Wherein we highlight a variety of nontraditional musical takes on tired holiday themes (mostly of the punk rock variety). Though I’ve yet to catch even the faintest whiff of X-mas spirit (so-called) this year, I thought I’d revive the thing. It might be just the tonic I need to make my way home in good mood through the frenzied consumer infestation choking our commercial strips and thoroughfares.
I’m going to kick things off by highlighting two songs–one old, one recent–that set the mood for me.
First, I long ago adopted Lene Lovich’s 1981 number “New Toy” as one of my favorite X-mas anthems. I think it wonderfully and joyfully captures the empty desire for fetish objects and the surrender to reflex consumerism so (needlessly) bound up with the X-mas season. Here’s Lene performing the number, penned by Mr. Thomas Dolby, who in this video joins Lene’s onstage lineup.
But I’ve got to have the car
(I need it for the weekend)
I’ve got to have the stereo
(And a couple of deletions)
I’ve got to have the freezer
(Put some fun back in my eating)
I’ve got to have it all … until I’m complete!
I want a New Toy (oh ay oh)
To keep my head expanding.
I want a New Toy (oh ay oh)
Nothing too demanding.
Second (and new for this year), a few years back Mr. Julian Casablancas of The Strokes made a surprise appearance on Jimmy Fallon to join Fallon and Horatio Sanz for an amped-up reprise of “I Wish it Was Christmas Today,” a song first introduced by Fallon, Sanz, Chris Kattan, and Tracy Morgan in a Saturday Night Live skit in December 2000. Slate called the number, properly recorded and released by Casablancas, the first new Christmas song offered up by the music industry in two decades. Call me an old softy, but this is the only number in recent years to get me jazzed for the big event. So, without further ado, here’s Casablancas & Co. performing “I Wish it Was Christmas Today” followed by the original SNL skit.
As a non-believer, I’ve gone through various stages since first walking out on a Midnight Mass–and the Church altogether–almost 35 years ago, when a fat pig priest (didn’t even have the requisite “sanctimonious smile”) started talking A-bombs and calling down hellfire on the godless commies in the USSR … during the homily of an X-mas Eve mass!!!! Now there’s an X-mas message of peace, love, and understanding for you! At first I adopted an ironic stance: wrapping gifts, alone, while listening to Second Edition by Public Image Limited (“Getting rid of the albatross…”); using newspaper, with its dire headlines, for wrapping; reworking, with my punky friends, the freshly assassinated Lennon’s words into “And so we hate Christmas, the old and the new….” I followed that with the “ignore it” phase–X-mas Eves at Revival or the Kennel Club in Philly followed by an X-mas day spent quietly nursing a bruised brain. Then came mid-life X-mas repentance in which I relented and dutifully purchased my gifts, sent my cards. Now I seem to be back to a healthy re-examination of the whole business. In the end, I go through the motions where not doing so would offend a close friend or relative. Otherwise, hang it!
So, anyway, I’ve gone off topic and again dredged up this motley list of Christmas ditties from the various alternative subcultures that have enlivened the pale blue dot over the years. Enjoy! And do feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments. NOTE: all broken links–testimony to the transience of all internet content–have been repaired. Merry X-mas!
Motley and Incomplete List of Alternative X-Mas Hits
- [New!] Siouxsie and the Banshees – Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant. This one’s for the Francophiles out there.
- Christmas – Big Plans Not an X-mas song. But, hey! The band’s named Christmas! Late 80s-early 90s alt rockers Christmas later reinvented themselves as those neo-lounge founders of Cocktail Nation, Combustible Edison. Fun stuff that makes me nostalgic for Boston. And, after all, this is the season of nostalgia. And it’s also the season of … big plans!
- Elastica – Gloria In excelsis deo indeed! This should inspire some good-hearted shoving on the dance floor.
- The Fall – No X-Mas for John Quays From their seminal album “Live at the Witch Trials.” Always a holiday fave.
- El Vez – Feliz Navi-Nada “The Mexican Elvis” gives us a head fake with an intro that sounds suspiciously like the opening of PiL’s “Public Image Theme Song,” a motif he returns to in the chorus. Now, that’s a mashup, and no PC required!
- The Fall – We Wish You a Protein Christmas
- The Fall – Jingle Bell Rock Filled with the spirit of the holidays, Mark Smith indulges a, dare I say it, jolly mood. This is the Peel Sessions version.
- The Damned – There Ain’t No Sanity Clause A classic from the grandaddys of punk. The Damned are credited with playing the first punk concert at a Spanish bullfighting arena in 1975. Thirty-four years down the road they’re still going strong.
- Devo – Merry Something To You The Spudboys offer a non-denominational greeting.
- Lene Lovich – New Toy (This is the official video, not the Top of the Pops version above). Technically not an X-mas song, but it is about desire for a new plaything and, hey, Target used it (bizarre irony) in an X-mas advertising campaign a few years back. Nice statement on the emptiness of consumerism appropriate to the season of enforced giving!
- Lene Lovich – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus This is truly bizarre, people: Lene before she hit the stage as new wave goddess and prototype for Gaga. Here, she adopts a girlish coo to try out the 1952 Jimmy Boyd classic. Yowza! Lene’s version has a whiff of reggae and even a steel guitar.
- The Posies – Christmas A bit on the folky side, but you have to take a break to replenish your eggnog sometime.
- The Sex Pistols – The Sex Pistols Christmas Party, 1977 This is actually quite sweet. The Sex Pistols doing a charity event at Ivanhoe’s in Huddersfield, Christmas Day 1977. The event was for the benefit of the families of striking firemen. Fun to see the boys mixing it up with the little kiddies.
- The Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight) Not Christmas night, not any night.
- Belle De Jour – Santa Dog
- Green Day – Punk Christmas I’m not sure they qualify, but what the heck?
- The Cure – Merry Christmas Everybody Cure’s take on the old Slade number, which has become something of a seasonal classic in Britain over the years.
- Christina Monet – Things Fall Apart
- The Residents – Santa Dog Santa Dog ain’t got no presents.
- Sonic Youth – Santa Doesn’t Cop Out On Dope Everything you might imagine … and more! Cf. Burroughs’ “Junky’s Christmas” below.
- The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping A guilty pleasure for me every year. For some reason, this song always reminds me of trudging through the snow to Rudy’s at Teele Square in Somerville, Mass. for some celebratory margaritas. What were we celebrating? A big snow, of course!
- The Pretenders – 2,000 Miles Charming Christmas vignette from Ms. Hynde.
- William S. Burroughs – The Junky’s Christmas (audio only; see below for links to the animated feature)
The Junky’s Christmas the classic William S. Burroughs tale brought to the screen, I shit you not, with stop-action animation! Mr. Burroughs himself appears briefly at the beginning and end.