With Christmas less than a week away, you’re probably in the midst of being inundated with Christmas music – and, really, there’s nothing wrong with that. But by late December, you probably start to hear the same 15 or 20 songs over and over again. I swear, if I have to hear Mariah Carey wail “All I Want for Christmas is You” one more time, I might just lose my mind. Having said that, there’s a wealth of Christmas songs out there that you’ve probably never heard – songs that are a lot of fun – and we are here to point you in the direction of 10 of the best out there, ones you won’t likely hear on the radio.
Gary Hoey: You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
You might not know who Gary Hoey is, but you’ve probably heard him shred the guitar. Having toured with acts such as Deep Purple, Ted Nugent, Jeff Beck and Lita Ford – just to name a few – it should come as no surprise that the Boston-area native is a wizard when it comes to the electric guitar. In 1995, Hoey put out an instrumental Christmas album titled “Ho-Ho-Hoey” and has since released several sequels. Covering everything from “Silent Night” to “The 12 Days of Christmas”, there’s no Christmas song he can’t make infinitely more badass – think Trans-Siberian Orchestra turned up to 11. Perhaps Hoey’s most known Christmas cover is “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and it’s really an exhilarating twist to the classic. You might have to hunt to find it, but it’s definitely worth your time.
Dropkick Murphys: The Season’s Upon Us
Released in 2012 as part of the band’s “Signed and Sealed in Blood” album, “The Season’s Upon Us” might have flown a little under the mainstream radar but can be heard on some alt stations in December. The theme of the song is clear – the hectic and sometimes stressful conditions of family togetherness around the holidays – but with a hint of that Irish-Punk sound that has made the Boston band famous. Once you hear it, you’ll immediately want to add this song to your playlist, at which point it might just become a perennial favorite.
Louis Armstrong and the Commanders: ‘Zat You, Santa Claus?
Hailed as one of the greatest Jazz musicians ever, Louis Armstrong had a distinct voice that paired nicely with his ability to robustly play the trumpet. Known by many as “Satchmo” – short for satchel mouth – the New Orleans native had a career that spanned nearly five decades and, in 1953, Armstrong released “Zat You, Santa Clause?” a Christmas song that incorporated the then 52-year-old’s unique sound. Recently, the song was included in a Christmas album, released almost 26 years after his death, in 1997. You might catch it on the radio once or twice a season but it’s definitely a deep-cut – one with which not too many are familiar.
The Killers: Joel, The Lump of Coal
Perhaps the most sappy song on the list, “Joel, The Lump of Coal” sees things from a different perspective – that of a lump of coal no one really wants. Released in 2014 and featuring a cameo from late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, it debuted on his show with all profits going to AIDs charities as part of Project Red. It had a decent run commercially, peaking at No. 27 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs, and featured an accompanying music video that might just bring a tear to your eye. The Las Vegas-based bad has released a new Christmas song every year for quite some time – but this is definitely the best one of the lot. You might hear it on some alt stations, otherwise you’ll have to find it another way.
Dave Matthews Band: Christmas Song
Let’s be honest, Dave Matthews has a voice made for Christmas songs, so it’s no big surprise that he would pop up on this list somewhere. In 1993, Dave Matthews Band released its first album “Remember Two Things” and the last track on the album was a lengthy holiday tune called “Christmas Song.” It’s a soft, brilliant song that often gets overlooked due to several of the band’s biggest hits on the album but it’s a song that the Virginia natives aren’t afraid to break out while on the road in December. Other than that, the likelihood of hearing it on the radio is pretty slim – if at all.
The Kinks: Father Christmas
A personal favorite on the list, this punk-toned song was released in 1978 from a band that had several successful hits on the Billboard charts. Released in 1978 as a single, “Father Christmas” rid the holiday of its religious undertones and stripped it right down to its core – greedy children asking Santa for cold, hard cash. The London-based band wrote one catchy hook that turned out to basically be an anti-Christmas jingle and it has since received a number of cool covers but nothing quite compares. This might be the most common song on the list, however it’s still undiscovered by many – which is really a damn shame.
Blink-182: I Won’t Be Home For Christmas
Titled as a parody to the Christmas classic “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, this song from the California trio was originally released as a radio promo in 1997 and later was released as a single in 2001. It was even the No. 1 track in Canada for five weeks – the band’s only No. 1 single in Canada – and while it didn’t have quite the same success in the United States, it was still a hit for the band. With an underlying theme of how the Christmas season can get under your skin, Blink-182 pushed out another pop-punk song with catchy hooks that all the kids can sing-along to. While it was a moderate hit almost a decade and a half ago, the song doesn’t exactly get a ton of play these days, so not many have probably heard it.
Reel Big Fish: Lickle Drummond Buoy
Nothing quite says Christmas like ska – right? You’ve heard “Little Drummer Boy” every year about a hundred times but this is a unique punk rock take to it, featuring a small brass section. In 2014, Reel Big Fish released a holiday-themed EP titled “Happy Skalidays” – a six track album with some unique takes on classics. The album is not very well known on a mainstream level but it’s a lot of fun if you’re looking for something a little different. This track is completely instrumental and has the unique flavor the California band has been pumping out for more than two decades. You’ll likely never hear it on the radio, though.
Barenaked Ladies: Christmastime (O Yeah)
Everyone knows the Barenaked Ladies’ 1998 sing-along “One Week” but the Canadian band also has a pretty solid Christmas song in its repertoire. Released in 2004, “Christmastime (O Yeah)” was part of the band’s “Barenaked for the Holidays” album, which featured 21 festive interpretations. This slower acoustic song is quick and to the point – and one you rarely hear this time of year. But it is worth a listen.
The Shins: Wonderful Christmastime
One of the most popular Christmas songs is Paul McCartney’s 1979 classic “Wonderful Christmastime.” Well, The Shins decided to release their own version of the song in 2012 and it’s awesome. It might not differ a ton from the original, but if the synthesizer is something that gets on your nerves, the Albuquerque-based band found a way to incorporate that sound but make it just a little more modern. This cover debuted on a holiday compilation album for Starbucks called “Holidays Rule” and it really has had little play on a mainstream level – but give it a shot, you just might appreciate it more.
Ed is the co-founder of Dirtfork and a native Philadelphian who has freelanced for a number of print and web-based outlets during his career, including seven years with CraveOnline. When he’s not interviewing J.J. Watt and riding in an IndyCar with Mario Andretti, Ed enjoys spouting off obscure movie quotes, devouring a great plate of Mexican food and going on adventures with his wife and adopted dog.