If you’re like us, come this time December, you’re about ready to strangle Bing Crosby. And Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Burl Ives, Brenda Lee, The Beach Boys, U2, John Lennon, The Pogues and Wham. (Especially Wham.)
Don’t get us wrong, we love their iconic holiday tunes. They’re classics, and rightfully so. But that doesn’t mean we want to hear those same 12 songs blaring from car radios and store speakers every hour upon the hour starting Thanksgiving.
So this year, to save us from mind-numbing tears, we decided to create an alternative holiday playlist. And who better to turn to for ideas than Asheville's own resident experts — local musicans? With their help, we compiled a list of their favorite, more obscure Christmas songs, the ones that most people probably haven’t heard of, but everyone should add to their playlist for any good holiday party.
Andy Herod (Electric Owls)
My favorite obscure holiday track would have to be Low's version of "Blue Christmas.” I bought a 7-inch of it years ago and wore it out as I cut myself just to feel something. OK, I didn't do the second thing. But if I did, this would be the song playing in the background. For sure.
Ralph Lewis (Sons of Ralph)
The Bill Monroe/Tex Logan song "Christmas Time’s A-Comin'" is one that brings back memories of a Grand Ol’ Opry Christmas show we did, where Dolly Parton came out on stage and surprised Bill Monroe and us to sing a verse!
Galen Kipar(Galen Kipar Project)
“White Christmas” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, from the album, Destiny: Rare Ska Sides from Studio One. Bob Marley reminds me of those warm summer days on a sailboat and it is damn cold right now. The other reason is, this is the last song I would ever expect them cover. He probably sold part of his soul agreeing to that one, but who knows, maybe he ironically had a special place in his heart for Christmas songs.
Juan Holladay (The Secret B-Sides)
“Christmas Laughing Waltz” by Imagene Peise (secretly the Flaming Lips), from the rare album Atlas Eets Christmas. This song is beautiful and eerie, yet retains the warm, toasty, frosted wonderland feel of 1950s Christmas jazz.
Greg Cartwright (Reigning Sound, The Parting Gifts)
The Harlem Children's Choir “Black Christmas” [off the holiday compilation album In The Christmas Groove].
Seth Kauffman (Floating Action)
“For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” by Handel, is one of the funkiest, bangin’ melodies ever. The whole Messiah, famous as it is, I believe is still underrated. It's insane. Each measure could stand alone as a whole hit album now. Sends songwriters back to pumping gas.
Chris Lee (Kovacs and the Polar Bear)
I know this is extremely obscure, but Seth Kauffman and Brian Landrum from Floating Action have a Christmas album they recorded under the name The Advent Family, and it's incredible.
Charles R. Humphrey III (Steep Canyon Rangers)
Hayes Carll’s “Grateful For Christmas,” off of his album KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories). It is awesome!
Jonathan Scales (Jonathan Scales Fourchestra)
“Sleigh Ride" arranged by Bela Fleck & the Flecktones. Not a surprising choice, if you know me. For a Christmas arrangement, it's pretty badass and balls to the wall. I listen to that recording periodically throughout the year because its awesomeness transcends the season.
Jesse Langlais (Town Mountain)
This may not be my favorite Christmas song but certainly obscure, funny and great: “Christmas In Prison,” John Prine.
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
As evidenced by Saki’s (aka MC Fireworks) guest-singing at the Mountain Xpress Best of Bash, our family fave is "Oh Shit it's Christmastime" by Asheville's The Mad Tea. It's awesome, it's local and it's far from sugary sweet.
Jason Smith (Night's Bright Colors)
I would have to say my favorite obscure Christmas song (the one I put on every mixtape) would have to be Mark Kozelek's [Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon] "Little Drummer Boy," from the live collection he put out a few years ago of the same name. Just him and an acoustic guitar and his trademark unbearably beautiful melancholy. On the version I have, he starts it, and you can actually hear the hipster crowd chuckle a little bit, like they are not sure if he's being serious or ironic. Two minutes later, when he sings the last "and he smiled at me,” everyone is just blown away. That's how it seems to me, at least. Maybe someone just told an unheard joke at the beginning. But I like my version.
Ryan O'Keefe (River Whyless)
John McCutcheon’s "Christmas in the Trenches.” Hands down one of my favorite songs, period.
“The Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne. My dad loves this song and when something moves his heart it makes me listen more carefully and give a different value to it than I might otherwise. Also, this song represents the Christmas sentiment that I actually resonate, ‘cause most things about Christmas make me want to flee the country.
Jetson Black (The Black Rabbits)
If you're looking for an awesome underground indie band then check out Eux Autres' song “Another Christmas At Home.” I generally can't stand Christmas music, but this song would be a great song even if it wasn't a Christmas song.
Jamie Hepler (Soft Opening)
My favorite Xmas cut that I wish people knew more is a track from a semi-defunct local band called Tony Wain and the Payne. I always knew them to have a real way with words and the didn't let me down on this one. The title of the cut is "Hang Myself (From The Christmas Tree)." I was living in the house where they were doing a lot of their recording at the time that they were recording this Christmas EP, and while it was hard to choose a favorite from the lineup, this most certainly came through as the winner.
Shane Perlowin (Ahleuchatistas)
“Seasoned Greetings” by The Residents. A bittersweet and nostalgic number that captures a joyful holiday sentiment and the sincere love of a strange boy towards his sweet family.
Josh Martier (The Critters)
I love throwing Alessandro Moreschi into the Christmas shuffle. He was one of the last castrato singers of the Roman Catholic Church. His voice is so haunting and beautiful it reminds me of snow. Like Christmas, there is something mysterious and magical about these recordings. “Domine salvum fac” is favorite and its off of Alessandro Moreschi, The Last Castrato. Surprisingly, the echoes of catholic genital mutilation really get you in the Christmas spirit.
Tom Peters (The Critters)
My pick is "Christmas with Satan" by James White and the Blacks [aka James Chance]. The horn section bleats out a medley of the classics and the background singers chime in just in time. If the Charlie Brown Christmas album were interpreted by the Lounge Lizards … and if Charlie Brown had gone ahead and killed himself.
Todd Britton (Analog Moon)
I went through this drill with a friend of mine a few years ago. We were trying to put a collection of Christmas songs together that didn't contain all of the overplayed stuff. We ended up with a pretty decent three-CD “mixtape,” but I think my favorite from that collection was "Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas?" by The Staple Singers. It kicked off the second CD, and I think I usually just skipped right to it. I finally overplayed it myself, and eventually lost those CDs in some spindle somewhere in my junk pile. I guess it's time to dig them out.
Jason Mencer (Now You See Them)
For me, it's gotta be D-Boy Rodriguez's hit jam "Winter Wonderland." This is an amazing Christian rap tune from the late ‘80s. It's amazing for three reasons: 1) It's a Christian rap tune. 2) It's from the late ‘80s. 3) None of the background singers know the real words. It's hilarious.
Sean Robbins (Warm the Bell)
My favorite obscure Christmas song is "There's Always Tomorrow" by Red Red Meat, which is a cover of a song from the old Rudolph special. It is on their album Bunny Gets Paid.
Jay Franck (Sanctum Sully)
"Christmas Must Be Tonight" by The Band. I could listen to Rick Danko sing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" in its entirety and still love it, so "Christmas Must Be Tonight" is no exception. It's my favorite track on their last full-band studio album, Islands, which was thrown together to complete their contract with Capitol Records.
Kevin Stanford (Knives & Daggers)
"Just Like Christmas" by Low is a rare treat among the onslaught of overplayed commercialized music we hear this time of year. This is an original piece of music they wrote which doesn't just speak of Christmas, but conjures up images and feelings of winter as a whole. Taken from a whole album of original and traditional Christmas songs they put out for fans, it single-handedly saved Christmas music for me by its minimalist and charming approach.
Molly Kummerle (Paper Tiger)
I don't even know if this counts, but I love this because it's totally ridiculous and it makes me happy — Guster’s “Carol of Meows.” Hilarious take on a classic. Because who can remember the real words anyway?
Justin Biltonen (The Campaign 1984)
My favorite obscure Christmas song is actually Elvis’ "Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” Everyone knows “Blue Christmas,” but this song is a slow blues tune on the Elvis’ Christmas Album. Elvis sings: "Hang up your pretty stockings / And turn off the light / Santa Claus is comin' down your chimney tonight.” Elvis singing a dirty Christmas song. I'm a huge Elvis fan and his music was always in my house growing up. I went to Graceland three weeks ago and it was all decorated for Christmas. Really amazing experience.
Amanda Anne Platt (The Honeycutters)
I'd say mine might actually be an album, The Austin Christmas Collection from 1981. Though if I had to pick one song off it it would be "Christmas in a Honky Tonk" sung by Bill and Bonnie Hearne. I've heard that album on repeat every Christmas I've been alive for, and it doesn't quite feel like the holidays without it!
Rob Elzey (Telic)
“Run, Rudolph, Run,” with Lemmy Kilmister [Motorheard], Dave Grohl [Nirvana, The Foo Fighters], and Billy Gibbons [ZZ Top]. The lineup doesn’t get better than this. How can you not love it?