Shake Up Your Holiday Playlist With These Christmas Songs For People That Don’t Like Christmas Music


For all the tradition, decor, and general rigamarole of the holiday season, there’s one thing that tends to irritate even diehard holiday lovers: The Christmas music. Starting every year mere hours after Halloween, for weeks on end our lives seem dominated by boring, predictable Christmas songs. From radio stations to mall PAs, Christmas music becomes impossible to escape, and considering it’s already a pretty stressful time of year, the rapidly increasing frequency of Mariah Carey’s catalogue can leave people leaning on their last nerve.

Of course, there’s a way to keep these overplayed standards from chipping away at your Christmas spirit (and your very soul). To provide you with some helpful alternatives, from punk anthems to hip hop classics, here’s a round-up of some of the best Christmas songs out there for people that don’t like Christmas songs.

Run DMC – “Christmas in Hollis”

It would make sense that the group that helped bring hip-hop to the mainstream would also be one of the first to bring Christmas music into hip-hop. Released as part of the A Very Special Christmas compilation put out by A&M records in 1987, a benefit album for the Special Olympics, the song became an instant smash hit, and has even been known to show up on the Billboard charts more than a decade after its initial release. When the group was first approached about doing a Christmas song, they initially refused, fearing it would trivialize hip-hop on a whole.

It wasn’t until producer Bill Adler floated the idea to deviate from the rest of the album and have them write and produce an original song instead. The music was sampled from Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa,” and Run DMC were free to reflect on the holiday season as they saw it. DMC told The AV Club in 2013 that he saw the song as an opportunity to bring reality into the holiday music, which he considered to be nothing but fantasy. “My story is what really happened in real life, about real people, and what it was like as a kid growing up.” For all these reasons, the song has proven itself year after year that you can take a fresh approach to Christmas music and still be considered a classic.

The Ramones – “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)”

“Where is Rudolph, where is Blitzen, baby?” asks frontman Joey Ramone is his signature punk-rock croon while the band’s trademark 4/4 downbeat tempo pulsates away in the background. Released on their 1989 album Brain Drain, “Merry Christmas” was written from the perspective of someone stuck in a bad relationship, but still clinging to the idea that they’ll be able to work everything out. An earnest, heartfelt plea that everyone should be able to step back during the holidays and truly appreciate what we have, and it manages to do so without so much as a hint of Christmas melody.

Eric Idle – F*ck Christmas

Monty Python alum and all-around master comedian Eric Idle manages to put what so many of us end up going through this time of year, wrap it up in a catchy melody, and deliver it in full, all in under two minutes. A succinct and fitting tribute to the holiday season that gives a voice to the the most taboo reactions to Christmastime, appropriately enough from the same guy who wrote “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.”

Low – “Just Like Christmas”

In 1999, the trio from Duluth, Minnesota released a holiday-themed album, Christmas, as a gift to their fans. Featuring five original tunes and three covers, the album turned some heads in the indie rock world, given that a band already pigeonholed for being practicing Mormons would release a collection of (mostly) secular holiday tunes. Not only that, but that the album would be so incredibly well done.

While Christmas highlights all the mopey, droney weirdness that Low does so well, (it came about when the band was amidst of a major creative turning point), its opening song, “Just Like Christmas,” stands out as a delightfully upbeat pop song musing about the band’s adventures touring Europe over the holidays. Singer Mimi Parker’s vocals are so infectious that you’ll even forgive the song’s use of sleigh bells during the chorus.

Clarence Carter – “Back Door Santa”

Of course, it wouldn’t be right to omit the song that Run DMC sampled for “Christmas in Hollis,” which also happens to be a Christmas song in its own right. Co-written and performed by blues sing Clarence Carter, “Back Door Santa” first appeared on a 1968 compilation album called Soul Christmas, but the seasonal favorite has been covered by artists like The Black Crowes and Jet over the years. Jon Bon Jovi even did a version on A Very Special Christmas, the same compilation that gave the world “Christmas in Hollis.”

A funky tune with swagger to spare, it has less to do with the holiday season than just about any other Christmas song out there, making it a welcome addition to any holiday playlist.

John Lennon – “Happy Xmas, War Is Over”

John Lennon’s seventh single released in the wake of The Beatles’ breakup, “Happy Xmas” was written as a protest song railing against the Vietnam War, but the song’s origins go back more than two years to a 1969 billboard campaign. That year, in the wake of their ‘Bed-Ins For Peace,’ Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono rented billboards in 12 major cities that read “WAR IS OVER — If You Want It. Happy Christmas from John & Yoko.” While he’d gained some media attention for those efforts, it wasn’t until the enormous success with his song “Imagine” that Lennon realized he had to slip in his political message “with a little bit of honey,” which lead to him writing the song.

It was recorded in October of 1971 with The Harlem Community Choir, and released on December 1st later that year. While “Happy Xmas” would end up getting absorbed into the holiday music lexicon over time, with artists such as diverse as Neil Simon, Sarah Maclachlan, and Maroon 5 all doing their own renditions for various holiday-themed compilation albums, it still stands as the culmination of Lennon’s radical, peace-loving politics that defined his public persona throughout the early 70s.

Wham! – “Last Christmas”

The pop duo Wham! was so beloved in 1984 that just them announcing they’d be doing a Christmas single generated enormous buzz in the U.K. While it never held the number one spot (it was kept out by the Pet Shop Boys cover of Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind”), but it regularly pops up on music charts across the globe around the holidays, and would become the U.K.’s biggest selling single, currently at around 1.6 million, that never hit that number one slot.

The song itself is an ode to the painful memories that come back like a reflex over the holidays, prompting one to remember where they in years prior. With that bittersweet reflection, however, comes the hope that this year, and the ones that come after, will be better than any that came before. That and a none-too-subtle nod at the longstanding Christmas tradition of re-gifting.

The Pogues – “Fairytale of New York”

Its origins are murky and disputed between band members, it spent two frustrating years being re-written and re-recorded, and co-writer Shane MacGowen at one point dismissed it a sloppy country/Irish ballad. But since its release in November of 1987, The Pogues min-epic has been referred to as “the true sound of Christmas“. The band’s then-producer Elvis Costello had suggested the song be named “Christmas In The Drunk Tank,” but the band rejected the idea, expecting to get some serious radio airplay out of it, so MacGowen titled it after J.P. Donleavy’s 1973 novel that his co-writer and bandmate, Jem Finer, had been reading at the time.

A perfect blend of the male/female Irish folk ditty, with a sweeping, broadway-like chorus, the song immediately became a smash hit, and is still regularly voted among one of the all-time best Christmas songs. In classic Pogues style, it’s a song that manages to at once be whimsical, danceable, and thoroughly heartbreaking, musing on notions of bitterness and a sense that life’s best days were already in the rearview mirror. Still, by the end, MacGowen’s distinctive refrain celebrating the Christmas day bells carries with it a quiver of optimism — or at the very least, a smirking acceptance of the life that still lies ahead.