Friday, December 09, 2011

Offbeat, quirky songs for the holidays

Over the years I've written quite a few lists of off-beat, dark, subversive Christmas songs. These songs are the alternatives to the familiar ones saturating the airwaves. I have now compiled them all in one piece and added five more. Enjoy.

“Cool Yule” — Tony Rodelle Larson (1962)

I discovered this a few years back mis-labeled as being performed by William Shatner. It is easy to understand the confusion as Larson's broken speech patterns do indeed bring to mind Shatner's riffs on such songs as “Rocket Man.” This beatnik take on “Twas Night the Night Before Christmas” is most definitely way out.

“Monster’s Holiday” — Bobby "Boris" Pickett (1962)

After the “Monster Mash” became a hit this quickie sequel was churned out. There are some amusing riffs on holiday classics, but it is mostly a shameless rewrite of the original. It was a minor hit, but didn’t remain a holiday classic.

"Silver Bells" — Paul Simon and Steve Martin (Sometime in the late 1970s)

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 deadpanning through a cynical monologue on the true meaning of Christmas that ranges from goofy to racy.

"Father Christmas" — The Kinks (1977)

Leave it to The Kinks, the same band that sang about an encounter with the transvestite "Lola," to write a song about mugging Santa. Ray Davies' sunny delivery masks the nastiness in lyrics such as "Father Christmas, give us some money/Don't mess around with those silly toys/Well beat you up if you don't hand it over."

"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" including an astounding awful 1978 Christmas special. Lessons weren't learned, though, and two years later came a Christmas album. "Christmas in the Stars" is so bad as to become campy fun.

“There Ain't No Sanity Clause” — The Damned (1980)

English punk band The Damned released this song just in time for the holiday season, but it failed to chart perhaps because no one wanted to have the Santa Claus bubble popped for the youngest yuletide revelers. The lyrics are barely intelligible, but, it is the sing-a-long anthem-like chorus that brings this one home.

"Christmas in Heaven" — Monty Python (1983)

Monty Python was always known for loopy songs that often pointed out the hypocrisies or the idiosyncrasies of society. In the film "The Meaning of Life," Graham Chapman sings a caustic song about the consumerism and commercialism that runs rampant during the holiday season that includes lyrics like: "There's great films on TV/"The Sound of Music" twice an hour/And ‘Jaws’ one, two, and three."

"Christmas In Hollis" — Run DMC (1987)

This is a happy hip hop holiday song about Christmas in Queens, N.Y. The song includes such endearingly goofy lyrics as "It was December 24th on Hollis Avenue in the dark/When I seen a man chilling with his dog in the park/I approached very slowly with my heart full of fear/Looked at his dog, oh my God, an ill reindeer."

"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" — The Ramones (1989)

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.

“Santa Song” — Adam Sandler (1993)

Everyone is familiar with Sandler’s "Chanukah Song," but he actually did a Christmas themed song that pre-dates its by a year. In this one Sandler sings about all the reasons he won’t be getting a visit from Santa. Best line: “Santa don't like bad boys — especially Jewish ones.”

“12 Days of Yaksmas” — Ren and Stimpy (1993)

There have been numerous parodies of the “12 Days of Christmas." Which is your favorite really comes down to personal preference. As a youth in the 1990s, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the warped antics of this dog and cat team.

"Little Drum Machine Boy" — Beck (1996)

"The Little Drummer Boy" gets morphed into an odd dance and rap flavored Chanukah anthem featuring "the holiday Chanukah robot of funk." Beck is a chameleon-like musician who blends different genres with amazing skill. It is hardly traditional, but certainly original and memorable.

"The Night Santa Went Crazy" — Weird Al Yankovic (1996)

Don't be fooled by the sweet guitar strumming of the opening. This Christmas carol turns humorously sour fast. Yankovic turns his twisted mind on Christmas in the story of the night Santa finally snapped and became a "big, fat, disgruntled yuletide Rambo."

"I Won't Be Home for Christmas" — Blink 182 (1997)

Goofball pop/punk rockers wrote this anthem for all those who are driven up the wall by the holiday season. The song features bitter, but funny lyrics like: "It's time to be nice to the people you can't stand all year/I'm growing tired of all this Christmas cheer"

"O Holy Night" — Eric Cartman (1999)

"South Park" dedicated a whole episode to satirizing holiday music back in 1999. This is one of the tamer songs from the episode with the spoiled Cartman butchering the holiday classic to hilarious effect.

"Bizarre Christmas Incident" — Ben Folds (2002)

This aptly named song from the tongue-in-cheek piano man unfolds a dark tale of a man encountering Santa in the night. 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.

“Elf’s Lament” — Barenaked Ladies (2004)

On “Barenaked for the Holidays” the Ladies presented a collection of Christmas favorites as well as original songs featuring their quirky sense of humor. On this song an elf complains “I make toys, but I've got aspirations.” Bonus: this song features vocals from Michael Bublé.

"Mr. Heat Miser" — Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (2004)

The song first appeared in the 1974 stop-motion animation special "The Year Without Santa." Thirty years later the swing revival group Big Bad Voodoo Daddy recorded the definitive version of the song for their holiday album "Everything You Want for Christmas."

“I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas” — Relient K (2007)

Christian punk/pop band Relient K's does a fast, rocking cover of the novelty song “I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas.” The snarling punk attitude and crunching guitars suit lyrics like “I broke my bat on Johnny's head/Somebody snitched on me” quite well.

“Another Christmas Song” — Stephen Colbert (2008)

Satirical pundit Stephen Colbert did a hilarious parody of holiday specials. The special's songs either subverted pre-existing songs or, in this case, are something completely new. Lyrics like “The tree is frozen, the winter’s bright/Who’d have thought the wise men look so white” are made all the funnier by Colbert's authentic crooning.

“Present Face” — Garfunkel and Oates (2008)

This female comedy-folk duo combines disarming charming and simple hooks with goofy and/or raunchy lyrics. In this case the duo leans toward the silly side as they sing about the all too familiar face people make when the get a present they don’t like.

“Christmas Tree” — Lady Gaga featuring Space Cowboy (2008)

Leave it to Lady Gaga, the reigning pop queen of weirdness, to co-write a Christmas song filled with dance beats and dripping with sexual innuendos. It is most definitely not family friendly, but the audacity is admirable.

“Merry Something to You” — Devo (2009)

Yep, Devo, those quirky new wavers, recorded a song for the holidays. Blending cheery, generic holiday music with the synthesizers and drum beats they are known for, the band creates an infectious little ditty. Devo often used songs to satirize society, and that's most definitely the case here as the band proclaims: “Believe what you want nothing's really true.”

"It's Christmastime!" — Mad Tea Party (2009)

This uke-abilly band vents its frustration for Christmas in this infectious two-minute ditty. The cynical lyrics include sentiments that anyone can relate to, if only fleetingly: "It's Christmas, forgot about the pagans and Jews/It's Christmas and it makes me blue."

"Christmas Night of the Living Dead" — MxPx (2009)

It was perhaps inevitable that there would be a zombie-themed Christmas song. Punk rockers MxPx present this bloody tale of Christmas carnage featuring the chorus: "Christmas night of the living dead/My face is green and the snow is red."

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