Holiday albums that don’t make us want to kill ourselves
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Why does that cashier in the Santa hat look like he wants to decapitate you? It’s because he does, but it’s probably not your fault―he hears “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” at least 10 times per shift. Retail employees around the country have been listening to an ever-repeating Christmas soundtrack for two solid months, maybe more if their company is one of the many that are part of the insidious Christmas Creep that now gives us pre-Halloween jingle bells. It’s enough to drive anybody to homicidal feelings.
Even people who listen to tolerable music 11 months out of the year seem to lose the capacity to make rational music choices over the holidays. People take off their thinking hats, put on their Santa hats, and start cranking some of the worst music ever made. (According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, three of the top-selling Christmas albums of all time are by Kenny G, Celine Dion, and Josh Groban, a statistic that speaks for itself.) But just because the Santa hat goes on doesn’t mean you must abandon your normally sophisticated, sensible, and delightful music tastes. There is such a thing as good Christmas music―and, no, the albums by Sufjan Stevens and Bright Eyes do not count. These five, however, do.
Eazy-E, 5150: Home 4 Tha Sick
Warning: This might be the most offensive holiday album ever recorded; don’t play it for your grandmother. (If you’re looking for a more wholesome holiday hip-hop tune, stick with Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas In Hollis”.) The five-song EP, released by the former N.W.A. gangster-rap OG (R.I.P.) just a few days after Christmas 1992, has a loose holiday concept vibe, opening with “Intro: New Year’s E-Vil” and closing with “Merry Motherfuckin’ Christmas,” a nearly six-minute XXX-Mas track. Multiple gunshots and deviant sexual acts are mixed into this strangest, most vulgar medley of classics—including “Jingle Bells” and “All I Want For Christmas.” Then, on the third day of Christmas, Eazy’s buddy gives him indo, cocaine, and an AK-47. You can easily guess what the kids catch Mommy doing to Santa Claus.
John Fahey, The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album
Unlike 5150, this album of traditional Christmas songs performed on acoustic guitar by innovative “American Primitive” guitarist John Fahey has “Play Me For Grandma” written all over it. It's a beautiful album. All the classics are here―“What Child Is This,” “The First Noel,” “O Holy Night”―along with 17 other Christmas bangers. Also, if there’s a John Fahey fan on your gift list, make note of the five-CD box set Dust-To-Digital released this year called John Fahey — Your Past Comes Back To Haunt You (The Fonotone Years 1958-1965).
Crash Test Dummies, Jingle All The Way
Some people find this even more offensive than the Eazy-E jawn, but this 2002 Christmas album by the Canucks who brought us the unforgettable single “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” is actually quite good. It’s also really weird. Frontman Dan Roberts’ baritone voice provides a sinister, spine-tingling feel to 11 versions of tunes like “White Christmas” and “We Three Kings.” Lovely, but also quite terrifying. Shifting from clever minimal instrumentation to the kitchen-sink, junkyard swagger of early Tom Waits (whose “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis,” by the way, should be on every holiday mix tape), the music’s perplexing and much more engaging than anything Johnny Mathis ever did. There are also a few John Coltrane Om-era small-percussion freakouts, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Various artists, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector
Phil Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” production is one of the best things to ever happen to pop music, and also one of the best things to ever happen to Christmas music. Why should it be treated any differently? It shouldn’t, and it’s not on this Spector-produced collection on which The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love, and Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans offer up towering, reverb-soaked versions of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “Winter Wonderland,” and many other gems. Soxx & The Blue Jeans’ rendition of “The Bells Of St. Mary’s” is one of the best Christmas jams ever recorded. It’s seriously angelic. Fuck Josh Groban.
The Intruders, “Every Day Is A Holiday”
Okay, so this isn’t technically a Christmas album, but nothing screams holiday cheer quite like classic soul music. Appearing on The Intruders’ 1968 LP, Cowboys To Girls, the song transcends Christmas, presenting the case that love has the power to make us feel as magical and warm as we do on Christmas Day 24/7/365. If that’s not the kind of message you want to spread this Christmas, then there’s something seriously wrong with you. Have fun murdering people’s ears with your Celine Dion album. We’ll be slow-grinding under the mistletoe if you want to join us.