One consistent annoyance of the holiday season is the terrible music that comes along with it. It seems stores and coffee shops resort to the blandest, most cloying choices in some desperate effort to make sure we are 100% certain what time of year it is. Even the good versions of excellent songs have been pummeled into our ears so persistently that they are rendered unlistenable.
Years ago I asked for suggestions for good music with a connection, even if thin, to the winter season. Below is that list with some new additions, and there are even more in the comments.
Disclaimer: what makes for good music is supremely subjective. I can’t promise you’ll like these. But I can say they passed the test for me of being preferable to the overplayed, the junk and the saccharine tunes you often hear this time of the year.
- The Kinks, Father Christmas – I love the subversive sentiment and straightforward rock energy that’s so rarely a part of holiday music.
- John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things – Jazz isn’t for everyone, but Coltrane is in great lyrical form here, and it’s easy listening in the best sense of the phrase. The song is the star of the album, but the rest of it is solid (even if not on theme, as there is a song called Summertime).
- Christmas Around The World, Various – This Putumayo collection is hit and miss, but the winners are gems. The Zydeco version of St. Nicholas, the Cuban brass version of Deck The Halls, and the Latin Paz en la Tierra (Peace on Earth) are the kind of lively antidotes retail stores need to discover (It’s more Western hemisphere than “world”, but I’m not picky).
- Sufjan Stevens, Christmas boxed set – I’m a Sufjan fan, but I confess I own but haven’t listened to much of this. Most of his albums make for good listening year round, and the soft, spiritual themes in his music definitely resonate come holiday time.
- Jimmy Smith, Christmas Cookin’ – this is the only soul/Christmas music I’ve heard that I didn’t mind. Mostly classics reinterpreted in modern, soul/R&B arrangements.
- Bruce Springsteen, Santa Claus is Coming to Down. (bias alert: I’m a Springsteeen fan). There’s something genuine in the loving humor offered in his voice, rising over a live big band sound.
- Mashup DJ BC’s Santastic (high energy) – this will test your attention deficit disorder tendencies. Either you’ll love it or hate it.
- Bach’s Christmas Oratorio – Classical music seems an obvious solid choice for alternative holiday music
- The New Possibility, John Fahey (guitar instrumental)
- Soma.Fm – Christmas lounge music
I do love classics, but wish I knew a wider range of them for holiday music. If you know of collections of standards done with interesting spins, unusual arrangements, or exceptional performances that should be in the standard canon but currently isn’t, let me know.
If you have recommendations of any kind please do leave a comment. What else should I try?
Thanks to Tiff, John, marrije, and Bryan Zug for their suggestions from the original post.