:15 AM on November 18, 2010

Sufjan Stevens' "Sister Winter"
posted by scarykarrey at 10:20 AM on November 18, 2010

In Stan Rogers' First Christmas each verse has a different depressing theme -- working on Christmas day! friendless in a nursing home! homeless! Beautiful, but I had to take it off my playlists for the sake of my mental health.
posted by dorque at 10:23 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Same Old Lang Syne - Dan Fogelberg
posted by willnot at 10:30 AM on November 18, 2010

2000 Miles, Chrissie Hynde/Pretenders. That is one damn sad Christmas song. Three tissues minimum.
posted by apparently at 10:31 AM on November 18, 2010

Take a listen to Shawn Colvin's Christmas album Holiday Songs and Lullabies. Also, the classic Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown Christmas has the lovely and melancholy Christmastime Is Here.
posted by lex mercatoria at 10:36 AM on November 18, 2010

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" - either the Darlene Love original or U2 cover
posted by SisterHavana at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Blue Christmas
posted by fifilaru at 10:50 AM on November 18, 2010

The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot.

Vera Lynn or Nat King Cole
posted by mefireader at 10:50 AM on November 18, 2010

Prince's "Another Lonely Christmas".
posted by dr. fresh at 10:51 AM on November 18, 2010

It isn't really about loss or abandonment, but there's this one song about Christmas that loops around my iPod every so often. I can't remember the name at the moment, but it's sort of meta--something about how difficult it is to write a Christmas song.

Maybe it's just my memory playing tricks, but the mood of that song's always seemed superbly melancholic to me.
posted by KChasm at 10:51 AM on November 18, 2010

Low's Christmas. In particular: Long Way Around The Sea
posted by capnsue at 10:54 AM on November 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

"Listen, the Snow is Falling" by Yoko Ono was on the b-side of "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" but the version by Thea Gilmore is really melancholy.
posted by soelo at 10:54 AM on November 18, 2010

Brick by Ben Folds Five is about getting an abortion the day after Christmas.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:55 AM on November 18, 2010

Another Aimee Mann tune, from The Forgotten Arm: I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up For Christmas.

What's up with Aimee and the sad Xmas songs?
posted by richyoung at 10:59 AM on November 18, 2010

Did you know Bright Eyes made a Christmas album? Maybe it's not as sad as you'd like, but it's far from chipper.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:08 AM on November 18, 2010

Oooh, try this one.

posted by jenfu at 11:09 AM on November 18, 2010


posted by jenfu at 11:09 AM on November 18, 2010

Best answer: Another Sufjan Steven's recommendation -- Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day (Well, You Deserved It)

This time of year you always disappear
You tell me not to call
You tell me not to call
And when the door is closed you're wearing different clothes
Or hiding in the paper, pretending not to hear
posted by amarynth at 11:24 AM on November 18, 2010

Ramones - Merry Christmas(I don't want to fight) [lyrics]

Sloppy Seconds - Lonely Christmas [lyrics]

Sparks - Thank God it's not Christmas [lyrics]

Rugburns - I Hate Fuckin' Christmas [lyrics]

For some serious melancholia, Projekt Records has done several Christmas comps over the years under the title Excelsis
posted by Su at 11:28 AM on November 18, 2010

Tori Amos' "Winter"
posted by ifjuly at 11:30 AM on November 18, 2010

Christmas Day - Jim White from "No Such Place".

"I remember quite clearly, a bad Muzak version of James Taylor's big hit, called "Fire and Rain" was playing as you crouched down and tearfully kissed me, and I thought, "Damn, what good fiction I will mold from this terrible pain."
posted by elendil71 at 11:30 AM on November 18, 2010

Oh, and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone's "It's Winter and You Don't Love Me Anymore."

Also, not a song but your Tom Waits shout out somehow reminded me of a poem...

Christmas Card
Ronald Koertge

Outside the locker room this morning I heard
some guy say into the phone, "But, Jesus, I'd do
anything for you."

I suspect he wasn't talking to The Source,
more likely to a woman in El Sereno taking off
her uniform and name tag and staring at the tree.

Now carols over the loudspeaker make me
wonder if Jesus is looking down at my Speedos
no bigger than a crucifixion panty.

I'm surprised You aren't fed up to here with us.
After all, what do we say except, "I want a pony!"
Never, "Thanks for that tie and the salad tongs."

Well, here's a little something for Your birthday.
This last lap--as hard and as fast as I can--
is for You.
posted by ifjuly at 11:32 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

'All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" is about loss.
posted by custard heart at 11:53 AM on November 18, 2010

"Silver Star" by 90s alt-rockers emmet swimming is a Smiths-inflected song about being stranded in a winter storm, both physically and emotionally. I hate Christmas music (too many years in choirs and retail) but I love this one.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:02 PM on November 18, 2010

Julia Fordham has a song, "December 24th" that's probably my favorite "broken heart at Christmas" song. ("December 24th didn't turn out like I thought / Just goes to show ya...") As far as I can tell it's only on this album.
posted by dnash at 12:04 PM on November 18, 2010

Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas. Beautiful song with some grim lyrics.
posted by frobozz at 12:15 PM on November 18, 2010

The instrumental version of "Christmastime Is Here" and "Greensleeves" from the Charlie Brown Christmas album don't have any words but have always struck me as being melancholy in a perfect Christmas kind of way.
posted by dyobmit at 12:23 PM on November 18, 2010

Giant Sand - Thank You, Dreaded Black Ice, Thank You
The Black Halos - Homeless for Christmas
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - There's No Lights On The Christmas Tree Mother, They're Burning Big Louie Tonight
The Legendary Tiger Man - Fuck Christmas, I've Got the Blues
Jay Brannan - Christmas Really Sucks
John Denver - Please, Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)
Harvey Danger - Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas
Laura Barrett - Robot Ponies
Also, I couldn't find it online, but Tom McRae has an incredibly melancholic version of Wonderful Christmastime.
posted by Kattullus at 12:56 PM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, Nanci Griffith's On Grafton Street.
posted by Catseye at 1:13 PM on November 18, 2010

I can't believe I'm posting this but...sappy and sad, it's Dan Fogelberg's "Same Auld Lang Syne":

"Met my old lover in a grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
Stole behind her in the frozen foods
and I touched her on the sleeve...

...We drank a toast to innocence we drank a toast to time
We're living in our eloquence, another old lang syne
The beers were empty and our tongues grew tired
and running out of things to say
She gave a kiss to me as I got out
and I watched her drive away
Just for a moment I was back in school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
the snow turned into rain"
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:22 PM on November 18, 2010

'Lonely This Christmas' by Mud.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 1:25 PM on November 18, 2010

Reigning Sound - If Christmas Can't Bring You Home
posted by clockwork at 1:25 PM on November 18, 2010

Ringo Starr - Christmas Eve.

it's so melancholy, it's nearly not a Christmas song.
posted by hippybear at 2:24 PM on November 18, 2010

The song Minneapolis by Lucinda Williams is not explicitly about Christmas, but the lyrics (about being sad, lonely and dejected in December) and the melody always made it feel like a Sad Christmas Song to me. It's also one of the bleakest, saddest songs I've ever heard.

Here's a sample of the lyrics:

I've been waiting for you to come back
Since you left Minneapolis
Snow covers the streetlamps and the windowsills
The buildings and the brittle crooked trees
Dead leaves of December
Thin skinned and splintered
Never gotten used to this bitter winter...

I can always trace it back
To that night in Minneapolis
Here on the seventh floor in a room I can't call mine
Deadbolt on the door, do not disturb sign
Shaking and trembling
On the clean white linen
Slivers of starlight across the ceiling

God, I'm getting depressed just thinking about it...
posted by lunasol at 2:27 PM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Christmas In Prison" is the canonical John Prine sad Christmas song for sure, but "Souvenirs" is also good:

All the snow has turned to water.
Christmas day has come and gone.
Broken toys and faded colors
are all that's left to linger on.
I hate graveyards and old pawnshops
for they always bring me tears:
I can't forgive the way they rob me
of my childhood souvenirs.

posted by nebulawindphone at 3:20 PM on November 18, 2010

It's not a Christmas song, but the first time I heard Innocent While You Dream (or any Tom Waits, for that matter) was at the end of the movie Smoke, just after a long scene of Harvey Keitel telling the story directly to the camera, the song comes on and they act out the same story in black and white. It's pretty stunning, and has always linked the song with Christmas in my mind.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:19 PM on November 18, 2010

Seconding "Coventry Carol," but specifically Loreena McKennitt's version.

I also stumbled upon this guy's song - "All I Want for Christmas Isn't You." Lovely lyrics.
posted by missrachael at 6:49 PM on November 18, 2010

"Merry Christmas Baby" by Charles Brown is the classic blues Christmas song.
posted by rfs at 7:37 PM on November 18, 2010

364 Days by Murder City Devils is about Santa being really sad.

St. Nicholas, St. Nicholas, at the North Pole
364 days spent all alone
Take off your boots, pour a drink
Try not to cry, try not to think
Try not to think...
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 8:45 PM on November 18, 2010

Best answer: Okkervil River, "Listening To Otis Redding At Home During Christmas":

"..There's a tangle of greenery where winter scenery ends.
And I hear that song sometimes and imagine us much more than friends -
like if we stayed in this town, bought the first house that went up on sale,
and how each Christmastime would bring inlaws and snowdays and holiday mail.

Your dad says you're living in Georgia since last September.

Well, I've got dreams to remember.
I've got dreams to remember.
Oh Sara, come back to New Hampshire.
We'll stay here forever."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:08 AM on November 19, 2010

I don't think I qualify this song as miserable but Celine Dion's Another Year has Gone By can make me a teary eyed. I do love it and it's melancholy.
posted by bobber at 6:22 AM on November 19, 2010

Deadbeat Christmas! Just about my favorite Christmas tune.

It's Christmastime and I am drunk and lonely,
it's Christmastime and I can't find a friend...

posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:41 AM on December 1, 2010

Also, Low has covered "Blue Christmas"
posted by ifjuly at 8:22 AM on December 2, 2010

Great post on just this subject by My Aimz Is True
posted by Kattullus at 1:31 PM on December 2, 2010

Response by poster: does this work?

it's a youtube playlist with all yr suggestions
posted by PinkMoose at 6:54 AM on December 25, 2010

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