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10 Christmas Songs That Don't Sound Like Someone Pouring Maple Syrup In Your Ear

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Run DMC pictured inside a Christmas wreath
The picture disc single of Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," one of a handful of Christmas songs that won't give you diabetes. (Profile Records)

Okay, first of all: If you're one of those people who genuinely loves Christmas music, jingle bells and all, I'm not here to judge. And I'm very happy for you that, for approximately eight weeks out of the year, your favorite tunes can be heard blaring from every convenience store, mall food court, and dentist's waiting room in America. It must be super convenient!

If, however, you have a slightly different reaction to "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" -- namely, that you would sooner jam your ear canals with jagged shards of Christmas tree ornaments and hope that it permanently damages your hearing rather than listen to that inspid chorus one more time -- the holiday season can be a little, well, trying.

Fix yourself a warm alcoholic beverage, won't you? And come sit by me.

It's not that I'm a grinch, exactly, when it comes to Christmas tunes. It's just that the good ones -- the songs that upend saccharine expectations, that truly pack a punch (the way good spiked eggnog should) -- don't get enough attention. I'm here to remedy that. Here are the best Christmas tunes that won't give you auditory diabetes.

Run-D.M.C., "Christmas In Hollis"


In this song, the members of Run-D.M.C. find Santa's wallet and it's got hella money in it, but they decide to return it anyway. Then they get home and find that Santa in fact intended the money as a Christmas present, and everyone eats macaroni and cheese. Perfect Christmas. 

The Kinks, "Father Christmas"

True story: I listen to this one year-round. Maybe once a week. This is a legitimately classic Kinks song about class warfare, disguised as a clever Christmas ditty. Also, timeless hook.

Vulfpeck, "Christmas in LA"

Vulfpeck, a funk band that gained some notoriety last year when they dropped an entirely silent album called Sleepify on Spotify and used the meager earnings to fund a tour, occupies that fun space between joke band and real band -- the joke part because, well, listen to their lyrics and watch their videos; the real part because they're all exceedingly good at their instruments. They put on a seriously entertaining live show too.

The Pretenders, "2000 Miles"

Does this one need an explanation? This song makes me wistful for something unnameable; it's Chrissie Hynde at her jaggedly vulnerable best.

The Ramones, "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)"

This one goes out to anyone who's ever experienced the dissonance that comes with finding yourself in a tearful and/or screaming brawl with a family member or significant other while surrounded by twinkly lights, the scent of spiced apple cider, and an overwhelming cultural directive to experience peace, joy, and togetherness. So, everyone. Bonus: Sweet, shy Joey Ramone being added to the storied canon of Christmas songs penned by Jews.

Happy Fangs, "All I Want For Christmas Is Halloween"

This garage-y, guitar riff-fueled tune from San Francisco's Happy Fangs has something in common with The Nightmare Before Christmas, a.k.a. one of the greatest holiday movies of all time: It's hard to say if it's more appropriate for Halloween or Christmastime enjoyment. Be on the safe side; try both!

The Waitresses, "Christmas Wrapping"

God, the Waitresses are underrated. The deadpan delivery! The sax riff! I have a lot of feelings about this song, but NPR already combined feelings with facts about the track's history for you over here -- well worth a read/listen.

Juliana Hatfield, "Make It Home"

Juliana Hatfield was basically the princess of raw yet heartfelt '90s singer-songwriterdom, and though she's done plenty in the years since wearing this crown -- Blake Babies, Minor Alps -- her turn as a homeless angel on the Christmas episode of My So-Called Life, in which she plays this song, is simply too memorable for me to think of her in any other way this time of year. I mean, come on! That's hitting the guardian angel lottery.

James Brown, "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto"

See: Representations of economic equality in Christmas songs, Kinks edition, above. This version is a little easier to sneak into otherwise classic Christmas playlists.

Darlene Love, "Christmas For the Jews"

Because I had to. Because a woman who learned to sing in church choirs, who made a name for herself partially based on a song called "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," and who got her due much too late in life having the sense of humor to gleefully record a tune about Jews taking over the streets, eating Chinese food and getting into fistfights in bars is, in more ways than one, what Christmas is all about. And just for that, Darlene?


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