We’ve all seen your ‘Alternative Christmas’ playlist, pal. Full of Sufjan Stevens, esoteric hip-hop selections and the obscure shit that have popped up when you Hail Mary-searched ‘Christmas’ on Spotify. Very worthy, very good …very basic.
Any chancing artist with bills to pay around December time and a thesaurus full of festivity can record an Xmas single, which means there’s frankly too many half-baked hits tenuously about tinsel and other lazy tropes. A truly ‘alternative’ Christmas playlist would evoke the spirit of the season without ever explicitly mentioning it….
Try these on for size...
Blur – For Tomorrow
There’ll be a theme of sleigh-bell percussion throughout this list, so get used to that as a default qualifier, but Blur went the extra-Yuletide mile with For Tomorrow’s wintery-strings-meets-parping-brass-section arrangement, a generous dose of “la la la”s, sombre lyrics about London being cold and a plea to stoically endure the miserableness of each day by clinging desperately to the ones closest to us, which, in many ways, is what Christmas is all about.
Hot Chocolate – I’ll Put You Together Again
A massive departure from their usual disco duties, Hot Chocolate’s Errol Brown leads this heartfelt weepy in a candlelit room, backed by an appropriately Christmassy choir clad in white and swaying through dry ice. It’s that perfect uplifting festive mix of mawkish sentimentality and genuinely affecting emotion, with Errol looking like he’s about to burst into tears at any moment at just how much he wants to put his damn loved ones together again.
The Smiths – Girlfriend In A Coma
He’d be mortified at the suggestion, but it’s a real shame Morrissey has never leant his beguilingly weird tenor – mournful and adenoidal in equal measure – to a straight up Christmas number. This depressing Smiths tune about an exasperating lover falling into a critical coma will have to do. Mostly because it’s got sleigh bells in the chorus.
Nas – Halftime
What happened to sleigh-bells in rap? They were everywhere for about six months between 1992 and 1993 but never better than Large Professor’s production here, where the bells run throughout while Nas raps about Seventies cop shows and prison shankings. Merry Christmas. Sam Diss
Arcade Fire – Intervention
Organs and tinkling xylophones, with a bit that has more than a whiff of Band Aid about it when the drums kick in. There’s also plenty of references to kings, soldiers and biblical shit – all good staples of the Christmas hit. Ignore the fact that it ends in Win Butler lamenting that he’s been consigned to the church, and that his family, his friendships and his love will all die.
ELO – Mr. Blue Sky
It’s a song written about the snowy Alps and has that kind of chugging Seventies vibe that bands like Slade fucking loved, and even has some Casio choral harmonies thrown in. You can just imagine it soundtracking a Sainsbury’s advert about a family coming together to do the big shop, the dad struggling with all his bags while his kids storm on ahead. Haha, silly dad, with his outdated stereotypes of masculinity and aforementioned heavy bags. Hope you enjoy the socks the kids bought you. Sam Diss
Temples – Certainty
If you’ve ever wondered what a mashup of Tame Impala and this specific song from the film ‘The Polar Express’ would sound like, it’s this.
Alanis Morissette – Thank U
I don’t know, the start definitely sounds Christmassy, like it’s being played by a nervous child on a plastic leccy keyboard for her Bucks Fizz-pissed family. Sam Diss
Little Mix – Love Me Like You
A pop hit that sounded so intrinsically Christmassy-without-being-about-Christmas, Little Mix recorded a special (yet entirely superfluous) ‘Christmas Mix’ version, where all they’ve done is added slightly more sleigh bells.
The Stooges – I Wanna Be Your Dog
Listen to those rocking sleigh bells. If Guy Ritchie ever turns his hand to Christmas fare, you can guarantee this’ll be straight on the soundtrack. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen are out tonight, and they’re coming to bash your head in, you fucking mug.
Beirut – Postcards From Italy
It’s impossible to listen to this tune and not be instantly transported to some knock-off German Christmas market, where you’ve somehow deluded yourself into thinking that your definitely-too-old-now nephew wants an ornate wooden drummer boy in his stocking and that £6 is an acceptable price to pay for a mug of lukewarm mulled wine.
Bruce Springsteen – Hungry Heart
Likewise, within seconds of pressing play on this effort from The Boss, and you’re in a six-aisle-long Christmas Eve queue at Tesco because you promised your mum you’d pick up the potatoes and then you forgot and now she’s going tonto and they only had this one puny bag left and you’re stuck behind some kid screaming himself horse because his dad won’t get him a remote controlled BB8. It’s forcing-yourself-to-grin-and-bear-it-through-the-rising-aneurysm muzak, and it’s 100 per cent Christmas.
Elvis Presley – Can’t Help Falling In Love With You
This might legitimately be one of my favourite ever songs. It’s sappy as fuck, possibly the most nakedly, unashamedly, on-the-nose piece of sap ever recorded, and yet Elvis somehow gets away with it. It’s three minutes of utterly serene sap. It’s definitely having-a-tender-sway-under-the-mistletoe appropriate, but it’s also a perfect accompaniment to lying on your sofa and patting your pigs-in-blankets-stuffed stomach with your eyes closed and a big dumb smug grin on your face.
Have a good one all.