To blast out holiday audio drivel, crank up tunes with some attitude

YOU'LL FEEL GOOD: Let the likes of James Brown - or perhaps Shane MacGowan or Ronnie Spector - funk up your holiday.
YOU'LL FEEL GOOD: Let the likes of James Brown - or perhaps Shane MacGowan or Ronnie Spector - funk up your holiday. (Hulton Archive/getty Images)
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By Erik V. Huey
Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's that magical time of the year, when we collectively head outside to brave not only the elements and the holiday crowds but also the nonstop barrage of schmaltzy Christmas songs.

No trip to the mall, ride in a taxi or latte in Starbucks is spared from the onslaught - Christmas songs are everywhere, and most of them are utterly horrendous. We expect ice-pick-in-the-eardrum-inducing drivel from the likes of Alvin and the Chipmunks or fogies such as Burl Ives. But when we're assaulted with pablum by the rock-and-roll establishment - a genre that staked its musical claim as a rebellion against all things staid and corny - it's particularly offensive.

Bobby Helms should have been prosecuted for infecting the world with "Jingle Bell Rock." Death Cab for Cutie's passionless version of Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is indie rock at its ironically detached, hipster worst. Paul McCartney's "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" makes you question his status as a Beatle. And don't get me started on the Beach Boys' Christmas "canon."

These musical atrocities notwithstanding, the airwaves occasionally sparkle with a soul-affirming gem still capable of inducing a holiday head-bob or a Christmas crank of the volume knob. Below is a list of songs that prove that "Christmas rock" need not be a cacophonous contradiction in terms.

10. "Blue Christmas," Elvis Presley. The fact that it has been played to death doesn't dim the fact that it spawned the entire rockin' Christmas genre.

9. "A Change at Christmas," the Flaming Lips. Simply beautiful, lyrically, musically and metaphysically.

8. "Sound the Trumpet," Bob Marley. '60s dance hall/ska at its finest, this is Christmas, Kingston-style.

7. "2000 Miles," the Pretenders/"Danny Says," the Ramones.These soft-punk torch songs, seemingly sung by respective lovers in a long-distance romance, embody the melancholic longing of being apart for the holidays. Both have a timeless feel, aided by plaintive, aching vocal performances from Chrissie Hynde and Joey Ramone, not to mention (in the Ramones' case) Phil Spector's Wall of Sound girl-group production.


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