Griff’s alternative Christmas playlist
Thanksgiving may have originated from a dinner between Pilgrims and Native Americans, and maybe there was a turkey somewhere in the mix, but in recent history, it’s turned into the day where you ask, “Can we listen to Christmas music yet?”
As soon as the calendar hits that last Thursday of November every year, the entire country becomes inundated with 24/7 Christmas music radio stations. It becomes non-stop “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Carol of the Bells,” you know, that really insane version by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and the dreaded “All I want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey. I enjoy Olivia Olson singing it in “Love Actually” but 12 times a night at the bar, and it starts to lose all meaning.
We wait all year to hear Christmas music, and it quickly overstays its welcome before Dec. 25 has even arrived. So here are a few alternative Christmas songs for when you need a break from sleigh bells and laughing all the way HA HA HA. Many of these have nothing to even do with Christmas but they invoke a certain nostalgic holiday feeling every time I hear them.
‘I Love You’
This song is originally an instrumental piece made by Paul Whiteman in 1923, but since then, many famous crooners have sung it such as Jack Haskell and Frank Sinatra. However, the version I’m most familiar with was featured in the 1954 movie “Stalag 17.”
We see a group of American Air Force POWs in a Nazi camp, celebrating Christmas the best they can. Neville Brand strums a make-shift washtub bass, Robert Strauss drunkenly sobs over pinups of his dream girl Betty Grable and all the other men grip each other’s hands and waists as they dance around the barracks. The funniest/saddest part is that barely anyone cracks a smile as they take part in this World War II sock-hop. This ditty is sweet, smooth and jazzy. Take a listen, or just go watch “Stalag 17.”
If bands were seasons, Bon Iver would surely be winter. Their first two albums scream snow, mountains and frozen lakes. They’re like if you took Robert Frost and gave him a guitar; that’s how winter they are.
I can’t tell you what this song means because it’s different for every person, but I can say that it will take you on a beautiful, emotional ride. The guitar keeps a steady finger pattern going while clarinets and saxophones chime in at crescendos like birds whistling back and forth to each other. Oh, and he does say “Christmas” at one point.
‘Oh! You Pretty Things’
David Bowie is my dude. We share a birthday, and from the first second I heard the epic guitar riff that opens “Ziggy Stardust,” I knew he going was going to stay with me forever. However, it’s pre-Ziggy I want to focus on for this next one. One year for Christmas, my brothers bought me two CDs. One was Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” and the other was Bowie’s “Hunky Dory.” No offense to Bob, but I played the hell out of “Hunky Dory” while Dylan stayed on the shelf most of the time.
Bowie’s clear vocals sing over a bouncy piano, building to the chorus where he starts shouting about the next wave of intelligent life on Earth. Homo-sapiens, you got us this far, but let homo-superior take it from here. Like “Changes” before it, “Oh! You Pretty Things” reminds us that we all can be better to one another.
Hey, look at that, an actual Christmas-themed song.
The Kinks’ “Father Christmas” is an awesome pop-rock song that does not get enough love. The last time I heard it was in an episode of “Bob’s Burgers,” but that makes sense because “Bob’s Burgers” always has great music.
It starts off with this dainty xylophone reminiscent of a bazillion other Christmas songs, but then there’s a hard cut to distorted guitars and driving snare drums. Ray Davies then goes into this hysterical story about working as a department store Santa who gets beat up by a bunch of poor kids looking for money, not toys. It’s a humorous look at the sad side of Christmas. Not everyone needs toys or high-tech gadgets. Some just need money for food or rent.
‘This Trinity’s Going to War’
This one is kind of goofy, but I’m a big “Futurama” fan and it does feature lyrics highlighting Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. During the first “Futurama” movie, “Bender’s Big Score,” Santa, who’s now a murderous robot, teams up with the Hanukkah Zombie (Mark Hamill) and Kwanzaa-Bot (Coolio) for a holiday hip-hop track. And despite all the characters representing holidays where you’re supposed to be kind and generous, the three are focused solely on blowing things up, especially the Hanukkah Zombie with his tie-fighter that’s been decked out with a menorah on top and Stars of David for wings.
‘If I can Dream’
Christmas has ended, but there’s still one thing left — New Year’s Eve — and I can’t think of a better person to end the year with than Elvis Presley. I love this song because it’s the epitome of “Thank God, this year is over. Let’s try to do better for this next one.”
Elvis delivers some of the most hopeful lyrics in recent history, singing as long as you have the strength to dream you can redeem your soul and fly. At the start, he’s singing in his iconic deep voice, and by the end, he’s screaming as if to say “stay strong, you took some punches and got knocked down, but you can get back up.” I’m always confused when this isn’t played right after the ball drops. Instead, we get “Auld Lang Syne,” which is a great Scottish tune, but honestly, who knows the lyrics to that thing? You get to “should auld acquaintance be forgotten” before you accidentally start singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
“If I Can Dream” is both a bittersweet closer and a shining glimpse at a new beginning.