The Alternative Christmas Top 20

I once got into an argument with someone over whether or not Die Hard was a Christmas film. I made the compelling case that, because it has Christmas songs in it, because it snows and because, oh, it takes place at god damn Christmas that it must, in fact, be a Christmas film.

I used that same impenetrable logic when compiling this list, featuring Christmas tunes by lesser known artists; covers of classics I consider superior to the original; and songs that have ‘Christmas’ somewhere in the title and therefore totally count.

Because, as much as I love hearing Jona Lewie on Primark FM fifty times a year, a little variety never goes amiss.

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I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

I didn’t even realise how much I wanted a hippo until I heard this song, but it did strike a personal chord with me, as I’ve been asking my Mum to buy me Hungry, Hungry Hippos every Christmas for the last twenty years.

Sadly, as of Christmas 2011, I am yet to receive even one hippo; Hungry, Hungry or otherwise.

Soon After Christmas

Apparently it’s a common misconception that suicide rates skyrocket during the Christmas season. My Sociology lecturer explained that you’re far more likely to top yourself during the Summer because that’s when you see people out in the sun, laughing and having fun, as opposed to the Winter months when everyone is cold and miserable and hiding indoors for four months.

So, now that I’ve got you in the mood for a party, why not let this song from the delightfully dour Stina Nordenstam make a valiant effort to turn you into a New Year’s statistic.

Merry Fucking Christmas

Whereas Seth MacFarlane is content to awkwardly shoe-horn showtunes into every single episode of Family Guy, whether the situation merited it or not, South Park only ever drops the occasional musical number into an episode and, better stilll, they generally remember to make them funny, too.

This came from the same episode as Kyle’s ‘Lonely Jew at Christmas’ song, but since I’ve already lowered the mood with Stina Nordenstam, I thought Mr Garrisson hyperactively insulting everyone on the planet would be more in keeping with the whole Christmas joy thing.

It’s Clichéd to be Cynical at Christmas

Half Man Half Biscuit are a criminally unappreciated band, due in no small part to the fact that, while bands like The Smiths and Joy Division were defining a generation, HMHB were writing songs called ‘The Trumpton Riots’ and ‘National Shite Day’.

They’ve written some great songs, though, (including the two I just mentioned,) and their Christmas tune is a thoroughly enjoyable stab at those morose arseholes who can’t enjoy anything; the kind of people who spend Valentine’s Day telling everyone else how ‘manufactured and commercial’ it is.

Well, just because the only thing Santa brings you every year is more loneliness doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for the rest of us.

Meli Kuliki Maka (KT Tunstall Version)

I would do things to KT Tunstall that really don’t bear mentioning on a list of Christmas songs…all I’m saying is the fallout from my sexual warfare would mean the only thing I got for Christmas would be life without parole.

My dark desires aside, this is easily one of my favourite Christmas songs of all time: it’s impossible to not feel happy when listening to it and I defy you to give me a single example of a time when a kazoo solo hasn’t instantly improved a song.

Juunigatsu no Love Song

This would get me lynched on several of the forums I used to frequent, but Gackt is essentially Japan’s answer to Cliff Richard: a talented musician that now refuses to grow old and routinely embarrasses himself by acting like a much younger man.

In Gackt’s defense, however, he is an immensely talented performer (proficient in several instruments and the art of homo-erotic dance) and was so pleased with his Christmas tune –which I understand translates into the creatively titled ‘December Love Song’– that he has since re-recorded (and re-released) it in three other languages.

I Do Dear, I Do

This song is the main reason I had to explain my Die Hard Criteria in the opening paragraph, because if it wasn’t for the fact that it mentions Christmas, there would be very little to distinguish between ‘I Do Dear, I Do’ and any of Nick Cave’s other extracts from Tales from the Heroin Dealer.

River

This is fast becoming less of an alternative top 20 and more of a desperate cry for help, but if Joni Mitchell is good enough for forty-year-old women stinking of gin and wet mascara then, by God, it’s good enough for me.

This is another one that –despite the ‘Jingle Bells’ intro– only really makes the cut because the first line mentions Christmas.

Thank God it’s Not Christmas

Not content with creating one of the most under-appreciated albums ever made, Sparks even saw fit to include a festive number on their 1974 album, Kimono My House, (which also features ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us’; also known as ‘the only reason anyone remembers who Sparks are.’)

One of my favourite things about Sparks is Ron Mael’s incredible talent for hiding incredibly depressing lyrics behind jovial tunes: as far as I can work out, ‘Thank God it’s Not Christmas’ is about a man who goes out drinking every night in a desperate attempt to have an affair so he doesn’t have to return home to his hatchet-faced wife.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Don’t Cry, it’s Christmas

Most fans of Ricky Gervais are probably aware of his foray into music during the eighties, and also that he was bewilderingly handsome at the time; provided you’re into hundred-pound ladyboys. As a genuine fan of Seona Dancing, I’m a little bit disappointed he never really carried on making music, since he was just as good at that as he seems to be at everything else, but he was kind enough to pen this Christmas tune for his XFM show back in the early noughties, which also got an acoustic reprise on the Christmas edition of The Ricky Gervais Show podcast.

This is one of my favourite songs to play at Christmas because people genuinely believe it’s a tender lullaby until the last verse or so.

All I Want for Christmas is You (My Chemical Romance Version)

Whatever your feelings about the patron saints of emo knobheads everywhere, you can’t deny that MCR are masters when it comes to cutting a catchy chorus. This version of ‘All I Want for Christmas’ has been a Christmas staple of mine for years, now; perfectly blending their trademark sing-along charm with one of those songs that you always thought would be better if that stupid cow Mariah Carey didn’t warble over them.

Must be Santa

I’m sure you all remember a few years ago when, in an attempt to stick it to the man, idiots all across the country bought Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name of’ off of iTunes, taking it to Christmas number one instead of the X Factor single. Because nothing says anti-establishment like blind consumerism.

One of the many problems I had with this stupid plan was the fact that, in a hurry to prove a point to no one at all, the movement completely ignored the fact that several credible artists had released Christmas songs that year, including Bob Dylan; pretty much the musical godfather of anti-establishment.

It didn’t hurt that Must be Santa is a fantastic song, either, and it would have made so much more sense than buying the single of a largely irrelevant 90’s band to try and upset Simon Cowell, whom I would remind you still has so much money he could buy the moon and crash it into the Earth for a laugh.

I Won’t be Home for Christmas

Long before they realised how lucrative the angsty teenager market could be and started wearing make-up like big girls, Blink 182 were better known for writing such thought-provoking classics as ‘I Wanna Fuck a Dog (in the Ass)’ and ‘Happy Holidays, You Bastard’, the latter of which could probably have featured on this list if I didn’t much prefer ‘I Won’t Be Home for Christmas’.

It now serves as a depressing reminder that Blink 182 used to have a sense of humour, before they started crying about ex-girlfriends and stalking Robert Smith.

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

For the uninitiated, Tom Waits is the go-to for anyone who finds Nick Cave’s work too optimistic. This is the most tenuously linked song on the list because –aside from having Christmas in the title– it actually has nothing to do with the season and doesn’t even sound particularly festive.

It sounds like what Billy Joel would write if he wanted to tell his audience he hated them.

What’s This

I remember a time before it was fashionable to be an outcast and before the term ‘cult movie/band/book’ lost all its meaning, when I used to come home from school and watch The Nightmare Before Christmas. Every day. For months.

That was all before geek-chic and the great goth extinction (which scientists can still only speculate was around about 2004) moved the goalposts about and, while I remain bitter about all these johnny come latelys muscling in on the things I love, at least it means songs like ‘What’s This’ can now appear in TK Maxx adverts.

I guess that’s a good thing?

Lonely This Christmas

Not content with both looking and sounding like Elvis, Mud decided that their Christmas offering would not sound out of place on one of the literally hundreds of Elvis Christmas albums.
This lament to a lost love is the ideal song for that specific time of the evening on Christmas day: after everyone else has gone home and you’re left with cold turkey, warm gin and crushing anxiety.

I once saw an old man singing this in a pub for the Christmas karaoke. I’m almost certain he didn’t see the New Year.

I Wish it was Christmas Today

If you asked me to write up a list of ten musicians I’d like to go for a pint with, it would probably be Julian Casablancas and then Matt Bellamy nine times. He’s the classic kind of rock star that’s in short supply these days; the kind of man that would look effortlessly cool riding a Segway, literally the stupidest form of transport ever invented.

This makes it even more of a mystery, then, why people again decided Rage Against the Machine made more sense to take the Christmas number one slot than an actual Christmas song by an alternative act. I don’t know, maybe I just don’t understand how being an armchair rebel works. Do you get a free pamphlet with your Che Guevara poster, or something?

Another Rock n Roll Christmas

For reasons that elude me, Gary Glitter’s back catalogue has fallen from public favour in recent years, which is a shame because this is a veritable sing-along classic; deserving of a place alongside Slade, Wizzard and all the rest.

The only downside is I can’t listen to it anymore because I’m only three or four houses up from a school, now, and I don’t believe in the whole hiding-in-plain-sight thing.

(Bonus Punchline: Apparently this song was taken from the album, ‘Boys Will Be Boys’…presumably sub-titled, ‘Girls will be six and under.’)

Last Christmas (Manic Street Preachers Version)

Much like Johnny Cash performed the definitive version of ‘Hurt’, the Manics crafted a version of ‘Last Christmas’ that treated the miserable lyrics with the reverence they deserved. For best effect, I recommend staring out a snow-covered window and drinking mulled wine while listening.

Phoning up your ex and threatening to burn her house down is optional.

Fairytale of New York

Before anyone cries ‘cop-out’ I’d just like to remind you all that, with ‘Fairytale of New York’, Shane MacGowan somehow managed to get a Christmas song into the mainstream that features the line, ‘you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap, lousy faggot’.

It doesn’t get much more alternative than that.

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