Try as you might to stop it, Christmas is getting closer by the day. Just yesterday we took a look at some of the modern Christmas songs that don’t suck, and we became convinced that there’s some decent Christmas music out there. But what about the classic Christmas songs?
Well, we might be sick of how overplayed Christmas carols are at this time of year, but thankfully there have been plenty of artists over the years to inject some new life into those musty old classics, saving our ears from the onslaught while maintaining some Christmas spirit.
We’re taking a look at some of the more contemporary covers of Christmas songs that not only aren’t terrible, but that you might even enjoy enough to put on your Christmas party playlist for next year.
‘Blue Christmas’ – Bright Eyes
Originally performed by The King himself, Elvis Presley, back in 1957, ‘Blue Christmas’ has become a relatively popular Christmas song, especially in the country music genre. In 2001, indie rock’s poster boy, Conor Oberst, decided to mark the halfway point of his band Bright Eyes’ career by recording an album of Christmas songs. The second track on that album was ‘Blue Christmas’, and the genuine, slow, indie-folk take that Oberst and co. delivered has become a favourite of fans ever since.
‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ – Far
Back in 1984, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ was released as a charity single by Bob Geldof to raise money for the then-current Ethiopian famine. Recorded by the supergroup Band Aid, which included many of the big British names at the time (such as Bono, Sting, and Phil Collins), the track was a huge hit and was played literally everywhere. Then they updated it in 1989 with more current artists, then again in 2004, and then once again in 2014.
It’s one of those songs which essentially follows the same formula on every version; pop musicians doing a relatively pop-influenced tune. But in 2003, American rockers Far got together with Chino Moreno from the Deftones and Grady Avenell of Will Haven to deliver a harder, decidedly more metal version of the track. While some would argue its not the most palatable cover of the song ever, it’s certainly a version we’d prefer to hear over the original by this point.
‘Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)’ – Bowling For Soup
We’re probably stretching the idea of ‘classic Christmas song’ here. While most folks would be expecting a nice Bing Crosby cover, Bowling For Soup instead provide a cover of one of the Ramones’ best songs from their later years. Focused around the idea of, well, not fighting on Christmas, the modern pop-punk rockers rework the song into a much more modern take on the classic track.
‘Last Christmas’ – Jimmy Eat World
The odds are pretty high you would’ve heard the original ‘Last Christmas’ ad nauseum throughout your life. While George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley from Wham! could not have picked a better way to say goodbye with this song as closer for their last album, many folks decided to update the track somewhat. Such is the case of Jimmy Eat World. Released only a month after their breakthrough smash ‘The Middle’, the boys give it a faithful update, but take away the guilty pleasure associated with listening to Wham!.
‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ – Death Cab For Cutie
Depending on which genre of music you listen to, both Phil Spector and Death Cab For Cutie would be pretty well-known names to you. Phil Spector’s fame as a producer may be a little more-well known to most than his career as a songwriter, but 1963 saw him pen the classic ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ for Darlene Love.
A big hit for the singer, it was covered early last decade by one of indie-rocks most recognisable voices, Ben Gibbard and his band Death Cab For Cutie. While it lacks the gusto and vibrancy the original has, it’s still a heartfelt rendition that gets the job done.
‘Silver Bells’ – She & Him
Surprisingly, the first performance of this classic song was during a film featuring the classic comedian Bob Hope back in 1950, before being released by the voice most associated with Christmas songs, Bing Crosby. In 2011, She & Him, the duo made up of indie-rocker M. Ward, and actress and surprisingly decent singer, Zooey Deschanel, decided to take on the song. To be fair though, this is more of a solo venture by Zooey Deschanel, but even alone with her ukulele she’s able to take on the classic tune and provide a smooth, soulful cover that has won over many fans.
‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ – The Polyphonic Spree
From the same Christmas album that bought us Death Cab For Cutie’s cover above, comes a cover of the classic anti-war anthem from John Lennon. The sprawling, choral-rock collective’s take on the song is much more polished take on the classic than many others have been before it. Thankfully though, the genuine message that the song conveys hasn’t been lost in the process of their cover, turning this song into more of a faithful update than a cover.
‘Winter Wonderland’ – Radiohead
No stranger to doing things their own way, Radiohead absolutely owned the concept of using the internet for promotion in the early 2000’s. In 2003, while recording Hail To The Thief, the group frequently broadcast themselves via webcasts for fans to view. During one of the webcasts, some fans were treated to a surprisingly casual Radiohead performing a cover of the classic ‘Winter Wonderland’.
The casual nature of the song sees Thom Yorke introduce the song as something from The Smurfs, before some studio banter segues into a uncharacteristically jovial Christmas song. The song’s low-quality due to it having been recorded over the internet in the early 2000’s doesn’t take away from the rare opportunity to see Thom Yorke’s silly side.
‘Carol Of The Bells’ – The Bird And The Bee
The Bird And The Bee are a duo that should be much more famous than they are. Fronted by the smooth voice of Inara George, and backed by the musicianship and songwriting of the incomparable Greg Kurstin (heck, the bloke co-wrote and performed almost everything except the vocals on Adele’s ‘Hello’), the group have managed to avoid mainstream success for quite some time. In 2011, the duo took on Mykola Leontovych’s Christmas classic ‘Carol Of The Bells’. One of those songs that you’d more than likely know the tune, but not the name, the group do a pretty decent job in introducing the classic to a newer audience.
‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ – My Chemical Romance
It’s alright, have a look at your calendar. The year is definitely 2016, not 2006, yet we’re still giving My Chemical Romance a shot in this day in age becuase they actually did a pretty decent job a lot of the time. One such example is when they decided to take on Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ back in 2004. Filled with the angst and aggression that most emo bands from the time injected into literally any song that they played, My Chemical Romance manage to actually deliver a good cover of this song which, to be fair, is much preferred to the original song.
”Twas The Night Before Christmas’ – Henry Rollins
Okay, let’s bend the rules a little bit here. Technically, ”Twas The Night Before Christmas’ isn’t a song per se, it’s a poem, but Henry Rollins’ take on the classic verse is something that cannot be ignored. Taken from a quarter-century old compilation that featured plenty of contemporary artists doing Christmas songs, Rollins’ addition is a creepy, brooding take on the famous poem, which is actually called ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’. While it might not be the sort of thing to get you in the Christmas cheer, Henry Rollins’ smooth voice can make almost anything enjoyable.
‘Little Drummer Boy (Up The Khyber)’ – Hoodoo Gurus
Taken from the same compilation that Henry Rollins’ previous track originated, the Gurus instrumental take on the classic ‘Little Drummer Boy’ is a kooky little addition to the annals of Aussie music history. With the video featuring a stereotypically Aussie video that was no doubt filmed for an American market, the group manage to deliver an Indian-infused take on the song that is far more impressive than you’d expect.