Top Christmas Songs You Won't Hear At The Mall

Somewhere out there, evil elves cackle with glee every  time the Muzak supervisor at the mall pops in the Christmas CD, the same Christmas CD that every other mall uses, every other supermarket, every other elevator, every other... because they know they are slowly driving folks mad.

I love John Lennon, but by mid-December, I would rather declare war than listen to "Happy Xmas, War Is Over" one more time.  It's worlds better than his counterpart's "Wonderful Christmastime," but listening to the song repeatedly is akin to waterboarding or other measures of torture that are against international law.

Frank and Dean and Bing and even Burl Ives are great to listen to when the mercury dips, but their Christmas carols desensitize a person to the point where no rational human can hear their voices without having a holly, jolly stroke. 

And I'll choke anyone who keys up anything by an American Idol or any teenage country star.  Consider yourself warned.

I am not, by any means, a Scrooge.  I love Christmas carols.  I love the fact that Dean Martin can make attempted date rape sounds so smooth with "Baby, It's Cold Outside."  (Seriously, what is in that drink?)  Frank and Nancy's "I Wouldn't Trade Christmas" is the reason for the season and Mele Kalikimama most definitely is the thing to say... for about a week in December.  But enough is enough.  It's overkill. 

It could be that the Christmas shopping season starts earlier every year, it could be that the songs are old, but most likely it is that the same songs get played on repeat FAR too often every year.

So I give those of you who like Christmas music but tired of the same-ol', same-ol', a little gift from me to you to stick under your tree. 


10. "At the Christmas Ball" by Bessie Smith

The Empress of the Blues... What a lady.  In an industry that was notoriously unkind to both women and blacks, Bessie Smith refused to be disrespected or cheated.  Known for throwing tantrums in front of a venue when deals were broken, folks learned quickly not to deny Bessie Smith what was promised.  A wonderful and amazing career was cut short when, after an auto accident outside of Clarksdale, she was refused medical treatment by white doctors and forced to seek help in a black clinic.  That clinic is now a motel down the street from one of the last remaining jukes, further cementing her place in blues mythology.

9. "Katie Dang" by the Blackstone Valley Sinners

There are many songs to choose from on the Blackstone Valley Sinners' The Cold Hard Truth About Christmas, but Slim Cessna's haunting lyrics and sad melody juxtaposed against the holly, jolly-ness of the season is perfectly poised in "Katie Dang." 

8. "Run Rudolph Run" by Chuck Berry

During the Atomic age, a new hero was born in the Christmas canon: a reindeer who's nose glowed in the dark.  No one really questioned this as the US and USSR stockpiled and tested weapons across the globe, but in the end, Christmas was saved.  If you want to listen to the tale of everyone's favorite misfit and his exploits, I recommend the Chuck Berry version, which contains far less saccharine.

7. "'Zat You, Santa Claus?" by Louis Armstrong

What part of New Orleans did Louis Armstrong think to identify a stranger fiddling around outside his home as Santa Claus?  I'm sorry, but if I hear anything a-clatter outside my window, even on Christmas Eve, I'm reaching for the baseball bat.  This probably explains the coal in my stocking...

6. "Santa Claus Got Stuck in my Chimney" by Ella Fitzgerald

My favorite part of the blues and jazz canon is how they're never talking about what they're talking about.   As far as sexy Yuletide songs go, this blows "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" out of the water.  But the way Ella sings makes me wonder if Santa regrets coming only once a year...

5. "Trim Your Tree" by Jimmy Butler

Every line of this song is dirty.  Dissecting this song is like a Christmas Kama Sutra.  How in the hell...?

4. "Santa" by Lightnin Hopkins

Ahh, the Velvet-Throated One... The man who once made a heaven all for himself... and the women of the world...  He makes Christmas sound so smooth. 

3. "The Murder of the Lawson Family" by Carolina Buddies

In one of the Old North State's finest traditions - the murder ballad - the story of Charlie Lawson and his family lives on.  On Christmas morning, 1929, the tobacco farmer loaded up his family and took them into town for a photo.  Then he brought his wife and seven children home and murdered them all before taking his own life.  The song has been passed down through the ages and now, I give it to you.  Merry Christmas.

2. "Christmas is A-Coming" by Lead Belly

Poor old Lead Belly probably didn't have many merry Christmases, as he spent a good portion of his life in prison or in poverty.  But the man had the most interesting life and left a most rewarding canon of songs from many different styles and genres.  This is his only Christmas offering and one of my favorites to introduce the season.

1. "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues

Holy shit... the best Christmas song of all time describes Christmas Eve in the drunktank of New York city.  Shane McGowan and Kristy MacColl have been ringing in my holidays since I was a freshman in high school...


If there were videos, I would have included BooBoo Davis' "Xmas Blues" which is so smooth and moving and magic... even if the first time I heard it hadn't been in the Shack-Up Inn in Clarksdale, where all music sounds ethereal.  "F*** Christmas, I've Got the Blues" is another amazing number that you can't carol at the neighbors, performed by The Legendary Tiger Man.  But 'Tis the season... tell me what I've missed!

And Merry Whatever!!!

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Views: 1137

Comment by Marcel on December 25, 2012 at 12:29am

Great list, and glad to see one of my all-time favorite songs on number 1. The BBC just showed a 2005 documentary on the making of Fairytale of New York again. Seeing eternal drunk Shane MacGowan get teary-eyed about Kirsty MacColl... simply beautiful.

The documentary is not on youtube, but I'm sure it can be downloaded from the erm... more shadier places of the internets.

Comment by Lex Jansen on December 25, 2012 at 6:36am
Actually, the documentary is on YouTube in 6 parts.
See my playlist:
Comment by Hal Bogerd on December 25, 2012 at 7:23am

Comment by Marcel on December 25, 2012 at 11:38pm

Lex, thanks for posting that. I guess I didn't search hard enough...

Comment by Dirty Roots Radio on December 26, 2012 at 4:15pm

Great list!  Some of my favorites on there.


Here's the one I discovered this year that quickly became my go-to Christmas track this season...Andre Williams' "Rudibaker's Christmas Wish":

Comment by on December 29, 2012 at 1:40pm

Sadly, you probably won't hear this version of "Silent Night" at the mall:


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.