Sunday, December 10, 2006

Merry Subversive Christmas: 5 Songs to Get Through the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us and with it Christmas music fills the air. The all too familiar voices of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and various other crooners dance in ours ears reminding us multiple times a day that St. Nick will soon be here. Yes, indeed it is the most wonderful time of the year, but do you sometimes find yourself wanting to burst your ear drum with a cotton swap if you hear one more Christmas carol, no matter how bloody wonderful the time of year is?

Fear not, I have the solution. Below is a list of the top 5 Christmas songs that take a different approach to the holiday. These songs are at times subversive, maybe a bit disturbing, but more importantly they provide a much-needed alternative. Enjoy.

"Silver Bells"- Paul Simon and Steve Martin (Sometime in the late 1970s)
Paul Simon and Steve Martin were both fixtures of "Saturday Night Live" in the 1970s, so it isn't surprising that they performed together. This rare show rehearsal starts out simple enough with Simon doing a lovely version of this classic song, but soon Simon's singing becomes mere backdrop for Martin's musings on the true meaning of Christmas. Martin deadpans through a cynical monologue that ranges from goofy to racy and reveals that while Christmas can bring out the best in us, it can bring out the worst too.

"Christmas in the Stars" (from the "Star Wars" Christmas album of the same name) (1980)
Strange and frightening things began to happen after the tremendous success of the original "Star Wars." George Lucas went from filmmaker to pimp, whoring his creation out in every way imaginable. This resulted in a 1978 Christmas Special that is astounding awful. Lessons weren't learn though and two years came a Christmas album. "Christmas in the Stars" is so awful as to become campy fun and, in the process, an intentionally spot-on parody of overly happy Christmas songs.

"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)"- The Ramones (1989)
Although they had lost some of their vitality, The Ramones were still kicking around in the late 1980s cranking out three cord ditties. Surprisingly, one of the best songs from this era is a Christmas song that manages to capture the tension of the season. All The Ramones want for Christmas is a little love, but when that wish is delivered in Joey Ramone's patented slurred faux British accent over fast, catchy pop-punk riffs it goes down as smooth as egg nog.

"The Night Santa Went Crazy"- Weird Al Yankovic (1996)
Don't be fooled by the sweet guitar strumming of the open, this Christmas carol turns humorously sour fast. Weird Al is best known for writing parodies of pop hits, but his albums also feature original material, but original hardly means serious. Yankovic turns his twisted mind on Christmas in the story of the night Santa finally snapped and became a "big, fat, disgruntled yuletide Rambo." It is good, clean, somewhat violent fun.

"Bizarre Christmas Incident"- Ben Folds (2002)
This aptly named song from the tongue-in-cheek piano-man unfolds the tale of a man encountering Santa in the night, but this isn't "Twas the Night Before Christmas." The song answer the question of what would happen if Santa got stuck in the chimney. Needless to say, it doesn't end pretty. Best in enjoyed by those who like their humor black.


Anonymous said...

this makes me happy. but maybe you should throw streisand or amy grant into the mix for holiday crooners in the first paragraph. any subversive women artists? come now. women practically invented subversion.... but stil makes me happy. very happy. well written, too. naturally. i mean, this is alec kerr we're talking about.

Alec Kerr said...

I added Ella Fitzgerald as a female crooner up top. Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" is certainly a subversive Christmas song, but it is also one of the over saturated holiday songs and why I didn't include it. Still, Kitt wishing for Santa to buy her something from Tiffany's, asking for the deed to the house and ultimately a wedding ring is definitely amusing stuff and takes the piss out of the holiday season quite nicely. It is so good it became a classic in its own right. Best to avoid Madonna's cover though. She does it in a grating baby voice.

Anonymous said...

I thought I'd embrace store Christmas music this season rather than fight it. Cue me singing along happily to "Santa Baby" at Borders all merry and Christmassy. Things got out of hand though. I mean, what is one to make of the line: "You should never tango with an eskimo"? Fair enough I guess..