The Forum’s Holiday Mix Tape
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THE WAITRESSES – “CHRISTMAS WRAPPING” (1982)
With “Christmas Wrapping,” The Waitresses created one of few radio-friendly rock alternatives to Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” and the very pressing version of “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. The Akron, Ohio band was key to the new wave scene of the ‘80s, and their signature song illustrates a playfully shallow dilemma between a young woman and the object of her affection. Despite the semi-dated sound that’s partially owed to its brass section, the song has become a Christmas mainstay in the last three decades and while people might not recognize the name, most listeners know it when they hear it.
SUFJAN STEVENS – “GET BEHIND ME, SANTA!” (2006)
Before he scored indie cred with 2006’s “Illinois,” songwriter Sufjan Stevens released a five-disc box set packed with covers and carefully tailored Christmas originals. “Get Behind Me, Santa!” is a feel-good track smashed between two traditional songs, offering some balance to the sometimes stifling nature of older poems and carols. Sufjan’s appealingly soft voice pairs with a choir and multiple instruments to concoct a warmhearted song that’s a mix of storybook fiction and witty wordplay.
THE POGUES – “FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK” (1988)
Celtic punks The Pogues set a new mark for holiday standards with the 1987 release of “Fairytale of New York,” a Sid and Nancy narrative of dark humor and woe. Featuring late English vocalist Kirsty MacColl, the song tells a story of disillusioned love fraught with dependency, painting a grim, personal portrait of its two subjects. But there’s also something indescribably moving about it, and it’s “Fairytale’s” last verse that makes it timeless, ensuring its spot on any holiday playlist.
THE KINKS – “FATHER CHRISTMAS” (1978)
Written by Kinks ringleader Ray Davies and featured on the reissue of “Misfits,” “Father Christmas” spins a tale of a mall Santa getting beaten by lower-class ruffians. But despite the seriousness of its classist message, the single has become a staple since its initial airplay in 1977 and remains one of few timeless rock standards. Davies’ trademark vocals, which work flawlessly in conjunction with his brother’s guitars, make for a satisfying alternative to the horrible synths of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” during the Christmas season.
THE FALL – “NO XMAS FOR JOHN QUAYS” (1979)
Those familiar with The Fall’s Mark E. Smith know he is the last person anyone would expect to write about any holiday. But the post-punk poet, who came to prevalence as part of the late 1970s punk scene in Manchester, managed to pen something entirely nonsensical, so much that the meaning of “John Quays” is debated among fans. But the song’s questionable content – along with the yelping of “You, Me, Xmas!” – has made it a classic for fans of the post-punk era, and it somehow manages to work its way into the most avant-garde of Christmas mixes.
RUN-DMC – “CHRISTMAS IN HOLLIS” (1987)
Sparing songs by Kanye West and Ludacris, decent hip-hop holiday tracks are hard to come by. But “Christmas in Hollis,” released as a single in 1987, is both infectious and reflective, radiating with humor only a childhood in Queens could bring. Between DMC rapping about collard greens and Run discovering Santa’s wallet, there’s very little room for the nauseating sentimentality that’s usually associated with a typical Christmas; needless to say, it’s worth a few listens.
STEPHEN COLBERT/ELVIS COSTELLO – “THERE ARE MUCH WORSE THINGS TO BELIEVE IN” (2008)
Stephen Colbert’s “A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All” is exactly what one would expect from the political comedian. TheGrammy award-winning special aired in 2008 with special guests Elvis Costello, Keith Urban, John Legend and others and was received with critical acclaim. The entire album has become a must-have around the holidays, but if any track is singled out, it is Costello and Colbert’s duet that falls in the vein of They Might Be Giants-type humor. Lyrics can’t even be mentioned out of context; just give the track a listen and you’ll hear the genius.
BOB DYLAN – “MUST BE SANTA” (2009)
Coming straight off 2009’s “Christmas in the Heart,” Dylan’s most recent testament to Christmas is more of a joke to most. The curmudgeonly singer-songwriter ambiguously pairs raspy vocals with reindeer, and it’s hard to tell whether Dylan is paying honest tribute or mocking the capitalist spirit. Regardless, “Must Be Santa” and its accompanying video are new classics designed for those with a slightly off-kilter, “Tim and Eric”-esque sense of humor.
LOW – “SILENT NIGHT” (1999)
Since “Silent Night” is among the more solemn of traditional carols, no one should do it better than a slowcore band. Duluth, Minn. natives Low are known for sparse vocals and minimalist arrangements, but while this may prove off-putting to the average listener, it works in their favor this time around. Guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk and wife Mimi Parker make the perfect match with this oddly chilling version of “Silent Night,” which is perfect for a cold winter evening paired with hot chocolate and hundreds of stars.
F—— UP – “DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS?” (2009)
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is certainly a radio staple between Halloween and New Year’s Day, and only the original version is well-known. But the single, originally performed for charity by Band Aid in the 1980s, received a makeover in 2009 when Canadian hardcore band F—– Up released their own collaboration with multiple artists, including GZA, Yo La Tengo, Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, Andrew W.K. and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend fame. Because of this ensemble, the version far surpasses its predecessor in every respect and serves as a time capsule for the indie generation.