Let it snow, baby... let it reindeer
November 25, 2007 6:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some recommendations for good nontraditional Christmas music.

Recently I picked up Relient K's "Let It Snow Baby... Let It Reindeer" and Sufjan Stevens' "Songs For Christmas" box set. For those of you not familiar with either, they're basically a collection of traditional Christmas songs performed in nontraditional styles, and also some original Christmas songs that are often offbeat in nature.

I love Christmas music but I get tired of all the schlocky stuff that they play on those 24/7 Christmas stations. I've been really impressed with both of those collections I picked up, and so now I'm looking for some recommendations on similar stuff. It doesn't necessarily have to be similar in style, just in the fact that it's not like everything else out there.

So, AskMeFi, give me your recommendations for the best nontraditional, offbeat, or just "different" Christmas music.
posted by joshrholloway to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
The Windham Hill Celtic Christmas samplers are great. I actually listen to them at other times of the year, too.
posted by Ostara at 6:38 PM on November 25, 2007

Alvin and the Chipmunks!
posted by Dasein at 6:38 PM on November 25, 2007

The Waitresses have a cool Christmas song.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:48 PM on November 25, 2007

XM Radio has a channel called "Special X-Mas" that is exactly what you're looking for.
posted by k8t at 6:50 PM on November 25, 2007

Jazz is my favourite genre for Christmas music, outside of choral music. Christmas with the Ratpack or Ella Wishes You A Swingin' Christmas are both good to throw in the pile.

I actually have another album called A Swingin' Christmas that's my favourite, but its in the holiday box upstairs and a web search only returns results for the Michael Bolton album of the same name. And I'm just not willing to wade through those result. Ewww.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:50 PM on November 25, 2007

I recommend it every year:

The McGarrigle Christmas Hour is great.

Also, Bright Eyes' Christmas album has an amazing version of "White Christmas," sung by someone I presume to be Jenny Lewis.

if that's a little too hipster, Phil Spector's Christmas album is still amazing. And John Waters' Christmas album is REALLY non-traditional!
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:51 PM on November 25, 2007

I like Aimee Mann's Christmas album, One More Drifter in the Snow. I also downloaded one from itunes called Christmas Cocktails that has some swinging sixties versions of traditional Christmas songs.
posted by sugarfish at 6:51 PM on November 25, 2007

SomaFM has Christmas in Frisko for a more irreverent angle, and Christmas Lounge for...well, loungier Christmas Music.

I also recommend the following albums:
Maybe This Christmas Tree
Maybe This Christmas Too?
Aimee Mann's Another Drifter in the Snow
The Barenaked Ladies' Barenaked for the Holidays
Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas
Slade's Slade's Crazy Christmas
The Love Actually Soundtrack
posted by awesomebrad at 6:59 PM on November 25, 2007

This is one of my non-traditional favorites: Hawksley Workman.
posted by Ohdemah at 7:09 PM on November 25, 2007

Hmm. Second time today I've posted this list from an .mp3 blog that I found shortly after Xmas last year. Tons of stuff on there from Eazy-E to Brave Combo to Merle Haggard, and everything in-between. Enjoy responsibly.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:11 PM on November 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

fairytale of new york is pretty darn irreverent. :)

also, there is a fun duet between david bowie and bing crosby (yes, you read that correctly) of "little drummer boy."
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:14 PM on November 25, 2007

El Vez (The Mexican Elvis!) has a great set of holiday tunes - Merry MeX-Mas - it looks campy at first, but it's really catchy. I tend to go for the more off-beat xmas tunes, just to cut the treacle. I mean, you can't go wrong with 'Christmas in Hollis'

Amazon's suggesting 'A John Waters Christmas' to go with El Vez, I may have to pick that up...
posted by pupdog at 7:15 PM on November 25, 2007

posted by CunningLinguist at 7:22 PM on November 25, 2007

I'm with you on the "bored with Xmess music, love oddball Xmess music" tip. In fact, I'm listening to this comp right now - it's great - and Christmas on the Mountain: A Bluegrass Collection is up next. It's the only way I can survive the holiday nonsense. This one's good, too - 25 tunes of Christmas soul and early rock.

Rhino Records has put out tons of this stuff; one of my faves is Blue Yule: Christmas Blues and R&B Classics. Brilliant stuff there. Some others:
Punk Rock Christmas
Hipster's Holiday
Swingin' Christmas
Christmas Classics
Loony Tunes Kwazy Christmas
Mambo Santa Mambo is sadly out of print but it's great if you can find a copy.
Try the Rockabilly Christmas comp, too.

Also, this comes up regularly every year:
Help me find subversive Christmas videos, music and other media
I'm looking for some good indie-pop holiday music
I am interested in putting together a playlist of music featuring depressing / creepy holiday music
posted by mediareport at 7:25 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Brave Combo -- It's Christmas, Man (fantastic, Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad, The Little Drummer Boy, Must be Santa -- FANTASTIC!)

and the Roches - We Three Kings

They're both on Amazon -- and if I hadn't already done this once and messed it up, the links would be in here.
posted by nnk at 7:34 PM on November 25, 2007

Check out Santastic (I think there's two volumes out). They're mash-ups of traditional and non-tradition Christmas songs. My favorite is "Christmas in Boston" which combines Boston's "More than a Feeling" with the Beatles' "Christmas Time is Here Again."

Also, someone might have mentioned it but I love Christmas Cocktails (also multiple volumes) because when in doubt, going retro is always a crowd-pleaser!
posted by LiveToEat at 7:36 PM on November 25, 2007

Thanks, Josh. I was just going to ask this. My contribution is Bruce Coburn: Christmas.
posted by alms at 7:56 PM on November 25, 2007

I used to be a college radio DJ and did a rock/pop/hip-hop Christmas show every year. Here are some of the highlights and some others that I just like:
Jesus Christ- Big Star
Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/Auld Lang Syne- Jimi Hendrix
Little Drummer Boy- Bing Crosby
Father Christmas- The Kinks
Merry Christmas Everybody- Slade
Christmas Rappin'- Kurtis Blow
Secret Love Story- Kishidan (a Japanese band. Christmas is sort of like Valentines Day in Japan, apparently)
Christmas at the Zoo- Flaming Lips
Merry Christmas, I Don't Wanna Fight- The Ramones

There are others and if I can find my old playlists, I'll post those.
posted by fructose at 8:13 PM on November 25, 2007

Oh, also Punk Rock Christmas by the Ravers is a funny holiday song. Lots of shout-outs to old school punk acts
posted by fructose at 8:14 PM on November 25, 2007

As NNK said, The Roches "We Three Kings"


Mediaeval Baebes "Mistletoe and Wine"

Barenaked Ladies "Barenaked for the Holidays"

Brian Setzer Orchestra "Boogie Woogie Christmas"

Folk Like Us - "An American Christmas"
posted by johnvaljohn at 8:16 PM on November 25, 2007

The Low "Just Like Christmas" album was recommended here last year. It's lovely.
posted by asuprenant at 8:21 PM on November 25, 2007

Dunno if this would be your cup of tea, but if you're open to early/medieval music, Anonymous 4 does a capella chant and polyphony for 4 female voices. "On Yoolis Night" is a collection of carols and motets that were traditionally sung at Yuletide. "An English Ladymass" is less Xmas-specific (I think) but still has the same type of sound. They have quite a few albums out now, including several that seem Xmas-related, but these are the 2 I'm familiar with. Gorgeous!
posted by Quietgal at 8:30 PM on November 25, 2007

Damn, I've got a whole pile of stuff like this but cant' get to it right now. Here's a few off the top of my head:

Even Santa Gets the Blues
The Alligator Records Christmas Collection
James Brown's Funky Christmas
Blue Yule
The Ventures' Christmas Album

And yeah, they play a lot of that John Waters album on XM's Special Xmas -- the cuts range from execrable to awesome but it's definitely non-traditional.
posted by Opposite George at 8:52 PM on November 25, 2007

Art Alexakis of Everclear does a great version of Santa Baby that I found online a long time ago.
posted by radioamy at 8:56 PM on November 25, 2007

Guster, "Donde Esta Santa Claus?"

Dan Wilson, "What A Year For A New Year" (just trust me)

The Raveonettes, "The Christmas Song"
posted by gursky at 9:26 PM on November 25, 2007

I have A Winter's Night (Best of Nettwerk Christmas Albums) and like it a lot (despite the fact that The Be Good Tanyas' "Rudy" is bloody depressing).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:35 PM on November 25, 2007

Over the Rhine's Snow Angel is fantastic. I give it away to my friends who think they don't like Christmas music.

To hear their general style (but not the specific CD) listen to their flash radio at their webpage
posted by Pants! at 10:04 PM on November 25, 2007

Putumayo has two Christmas albums out right now:

Christmas Around the World
New Orleans Christmas

And this is not exactly non-traditional, but I love it because it's a Christmas album that never gets old (for me): A Charlie Brown Christmas.
posted by splendid animal at 10:47 PM on November 25, 2007

I haven't got my xmas music on my ipod yet this year, but They Might Be Giants' 'Santa's Beard' came up on shuffle on the way home, and I started giggling thinking about this thread. All I needed was 'Christmas With The Devil' to follow it to really make the night, so of course I pulled up Spinal Tap.

"No bells in Hell
No snow below-
Silent Night, Violent Night
So come all ye unfaithful
Don't be left out in the cold
You don't need no invitation, no...
Your ticket is your soul"
posted by pupdog at 11:10 PM on November 25, 2007

Hipster's Holiday
Jethro Tull's Christmas Album (better that it seems)
Sons of the Pioneers Christmas
Blackstone Valley Sinners- The cold hard truth about Christmas
posted by Gungho at 5:25 AM on November 26, 2007

Not an album, but my favorite christmas song of all time is Fountains of Wayne - I Want an Alien for Christmas. I think it's on an album called "Kustard Kristmas."
posted by poq at 7:49 AM on November 26, 2007

And there's Bob Rivers and Twisted Radio....

"There's A Santa Who Looks A Lot Like Elvis" always crack me up.

posted by Arthur Dent at 10:47 AM on November 26, 2007

While it's not the canonical version, what you want is: ZE Records Christmas album.

The Suicide track, "Hey Lord," is one of my favorite songs ever.
posted by klangklangston at 12:02 PM on November 26, 2007

Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey (link includes optional audio!)
posted by sock it to me monkey at 12:20 PM on November 26, 2007

">Kung Fu Christmas is a classic with us
posted by canoehead at 1:01 PM on November 26, 2007

Music I think you might want to check out:

Angels of Venice - Sanctus
Kind of Enya-y, mostly familiar music with newish arrangements; there's a tune or two you won't recognize.

The Beatles
Yes, you know "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)" and "Christmastime Is Here Again," but if you dig up the records they released to their fanclub, 1963-1969, there's a lot of weird/offbeat stuff.

Blackmore's Night - Christmas Songs and Winter Carols
The polite way of putting it is "folk rock with Renaissance influences." I understand they're popular at Renaissance faires. I'm not crazy about them, but I doubt they get much radio play. The songs are all well-known, but the arrangements aren't what you'd hear on the radio.

Bobby Sherman - Christmas Album
Does it count if it might've been played on the radio in 1970? I'm not saying this album is the peak of Western musicianship, but it's enjoyable listening (I expect to be called out on this, but if Alvin & the Chipmunks flies...). Besides, most of the songs are new compositions.

California Guitar Trio - A Christmas Album
Is what it says. Most (although not all) tunes are familiar, but arrangements are interesting.

Cherish the Ladies - On Christmas Night
Irish, and good at it. Mostly longish medleys of several tunes, often mixing Christmas and non-. There are definitely tunes you'll recognize, but quite a few you won't, and the arrangements and performance style are all Irish.

Dar Williams - "The Christians and the Pagans"
A gimme. Folky, pop-y, upbeat new composition that I don't think got popular outside its circle.

Enya - The Christmas EP and Sounds of the Season
Her arrangements of some Irish songs (on The Christmas EP) and, on Sounds of the Season, a traditional Christmas song or two plus some new compositions. Enya isn't exactly unpopular, but neither of those albums were widely released, and you're not likely to hear them on the radio.

George Winston - December
Solo piano, new-agey, several original compositions.

This (very incomplete) list is nonstandard Christmas music, but I'm not at all sure it's what you want. It's not stuff you're going to hear on the radio, but it's not in the Sufjan Stevens indie genre you're heading towards, either. If you're interested anyway, if I'm getting anywhere close to what you're thinking, let me know and I can go through H to Z of my collection (well, H to Y).

Also, I doubt you're looking for Anonymous 4 -- not only are they not going to be a hipster hit, but the music is also the opposite of nontraditional -- but it is unusual, and you won't recognize it as Christmas music, so just in case, I'll clarify.

On Yoolis Night is Christmas music from the fifth through fifteenth centuries. A Star in the East is medieval Hungarian Christmas music. Legends of St. Nicholas is Christmas-related because the music is about St. Nicholas. Wolcum Yule is the only one with any tunes that most people might recognize as Christmas music, and even then, there aren't too many (maybe 25%, and that's counting uncommon but not unheard-of songs).

An English Ladymass is Marian-themed but doesn't otherwise have anything to do with Christmas. Anonymous 4 has released a lot of other medieval Christian, but non-Christmas, music.

There's tons of other medieval and Renaissance Christmas music, but since that is so traditional, I haven't listed any of it. If you're into it anyway, there's absolutely tons you can find with no problem.
posted by booksandlibretti at 2:59 PM on November 26, 2007

Christmas with the Vandals is highly entertaining and irreverent. NSFFamily gatherings.

fa-la-la-la la-la-la-la la-la thanks for nothing!
posted by killy willy at 5:25 PM on November 26, 2007

Sufjan Stevens's 5-disc Christmas set.
posted by thebellafonte at 11:54 AM on November 29, 2007

Suburban Sprawl's Christmas Compilation.

Five albums, or 157 songs, or 7.8 hours mostly of original songs and remixes of old favorites, apparently all made by indie bands that I've never heard of before. If you've got the time, download them all, and listen to them one by one and pick out your favorites.

Power Blessings is my favorite at the moment, and definitely check out Adam Kempa's songs.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:17 PM on December 5, 2007

My favorite Christmas album is Where Will You Be Christmas Day?, a cd compilation of christmas songs recorded for 78s.
posted by OmieWise at 6:04 AM on December 6, 2007

Faved this because I'm looking fr the same kind of thing, and I'll slowly go through the recommendations.
My own favourites last year were the Aimee Mann xmas CD (mentioned above) and this (disclaimer, I know them, but they're still great)
posted by easternblot at 9:33 AM on December 8, 2007

I forgot one of my favourite non-traditional Christmas CDs ever: Once upon a Christmas by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. I've liked that since I was a kid, when it was embarrassing to admit, but I've since discovered that many people secretly like this.
posted by easternblot at 9:40 AM on December 8, 2007

Away In Five is "Away In The Manger" done to 5/4 time. If you like David Matthews? You'll love this guy. If you don't like David Matthews? You'll love this guy. I have listened to a lot of Christmas music. A lot. A. Lot. Born is the King captures the spirit of the season in a way that causes normal traditional music to pale in comparison.

After you listen to this, you will understand why I now say: you're very welcome.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:19 PM on December 10, 2007

Totally seconding booksandlibretti's recommendation of Dar Williams' The Christians and the Pagans, and adding River by Joni Mitchell. The first makes me laugh, the second makes me cry.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:09 PM on December 10, 2007

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