It’s that time of year again!
As you peruse through shopping centres, scrounging for something worthwhile to wrap, you’ve probably had your eardrums splintered by the cumulative efforts of the Christmas songs of Michael Bublé, Mariah Carey, and Justin Bieber.
Christmas songs & Christmas music
While there are thousands of Christmas songs plaguing your Spotify homepages, filtering through the landfill might lead you to a few of the hidden gems of the Yuletide season.
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Some recent, and some lost in legendary discographies of times past, here are 10 of the most unexpected Christmas tracks and albums from some of the most celebrated artists in history.
B.B King – A Christmas Celebration of Hope
The blues guitar sleuth himself, B.B King’s 2001 album is filled with rhythm and blues-led interpretations of holiday songs, including ‘Please Come Home for Christmas’, ‘Backdoor Santa’, and ‘Merry Christmas Baby’.
King’s 39th studio recording also featured one original track, titled ‘Christmas Love’. A Christmas Celebration of Hope was a critical success, picking up two Grammy Awards, the first for Best Traditional Blues Album, with the latter for ‘Best Pop Instrumental Performance’ for ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
This record features a mixture of instrumental versions of popular carols, and large orchestral arrangements with the grovelling, older King’s voice as the centrepiece. Keeping in the giving spirit, all profits of this album went to the City of Hope Biomedical Research and Treatment Centre.
Jimmy Barnes – Blue Christmas
The most recent release from the list, Barnesy’s Blue Christmas sees the Aussie pub-rocker morph into a crooning caroller straight from the 1950s. The album is packed to the brim with Christmas essentials, including ‘White Christmas’, ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, and ‘Let it Snow’.
The highlights are Barnes channelling Elvis Presley on the title track, ‘Blue Christmas’, and ‘Rocking Around the Christmas Tree’: one of the few songs on the record where the Cold Chisel frontman returns to his higher vocal range that propelled him into stardom.
Blue Christmas ranked first on the ARIA charts upon its premiere, the fifteenth release in Jimmy Barnes’ solo career to do so, extending an already ridiculous record.
Julian Casablancas – I Wish It Was Christmas Today
One of the more bizarre entries on this list, Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas released ‘I Wish It Was Christmas Today’ in 2009, a cover of an SNL holiday season skit featuring Jimmy Fallon among others.
Casablancas’ take has all the foundations of a great Strokes track, with slightly distorted vocals, guitars, and a repetitive but driving drumline, and the added touch of Christmas bells that echo throughout the song.
Bob Dylan – Christmas in the Heart
Legendary folk musician, Bob Dylan, left his takes of some of the most famed carols on his 2009 album, Christmas in the Heart.
An older Dylan’s voice brings something special to tracks like ‘Winter Wonderland’, ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’, and ‘Here Comes Santa Clause’. The album mixes Dylan’s traditional folk style with the orchestral fixtures often associated with Christmas hymns.
Christmas in the Heart was a relative critical success, with many praising Dylan’s efforts in avoiding cliché. Richard Williams, from the Guardian, perhaps put it best: “polished without being glib”.
The album dominated charts that year, debuting at no.1 on the Billboard Holiday chart, with all proceeds going towards Feeding America, Crisis, and the World Food Program.
Various Artists – We Wish You A Metal Christmas and a Headbangin’ New Year
While this is technically a compilation album, who would’ve expected the likes of Alice Cooper, Lemmy Kilmister, Ronnie James Dio, Dave Grohl, Tony Iommi, and more to collaborate on a Christmas project?
The results: some of the greatest acts in rock/metal history combining for an all-star ensemble to give their reimagining of some of the most known holiday jingles.
One of many highlights include ‘God Rest You Merry Gentlemen’, in which Tony Iommi and Ronnie James Dio reunite to give this take on the early-nineteenth century hymn. Other successful songs off the album include Alice Cooper’s nightmarish ‘Santa Claws is Coming to Town’, and the heart-racing ‘Run Rudolph Run’ from the combined efforts of Lemmy Kilmister and Dave Grohl.
Snoop Dogg – Snoop Dogg Presents: Christmas In Tha Dogghouse
For this endeavour, Snoop Dogg arranges some of the most notable voices in the hip-hop/R&B industry to deliver one of the most unique Christmas albums to date.
The album combines rap and soul, wherein Snoop Dogg takes the backseat on the album, allowing his features to shine. While there are certainly some average tracks on this project, its highlights take it to another level, culminating in the most successful track: ‘A Pimp’s Christmas Song’.
While Christmas tropes are certainly relied on, what is perhaps most impressive is that there is not a single cover on this project. Every song is entirely new, vamped, and refreshed.
Adam Sandler – The Chanukah Song
Not a Christmas song, but where would the holiday season be without this Jewish holiday classic by Adam Sandler. Filled with bizarre lyrics, the original song was released in 1995, but has since spurned three other parts performed by Sandler as well.
The brainchild of Sandler, as well as SNL writers Lewis Morton and Ian Maxtone-Graham, ‘The Chanukah Song’ celebrates Judaism through listing off Jewish celebrities, such as The Stooges, Paul Newman, and Tom Cruise’s agent.
The song also makes clever use of a rhyme scheme devoted almost entirely to Hannukah:
Tell your friend Veronica
It’s time to celebrate Hanukkah
I hope I get a harmonicah
Oh this lovely, lovely Hanukkah
So drink your gin and tonicah
And smoke your marijuanikah
If you really, really wannakah
Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Hanukkah
Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas
Epic in scale, Sufjan Stevens’ massive 42-song effort on Songs for Christmas is filled with both originals and classic carols. The indie music giant delivers several great additions to the Christmas catalogue, including ‘Sister Winter’ and ‘Star of Wonder’.
Perhaps the most stirring is Sufjan’s folky take of ‘Amazing Grace’, which he sings, backed by a choir, over an almost out-of-tune banjo.
This five-disc collection also boasts Stevens’ orchestral arrangement, with many instrumental versions of popular carols, such as ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’, delivered in short 45-second soundbites.
Christopher Lee – A Heavy Metal Christmas
Yes, you read that right. The legendary actor Sir Christopher Lee, known for roles such as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and the titular role in 1958’s Dracula, released a metal Christmas double single at the ripe age of 90 in 2013.
Filled with Christmas essentials, Lee brings a sinister edge to some of the most beloved carols of our time, and his deep voice matches surprisingly well with ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ and ‘Silent Night’.
This work was not Lee’s first music endeavour, recording two separate albums inspired by heavy metal which document the life of King Charlamagne.
Following this release was 2014’s ‘A Heavy Metal Christmas Too’, which features his takes on Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ and a dark take on ‘Jingle Bells’, titled ‘Jingle Hell’.
Bootsy Collins – Christmas is 4 Ever
The king of funk, Bootsy Collins delivers his sultry tone over some of Christmas’ most beloved songs; reimagined into soul-driven tunes that instil some life into otherwise lacklustre, overplayed Christmas carols.
On Christmas is 4 Ever, hear Bootsy’s funk take on ‘Silent Night’, completely re-arranging anything we’ve known previously about the Christmas staple.
It also features one of the few Christmas songs to use a ‘talkbox’, on the penultimate track ‘Be-With-You’, a holiday version of Bootsy’s own recording ‘I’d Rather Be With You’.
Keep reading about Christopher Lee’s heavy metal albums here.