Non-sucky Christmas songs to take back your ears

December 16 |
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Wanted: Frosty the Snowman © by kevin dooley, used under Creative Commons license.

Scenario: I'm having a holiday party and need party-music-that-sounds-cool-but-also-wintry.

Scenario: My cube-mate's been playing Christmas tunes since Dec. 1. If I hear Mariah Carey sing All I Want for Christmas is You once more I will snap. I'd like to take over the airwaves with my own mix for a day — what's a good list to work from?

Scenario: I JUST LOVE CHRISTMAS SONGSSS!

Offbeat Home has solutions to all the scenarios — songs to stream and songs to buy that are full of jinglebells.

Albums I love

Snoopy vs. the Red Baron is still my family's traditional Christmas record. It's a faux radio drama telling the tale of Snoopy's Christmas truce with the Red Baron. $9.49 on Amazon.

The Maybe This Christmas albums got me through working retail at Christmas time. Full of Death Cab and Ben Folds songs, it's definitely not traditional holiday music.

Stream for free

Rhapsody has a fantastic playlist called Indie Winter Wonderland — and they offer a free trial, so it's perfect for seasonal listening.

Rdio also offers a free trial. I made a playlist we can share and collaborate on. Cool, yeah? It kicks off with Thistle Hair the Christmas Bear, a totally bizarre Christmas song about a bear who gets in the holiday spirit. From there it's got a mix of stuff I hope you will like!

If you have an Rdio account, feel free to collaborate on the playlist — and pop any suggestions you'd like into the comments.

  1. I made a mix back in high school called "Non-Crappy Christmas Music." I still bust it out on vacation. Fave? "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues.

    I also love listening to classic recordings of Christmas standards (think Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.) which are generally more tolerable than their pop counterparts.

    5 agree
    • My absolute favorite version of Jingle Bells is Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.

      I call it Bingle Bells.

      4 agree
    • Fairy Tale in New York is my favourite! I also am in love with "The Pause of Mr. Claus" by Arlo Guthrie. My dad sang it every Christmas when I was growing up.

      0 agree
  2. I used last.fm for christmas music for a bit, but there was a lot of crap to wade through. I hear pandora is good for finding specific vibes of christmas tunes.

    0 agree
  3. Oh, Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses is a super must (my favorite Christmas song, EVER). Also, Natalie Merchants song Children Go Where I Send Thee is awesome, off of the "A Very Special Christmas, vol. 3" album (the entire album is great). And Robert Earl Keene's Merry Christmas from the Family is another one I love.

    4 agree
  4. Pandora's "indie holiday" station plays a pretty good mix as well!

    As for albums I'm loving Rev Horton Heat's We Three Kings and any of the Brian Setzer Orchestra xmas discs!

    4 agree
  5. The only Christmas music I like is classic stuff from Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. Because those Christmas songs sound like how they were meant to sound.

    All the pop stuff and modern stuff just sounds annoying. The only current song that I like is The Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman/We Three Kings". It's got a very Canadian Folk-y tune.

    5 agree
  6. We just discovered and are enjoying the Zooey Deschanel Xmas album "She and Him" and I love the 80's new wave xmas stuff like the waitresses and band-aid and wham! (yes i am old)

    0 agree
    • I love the She and Him Christmas album! So good.

      1 agrees
  7. The best xmas albums are Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas. Hands down.

    5 agree
  8. A few different suggestions with a few different vibes:

    There is the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. That tends to be fairly non-offensive. Same goes for The Nutcracker.

    My own personal fave from childhood to now is John Denver with the Muppets: A Christmas Together. Seriously, we had this on record, then cassette, then CD. Really, any of the Muppet holiday songs are fine by me (soundtrack to Muppet Christmas Carol or Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, e.g.)

    Loreena McKennitt has at least two holiday/winter CD's for a sort of new-agey feel. Most of the songs are traditional carols.

    I like the Josh Groban Christmas album, but I am guessing you have probably heard a lot of it if your co-workers have been playing holiday tunes since the first.

    There is a three-disc industrial/Goth holiday album called Excelsis featuring many artists and songs. But since it's for an office party, know your audience.

    For individual songs there is "The Christians and the Pagans" by Dar Williams (again, know your audience), "Atheist Christmas Carol" by Vienna Teng, "Candlelight and Mistletoe" by Mary Beth Maziarz, "Mistletoe" by Colbie Caillat," and though it does get a fair amount of airtime, I do dig David Bowie and Bing Crosby's "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth."

    Good luck!

    3 agree
  9. Sufjan Stevens put out a multi-disc Christmas album (Songs for Christmas) a few years ago that has fun, indie versions of traditional Christmas songs, but also a bunch of original Christmas songs. It's the only Chistmasy album I listen to.

    3 agree
    • Second Sufjan Stevens. I'm loving it. Though i'm going to check out the She and him suggestion up thread too.

      1 agrees
    • Listening to this album right now — it is truly the best.

      0 agree
  10. Chiron Beta Prime by Jonathon Coulton… Any Christmas song that includes soylent green has to be good, right?

    4 agree
  11. I second Pandora's Indie Holiday station…currently I'm really into the Electronic Holidays Pandora station and I'm going to play that at our party tomorrow…it's nice background music that isn't overtly religious (mostly because there aren't many lyrics to be heard, hence Electronic…)

    1 agrees
    • omg, thank you so much for pointing out to me that Pandora has holiday stations. I have been listening to the Electronic one all morning since I read this. :) Cheers!

      0 agree
  12. I grew up listening to Johnny Mathis, choral music, and Peter, Paul and Mary every Christmas and those are still the versions that get me in the mood for the holidays… I think my brain has been rewired to accept only those versions; there are very, very few modern interpretations I like. Although I do miss living in Orlando, FL where El Burrito de Belen was played over and over around the Christmas time. What's up with that, Albuquerque?

    0 agree
  13. My current favourite Christmas song is "White wine in the sun" by Tim Minchin, although I really don't think you can beat a bit of Bing Crosby or Dean Martin!

    3 agree
    • "White wine" makes me cry. Reliably. In London or Noosa!

      2 agree
  14. KLEZMONAUTZ! Their album "Oy to the World" works well for my Jewish/Christian/Unitarian Universalist/Athiest family. Klezmer versions of popular Christmas tunes. It's awesome.

    0 agree
  15. Pandora's Bluegrass Christmas or Bluegrass Holiday channel is GREAT!!

    0 agree
  16. I'll second the rec. for the Pogues' 'Fairytale of New York'. My absolute favourite Christmas song ever. On the slightly subversive, know your audience, side, I like 'A Christmas Song', by Jethro Tull, and 'The Rebel Jesus', by Jackson Browne (I'm particularly fond of the version with the Chieftains).
    For instrumentals, 'We Five Kings' by Jethro Tull, and 'The Bells of Dublin' or 'Christmas Reel' by the Chieftains. In fact, any Christmas songs from those two groups.

    2 agree
  17. I like Elvis' christmas songs. And The Ramones. The old jazzy classic Chrismas songs are the best, as well as Charlie Brown christmas. Reliant K also has a pretty good christmas album if you like the alternative sound.

    0 agree
  18. The soundtrack from the Nightmare Before Christmas :) How can you not love "What's This?"

    3 agree
  19. Bright Eyes did a Christmas album.
    No, really. It's awesome for relaxed slightly downbeat music at Christmas.

    Also, i love the new Glee Christmas album but i might be biased by my general love of Glee. XD

    0 agree
  20. A website called The Line of Best Fit puts out annual Christmas albums called "Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada." It's mostly indie Canadian bands singing non-traditional tunes.

    0 agree
  21. I recommend, personally, the many Christmas songs recorded by Ella Fitzgerald. Not annoying, timeless classics and sung by the great Ella, so you know the singer'll be good.

    The only downside is that sometimes it makes your home feel like a Starbucks.

    0 agree
  22. I'm not really answering your question at all… but, but, I just got so excited about good Christmas songs and wanted to say that White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin is amazing. My fave for Chrissy.

    3 agree
  23. Los Straightjackets have two surf-rock Christmas albums that are a lot of fun.

    0 agree
  24. OMG! I worked at Tower Records back in 2005 and that Christmas I played the Maybe This Christmas Tree disc so many times that my boss sent me home with it and told me never to play it in the store again. Shorty thereafter it disappeared and I forgot the name of the album… Until today when I saw this post and my day was made! THANK YOU!

    0 agree
    • This is my friend Mike's definitely non-sucky Christmas album. Free download.

      I especially like the original song "Prince of Peace" which features the lyrics "he compared his father to a mother hen, so why we denyin' gay rights again? pave the way for the prince of peace. the messiah has come, join the wedding feast. tell your father, your daughter, your cousin, your beast, pave the way for the prince of peace."

      http://miafrate.bandcamp.com/album/happy-xmas-x-is-here

      0 agree
  25. One Christmas Catalogue by Captain Sensible is sooooo good. By far my favorite. It's a little wacky, but in a great way.

    0 agree
  26. Punk rock Christmas songs are so fun!!! Really, do not be turned off by the word "punk" thinking it means something, well, stereotypical. I, personally, love punk rock. I'm an original punk rock girl. But, even my Phish-lovin' son thinks these songs are a hoot.

    http://www.punk-christmas.com/

    And it's all freeeeee! Every day is a new song!

    0 agree
  27. Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses is probably one of my all-time favs of the season.

    2 agree
  28. I can't be the only person obsessed with the Elf soundtack!? I'm starting to feel a little sad for my neighbours. :D

    0 agree
  29. I got so excited by the Rhapsody link at first, thinking it was the band Rhapsody of Fire. I loves me some power metal! If you do too, try Tarja. She's a Finnish classically-trained soprano who used to front Nightwish, a power metal group. Her first solo album, Henkäys Ikuisuudesta, has some amazing Christmas songs on it.

    0 agree
    • Oooo ooo! you might like Raskasta Joulua – it's an album you can get on Amazon (although it may be something else – everything I can find on it is in Finnish). But basically it's Finnish and traditional Christmas songs in power metal form. :)

      0 agree
  30. I've been wearing out a four disc compilation jazz album this year. It's called "Baby It's Cold Outside – Smooth Jazz for a Cozy Evening". Featuring Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Billy Holiday, Ricky May and 30+ more, it's great all year round but but perfect for the holidays.

    I also love "A Very Ally Christmas" – Vonda Shepard's holiday soundtrack for Ally McBeal featuring various artists.

    I mixed songs from both of these with Beegie Adair's Christmas Jazz album for my work holiday function and it was a hit!

    0 agree
  31. Reverend Horton Heat has a Christmas album (We Three Kings)- this grinchy atheist ADORES it.

    0 agree
  32. I vote for Bing Crosby, Mannheim Steamroller, and Trans Siberian Orchestra. Hubby and I actually get to see Mannheim in concert this Christmas, something we've wanted to do for years! Their music gives me chills.

    0 agree
  33. Enya has a lovely winter/Christmas album: And Winter Came. It's very Enya-ish, but in a christmas/snowy way. It's really lovely! And might be good for background music.

    0 agree
  34. I search out new Christmas songs each year. I build my own CD's full of the songs I love. Occasionally I find a really amazing version of a song I used to dislike/hate ex. Sarah McLachlan's version of "What Child is This" or "Jingle Bell Rock" by Thousand Foot Krutch. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (live action) soundtrack has some pretty fun Holiday songs. You can also search Punk Goes Christmas on Youtube and find two fan made CDs. If you are looking for more traditional fare with new flare, Reliant K's album "Let It Snow…" is a wonderful choice. If you need anymore ideas email me, I have 6 CD mixes so far, I'm sure we can find somethings

    0 agree
  35. I bought this album last year and was not disappointed^^ The last "song" is creepy Phil Spector talking, but other than that it's a pretty great oldies twist on Christmas classics~!

    0 agree
  36. Two additional suggestions that are hits in our household/yearly 4 hour Christmas commute between our parents houses:
    -Blind Boys of Alabama: Go Tell It on the Mountain is pretty religious, but very soulful and just unique. Very fun!
    -Christmas Grass is a compilation of Blue Grass Christmas covers. It is AWESOME! Everyone I've played it for loves it.

    0 agree
  37. Slacker radio used to have a Dysfunctional Christmas station but that seems to have been replaced by Eclectic Christmas & Hipster Christmas and both are pretty great.

    0 agree

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