It’s one of life’s ironic twists that Christmas songs tend to be so polarising. No one seems to have a neutral stance when it comes to the inescapable seasonal standards – you either love them or hate them. But, even if you love them, hearing “fa la la la la” every day for a whole month can be enough to drive you up the wall!
So, for those who find the inevitable invasion of festive favourites somewhat painful, here’s a shortlist of seasonally appropriate songs holiday tunes that won’t make you cringe.
1. Ramones | “Danny Says”
This deceptively simple bop actually paints a very detailed picture. So, the story goes: The Ramones were staying at the Tropicana Motel in Los Angeles in December of 1980 while recording, End Of The Century. Joey Ramone was sharing with Arturo Vega – the punk rock graphic designer who created the band’s iconic logo – in room 100 B, "Listening to Sheena on the radio" – a single from the Ramones’ previous album, 1977’s Rocket To Russia – and penning a love letter to his girlfriend, Linda Daniele, about missing her and New York at Christmas time.
Little did Joey know; he was immortalizing a very important moment because by next Christmas Linda Daniele would be Johnny Ramones’ girlfriend and surely his gloomy holiday rhetoric would never sound so sweet or innocent again.
2. Joni Mitchell | “River”
Joni Mitchell’s heart-wrenching Christmas classic “River” is one of those sombre, backhanded reminders to buck up, because, whatever it is that’s got you feeling blue, almost certainly can’t be as bad whatever Joni was channeling to make the “Jingle Bells” melody sound so damned haunting.
“We needed a sad Christmas song, didn’t we?” Mitchell said with a chuckle on NPR in 2014. “In the ‘bah humbug’ of it all.”
3. Tom Waits | “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” [Australian TV 1979]
This Tom Waits Christmas song reads like the notes of tortured bar fly, while somehow retaining an air of Yuletide optimism – a wonderfully dark and cynical, Charles Bukowski brand of optimism that makes you feel 110% better about yourself just for knowing where you were when you woke up this morning.
4. The Pretenders | “2000 Miles”
When it comes to penning a potential folk-rock classic, simple is often best. With nothing more than Robbie McIntosh’s three-chord guitar arpeggio, Chrissie Hynde’s compelling voice and a tale of hope on the horizon, “2000 Miles” makes you feel like somehow everything’s going to be just fine the instant starts.
5. RUN DMC | “Christmas In Hollis”
Is this not just the most wholesome thing you’ve ever seen?
In 1987, Run-DMC was invited to contribute a holiday song to a charity compilation titled A Very Special Christmas, benefiting the Special Olympics. Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Whitney Houston and other artists all recorded covers, but the rap trio went the extra mile and came up with this fun, funky and surprisingly festive tribute to their hometown New York neighbourhood, Hollis, Queens, titled, “Christmas in Hollis.”
The video was directed by Michael Holman with cinematography by Mark Richardson, both NYU film students at the time, and features a cameo appearance by Bannah McDaniels, DMC's adoptive mother. "Christmas in Hollis" went on to win Rolling Stone's Best Video of the Year award in 1987, beating out Michael Jackson's "Bad" directed by Martin Scorsese.
6. The Pogues | “Fairytale Of New York” [feat. Kirsty MacColl]
Originally begun in 1985, The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” spent a troubled two-years in development, entirely fitting to the story within it that depicts an Irish immigrant's Christmas Eve musing, as he reflects on holidays past while sleeping off a binge in a New York City drunk tank.
In the UK, "Fairytale of New York" has become one of the most-played Christmas songs of the 21st century. The fact that a brusque folk-punk band produced an enduring Christmas classic that was once voted ‘The Nation's Favourite Christmas Song’ is what Christmas miracles are all about.
Listen to The Pogues’ Fairytale Of New York on Spotify:
Listen to The Pogues’ Fairytale Of New York on Apple Music: