We’ve combed the archives for obscurities, absurdities and re-interpretations of classics that explore the outer limits of the Holiday song institution.
Author: Paul Costianes
Playlist created by the 55 Cities team
Well, here we are, friends. Once more into the fray that is the end of year holiday cycle, being blasted by a nonstop barrage of Christmas music, lights, tv shows, and movies. The money milking machine of corporate marketing has been attached to the udders of your line of credit, attempting to drain the last few coins from your pocket and getting your kids hooked on fast food and commerce. Just another day in the Google-verse.
And how many times have we heard “It feels like Christmas decorations are put out earlier and earlier every year”? Yet, no matter how hard we try, the end of year Holidays breach our defenses and raise a flag of victory over the ramparts of our skepticism.
I have decided to stop fighting and go all in, to push hard against the onslaught and forge my own cozy, warm, wood paneled enclave of Christmas joy. Songs, decorations and elaborately planned dinners requiring hours of prep work and orchestration? Bring it on. Smuggling gifts into the house at all hours of the day and night, usually involving hiding gifts in ways that would make the characters of the HBO prison drama OZ proud? I prefer not to elaborate.
If you ARE tired of the usual run-up to the Christmas holiday that permeates the media, there is an interesting and strange alternate universe of holiday rituals and music resting at the edges of the Santa-sphere. This journey requires some searching, but you can be rewarded if you search hard enough. As a gift to our friends and readers, we at 55 Cities have done some of that legwork for you this year.
Submitted for your approval, here are a few of our favorites. Don’t forget to share yours in the comments below.
I. The “Alternative” Holiday Mascot
Tió de Nadal
Catalans celebrate Christmas a bit differently. Tio de Nadal is a character in Catalan Christmas mythology that involves a hollow log decorated with Christmas clothing and eyes, a nose and mouth. Beginning on December 8, the children will feed, cover the log with blankets and care for its general well-being. On Christmas Eve or Day, the kiddies are sent to another room to pray and warm sticks next to a fire. Upon completion, they place the rear end of Tió into the flames of a fireplace and proceed to beat the character with sticks while singing songs that command it to poop. If they did a good job caring for their Tió, the beating of the log will cause it to poop small treats, nuts, turróns, small toys, and perhaps most appropriately, dried figs.
Oh, Krampus. The horned goat-demon of middle Europe that rides with Santa and punishes naughty children by giving them lumps of coal, a bundle of birch reeds for whipping, or in some stories, skipping those intermediary steps and drowning them. He is the “bad” to Santa’s “good.” The Yin to Santa’s Yang. The Cash to Santa’s Tango. Cities across Europe, including Salzburg and Vienna, still celebrate the season by having people dress in horrifying costumes and remind children what can happen to them if they mess up and find themselves on the naughty list. In recent times, Krampus has received a pretty heavy push into the media, starring in several Christmas based horror flicks, so if you get tired of Miracle on 34th Street feel free to try one out.
II. The Obscure and Strange World of the Christmas Humorist
Ah, the Christmas humorist. Most people that were alive in the 80s have a love it or hate it relationship with the seminal hit “Grandma got run-over by a Reindeer.” Twangy and kitschy, it occupies a unique spot in music that is actually a huge part of genre, spearheaded by artists such as “Weird Al” Yankovich, Dr. Demento and a cornucopia of amazing weirdos that make great music hilarious. Several of these artists are featured in this month’s playlist, so be sure to check them out. Two stood out for us and are featured below, but many on the list are great, so click through to check out more about them.
El Vez is the Elvis inspired alter ego of Robert Lopez, a veteran of the 70s L.A. punk scene who now plays original and rock covers altered with Mexican influences while dressed in Elvis impersonator garb. His album Merry MEX-mas is a stellar work that reimagines classic Christmas songs and repositions them as social commentary. We’ve featured one song on this playlist, but I highly recommend checking out the entire album. He’s also got shows coming up in San Diego and Ft. Lauderdale over Christmas and New Year’s, so check him out if you’re in the area.
Yogi Yorgesson was the “comically exaggerated Swedish” alter ego of Harry Stewart, who was born in Tacoma, Washington to Norwegian parents. I’m not sure about the sensitivities of the Norway/Sweden relationship when it comes to “good natured ribbing,” but Yogi was basically a Swedish country simpleton who wore a sari and used a fish bowl as a crystal ball. Harry found a moderate amount of fame with this character and appeared on television shows, released albums and toured the country on the strength of this character. Some of the most enduring pieces of Harry’s work was due to his Christmas songs sung by Yogi, one of which is included in our playlist.
III. Christmas Sounds from the Underground
And that brings us to this month’s playlist. I was originally planning to skip posting anything related to the holidays, as it seemed contrived and well trodden territory that we weren’t sure how to approach. The turning point came when I was having a few drinks with friends and we were taking turns calling out holiday tunes on the Google speaker. As soon as I spoke the words “Ok Google, play Santa Claus and his Old Lady,” I knew that I would be going down an epically deep rabbit hole to the wonderland of Christmas flotsam.
The playlist features Holiday originals and classics across various genres and includes comedians, punk rockers and soul singers, rappers and metal gods, indie and classic rock royalty. I can guarantee that most of these songs will be different than what you can hear on your standard local radio and streaming services.
We hope that you enjoy listening and get a laugh out of it. As usual, check out more about the artists below by hitting the links in the tracklist and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!
- I’m A Christmas Tree – Wild Man Fischer feat. Dr. Demento
- Christmas in Hollis – Run-D.M.C.
- 8 Days (Of Hannukah) – Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
- Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
- Christmas Rappin’ – Kurtis Blow
- Father Christmas – The Kinks
- Merry Christmas Baby – Bruce Springsteen & The E. Street Band
- Santa Claus And His Old Lady – Cheech & Chong
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Ronnie James Dio
- I’ve Never Rapped About Hanukah – Richie Branson
- Christmas Is Going To The Dogs – Eels
- Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree – The Magnetic Fields
- Run Rudolph Run – Chuck Berry
- Must Be Santa – Bob Dylan
- Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer – Elmo & Patsy
- Back Door Santa – Clarence Carter
- Thank God It’s Not Christmas – Sparks
- I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas – Yogi Yorgesson
- Brown Christmas – El Vez
- Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Johnny Thunders
- Hey America – James Brown
- It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad! – Sufjan Stevens
- Donde Esta Santa Claus? – Augie Rios
- Christmas With The Devil – Spinal Tap
- Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto – Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg
- Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight) – Ramones
- Ramones Christmas – The Queers
- Merry Christmas – Wesley Willis
- The Twelve Days Of Christmas – Bob & Doug McKenzie
- All I Want for Ismas – Jacob Miller, Inner Circle
- No Presents for Christmas – King Diamond
- Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who’d Be A Turkey At Christmas) – Elton John
- Merry Something to You – DEVO
- The Hanukkah Song – Too $hort
- Fire – Santa Dog – The Residents
- Santa Claws Is Coming To Town – Alice Cooper
- Christmas at Ground Zero – “Weird Al’ Yankovic
- Expensive Shit – Fela Kuti
©2019 55 Cities
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