Don’t get me wrong, I dig Bing Crosby and Dean Martin when it comes time to play Christmas music. But I get enough of that when I go to my mom’s house for beef tenderloin on Christmas Eve.
When I’m putting up the lights at home or baking Christmas cookies, I need something a little more rocking, a little more different.
And let’s be clear: I’m totally indulging in the music writer faux pas of using “indie” as a genre. I think you know that by “indie rock” I generally mean “alternative.” Let’s just say some of the stuff on my list comes from major labels (read: It ain’t indie) but all of it falls outside of what would be considered traditional Christmas music.
This Christmas, rock these 15 tunes, the best indie-styled Xmas songs around at your party. Or better yet, commandeer the stereo at the family gathering this year and introduce everyone to something new.
Frightened Rabbit, “She Screams Christmas”
Another heart break song from Frightened Rabbit, “She Screams Christmas” is all about the pain that can come with the holidays and the bad memories of the past that can be conjured up simply by living through another season.
Sufjan Stevens, “Happy Family Christmas”
Ever notice how Christmas season can be really stressful even though you’re supposed to be spending it with people you love? Yeah, us too. And Sufjan Stevens, too. This song expresses what we all want: A stress-free holiday season.
Bright Eyes, “Blue Christmas”
The best version of the song since Elvis himself released his in 1957, this “Blue Christmas” fits right in with the Bright Eyes ouvre. I once saw Conor Oberst perform the song with his father playing guitar and I must say it’s one of my favorite Christmas memories. (Musically speaking, anyway.)
She & Him, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”
This duo is at their best when M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel are both in the mix. And this version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” does just that with the sung conversation between the two. Add in that they reverse the traditional gender roles in this tune, and this is the best version of this tune since Dean Martin tried to convince Marilyn Maxwell to stay in with him.
Best Coast & Wavves, “Got Something For You”
There’s not much more here than a Christmas tune about the joy of getting something nice for your special someone. And, of course, it’s done in that simple, endearing Best Coast/Wavves sunny garage rock style, which fits the song perfectly.
Weezer, “O Come All Ye Faithful”
When you think “Christmas music,” your mind probably plays classical arrangements and not power-pop. Weezer’s excellent “Christmas with Weezer” EP should be a staple. It is in my house.
Deer Tick, “Christmas All Summer Long”
Who said we have to combine chestnuts, Santa Claus and cookies with egg nog and sitting around the fire place? In “Christmas All Summer Long,” Deer Tick couples the holiday season with lemonade, Labor Day and a rocking riff worthy of Chuck Berry. And as John McCauley growls in the tune, “Who needs a reason?”
My Morning Jacket, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (feat. The Head and The Heart)
Jim James & Co. do a pretty straightforward take on the classic with sweet piano melody, James’ light howl and some rather gorgeous harmonies from The Head and The Heart.
Julian Casablancas, “Christmas Treat”
This one is a cover of a classic SNL sketch (classic for me, anyway), but the fact that The Strokes frontman actually produced a professional version of the song is wonderful to me. (Watch the original and a recent update.)
Neko Case, “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis”
Case’s cover of the Tom Waits isn’t exactly a celebratory tune in the vein of other holiday favorites, but it is an interesting portrait of life at Christmas for someone living a very hard life. It’s touching and even moreso with Case’s very simple, but powerful, vocal.
They Might Be Giants, “Santa’s Beard”
A sort of update on seeing mama kissing Santa Claus, there’s a lot of jealousy in this tune about a man, his wife and a friend who dresses up as Mr. Claus. You can’t blame the guy for saying, “I don’t like that fat guy around.”
The Pogues, “Fairytale of New York”
There’s no better way to ease off a three-day drunk than to revel in the Christmas spirit. And, of course, to bicker with your lady friend. But even those crushed by booze and hard lives can still enjoy Christmas.
Sufjan Stevens, “Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance”
Yes, the King of Indie Rock Christmas gets two songs on this list. Because he’s king. And because he has put out more Christmas music than probably anyone else ever. This one’s all about real-life Christmas celebrating up to and including gifts from your aunt and uncle and your sister cutting her own bangs.
Death Cab For Cutie, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
The Darlene Love version is famous, and Death Cab captures the Love’s longing for her baby to just be home for the holidays.
The Kinks, “Father Christmas”
Ever wanted to kick the crap out of a department store Santa and take all of his money? In this tune by The Kinks, that’s exactly what happens. Toys aren’t worth as much to the kids as cash. (Or, as one kid asks, a job for his dad, who’s been out of work for awhile.)
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Got a favorite that didn’t make the list? Leave a comment and I’ll add it to the playlist.