It’s that time of the year again: Christmas Eve is nigh! However, this doesn’t only entail the annual return of naughty mistletoe kisses, decadently decorated fir trees and ridiculously expensive ice cream cakes. Alas, it also signifies the umpteenth revival of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You and Wham!’s Last Christmas. So, isn’t it time to step up that musical Christmas game? Sure, significant singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, Sufjan Stevens and Mark Kozelek have released solid Christmas albums during the past years, but why don’t you infuse this year’s holiday soundtrack with some distorted guitars, lo-fi melodies and witty lyrics? Here are ten alternative Christmas songs that, just like that ugly sweater you’ll be wearing on December 24, will keep you warm, giggly and celebratory.
The Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa
Given the glammy and kitschy elements The Killers often incorporate in their music, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this successful rock band has already ventured into Christmas territory. Since 2006, The Killers have been releasing annual Christmas songs in support of charity funds. Don’t Shoot Me Santa is probably their best one, with frontman Brandon Flowers taking on the role of both a youthful psychopath and a nostalgic Santa Claus.
The Darkness – Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)
Are you looking for an over-the-top song that goes all the way? Entertaining rock outfit The Darkness do what they do best here: they employ wailing guitar riffs, ridiculously high-pitched vocals and ironic lyrics to compose a tongue-in-cheek Christmas single. This is the soundtrack to the air guitar contest you’ll be holding among your drunk friends during that not so silent night.
Glasvegas – A Snowflake Fell (and It Felt Like a Kiss)
Let’s get serious and melancholic again with this wintry elegy. The Scottish indie rockers of Glasvegas originally recorded this precious little gem in a church in Transylvania. Underneath the glacial surface, you’ll find a delicate song about helplessness and salvation. This one also wins the prize for most gorgeous song title in the entire playlist.
Crocodiles & Dum Dum Girls – Merry Christmas, Baby (Please Don’t Die)
Fun fact: Crocodiles’ lead singer and Dum Dum Girls’ frontwoman form a happily married rock couple in daily life. It’s a contextual detail that makes their Christmas duet even more endearing. With its pounding drums and fuzzy guitars, this collaborative effort is powerful in its catchiness and simplicity. The sound brings to mind both 60s girl groups and shoegaze. If you like what you hear, you might also want to check out the Wishing You a Rave Christmas-EP by boy-girl duo The Raveonettes.
The Hives & Cyndi Lauper – A Christmas Duel
“I bought no gifts this year / And I slept with your sister”. Thus begins the most unlikely Christmas ballad you’ll ever hear. The hyperkinetic Hives team up with Cyndi ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ Lauper and add an entire fanfare to the collective vocal acrobatics. The brilliant end result is as exuberant and laughable as your own Christmas tree.
Fucked Up – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Hardcore punk band Fucked Up (what’s in a name?) takes the risk of covering the (in)famous Band Aid charity song. In doing so, they invite a large group of befriended musicians to sing along. Although it doesn’t differ much from the original, the continuous guitar feedback and slightly out of sync vocal harmonies make this cover rough-edged and highly enjoyable.
Parenthetical Girls – Thank God It’s Not Christmas
Contemporary cult band Parenthetical Girls covers 70s cult band Sparks. What is being added to the original version of this sarcastic love song? Warped vocals, a pulsating dance rhythm, and a ton of saccharine synths! “Thank God it’s not Christmas / When there is only you / And nothing else to do”.
Prince – Another Lonely Christmas
Since you should listen to Prince every day, you shouldn’t skip him on Christmas of course. His Purple Highness’s sole Christmas song was originally released as a B-side in 1984, and it features the same reverb-soaked vocals and triumphantly romantic sound as Prince’s other Purple Rain-era material. Another Lonely Christmas is hard to find on the web, but it’s definitely worth searching for on your preferred streaming service or on iTunes.
Dirty Beaches – Merry Xmas Michael
Alex Zhang Hungtai is the mastermind behind the Dirty Beaches moniker and has been influenced by musical genres as diverse as rockabilly and ambient. Merry Xmas Michael features shimmering xylophone tones and an enigmatic sample of a female choir, but is more a vignette than a proper song. Put it on repeat the whole evening long, however, and unwrapping presents will become even more fun.
Eels – Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas
If you want to know what emotional and familial turmoil musician Mark Oliver Everett has already had to go through in his life, you should read his autobiography Things the Grandchildren Should Know. Luckily, he’s still able to create positive vibes with his band Eels. In the same vein as his uplifting singalongs Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living) and Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues, Everett composes an uncomplicated rock tune to remind everyone that everything will always be cool on Christmas.