12 Alternative Christmas Songs

Here at Wildz, we're firm believers in Christmas cheer and festive fun, but even some of the holiday's most ardent supporters will admit that many of the obvious go-to songs of the season are overplayed to the point of getting stale or even annoying.

So, while you're taking a chance on your favourite games this holiday season, perhaps also take a chance on these 12 alternative Christmas songs and step into a fresh genre or discover a hidden gem.

Run-DMC - Christmas in Hollis

"Haven't you got any Christmas music?" "This is Christmas Music!"

This is the song that Argyle, the chirpy young chauffeur who drives John McClane to the Nakatomi Plaza, plays on the limo's cassette player in the Christmas classic, Die Hard.

Run-DMC, as you'd expect, represent the best of poppy, old-school hip-hop of the era in a track that is head-boppingly funky and full of the warm, nostalgic homeliness we associate with the season. The "Hollis" of the title is the group's own neighbourhood in Queens, New York City, and the beat samples Back Door Santa, a 1968 festive funk song by Clarence Carter.

Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)

Among the many magical things Christmas is associated with, it also has an unfortunate association with familial and interpersonal drama, making the sentiment expressed by this song resonate with many of us. Nonetheless, it's a positive message, with Joey Ramone calling for peace - albeit temporary - with his quarrelsome lover.

Some fans may disapprove of The Ramones' classic punk rock being contaminated with sleigh bells and cheesy, twinkling 80s keyboard sounds, but the truth is that any Ramones is good Ramones and the song has an undeniable gritty charm that makes it a perfect addition to the Christmas playlist of anyone who wants something more rock 'n' roll than the usual Wham! or Mariah Carey.

Björk - Jólakotturinn

The Jólakotturinn, or Yule Cat, of the title is a gigantic and ferocious creature of Icelandic folklore that supposedly prowls the countryside, eating any poor soul who hasn't received new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve. A strange thing to be punished for, you may think, but this was apparently to incentivize agricultural workers to hurry up processing the Autumn wool.

Unlike the electronica she's known for from her solo work, or the indie rock of her Sugarcubes days, "Jólakotturinn" is performed in the style of traditional Icelandic folk and wouldn't sound out of place in a Viking epic like The Northman - in which she made a recent acting appearance. A hidden gem of Björk's career, the song was released on a 1987 Christmas compilation album, Whít Er Borg Og Bær.

The Attery Squash - Santa's Laughter Mocks the Poor

A sledgehammer-subtle onslaught of cynicism delivered by an adorable pink toucan puppet. Despite its sneering, Dead Kennedys-esque sentiment, "Santa's Laughter Mock's the Poor" is still somehow a legitimately brilliant Christmas song.

The obscure "techno-indie combo" stick to a well-worn traditional festive sound that employs bells, pipes, and all that good stuff in service of some serious earworm melodies. It's the perfect thing for world-weary cynics to hum to themselves while they avoid the shops and feel smugly superior to all the sheeple who buy into the whole charade.

The Knife - Reindeer

About as far from Christmas cheer as it's possible to get, the song's icy desolate synths take the tale of the impossible gift-giving journey undertaken each year by Santa's reindeer from magical to downright dystopian. The lyrics "This house must be the last now/And we follow Mister Santa to the end" sound far more like grim fatalism than any sort of merriment.

The song featured on the Swedish sibling duo's 2001 debut album as the closing track. They've since gone their separate ways, with singer Karin Dreijer finding success brilliantly weirding out the world under the name Fever Ray.

James Brown - Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto

They didn't call him "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business" for nothing, this track comes from James Brown's 22nd album in just ten years, 1968's A Soulful Christmas. It's the album's opener and the Godfather of Soul lays down his authoritative list of demands to Santa over swinging basslines, rock-solid beats and a horn solo that riffs on the "Jingle Bells" melody.

As a bonus, there's the very similarly titled but unrelated "Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto" by Snoop Dogg, a more modern take on funk, in Snoop's signature laid-back, hazy style of West-Coast Hip Hop with a slinky, freewheeling bassline and a meaner, grittier take on the lyrical theme, reflecting the gangster rap popular at the time.

Tom Waits - Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

People boasting at length about their and/or their offspring's achievements of the year in Christmas cards is a common pet peeve among many unwilling recipients who feel further beaten down by the notion that everyone else's lives are more perfect than theirs.

Take comfort then that you're not Tom Waits, who receives a truly harrowing Christmas card in this characteristically squalid and whiskey-addled slice of dark Americana. The titular hooker tells of how she's on the up and up, clean, with a good husband and expecting a baby, before confessing that all that was a lie and laying out the truly grim reality she finds herself in. If you thought the hard-drinking, spiteful couple in The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" had terrible lives, well, buckle in.

Kate Bush - December Will Be Magic Again

Kate Bush's famous brand of whooping, mercurial baroque pop makes a great fit for a Christmas song since it evokes the olden days of gas lamps, cobbled streets and flashing a bit of ankle being considered racy, as still popularly depicted on many Christmas cards. The lively theatricality of the song also feels vaguely reminiscent of the music from the Tim Burton-produced classic The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The song only made it to #29 in the UK charts and has somewhat fallen between the cracks of Bush's extensive discography, nestled between her better-known dark lullaby "Army Dreamers" and the absolutely loopy "Sat in Your Lap". Nonetheless, it has its fans - including Elton John, who selected it for his 2005 compilation Elton John's Christmas Party - and is certainly deserving of rediscovery.

King Diamond - No Presents for Christmas

What starts as a sarcastically sickly rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is suddenly halted in its tracks by King's manic laughter, before giving way to a barrage of intense 80s speed metal riffs. King Diamond is well-known for being an overtly theatrical performer, and he's a natural fit to play a cruel, fun-wrecking Grinch or Krampus-like figure as he does on this ridiculously cheesy and fun oddity.

The corpse-painted showman's vocals most definitely won't be to everyone's tastes as he alternates been his trademark ghostly shrieks of shockingly high falsetto and deep, guttural growls and snarls, but for those who are onboard with it, this is the stuff of legend.

The Fall - (We Wish You) A Protein Christmas

Manchester post-punkers, The Fall, have recorded a surprising number of Christmas songs, including a rendition of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", but this original piece with its distinctly question-raising title is the standout. It's latter-day The Fall, 2003 to be exact, so art-rock auteur and scary man you avoid down the pub, Mark E. Smith, delivers a vocal performance even less comprehensible than those of his 80s heyday, backed by a surprisingly angelic-sounding choir of bandmates.

Lyrical highlights include "The only thing good to say is/All the politicians are on holiday" and him slurring "Pra-ha-hahaha-ha-gue" (as in the Czech capital) to a rhythm reminiscent of "Little Drummer Boy". It's just the kind of magically shambolic brilliance that made the band cult favourites.

Tim Minchen - White Wine in the Sun

Down to the Southern Hemisphere now, where White Christmases are even more assuredly never going to happen, making the white - rather than mulled - wine of the title totally appropriate.

Australian comedian Tim Minchen delivers a modern, secular Christmas ballad that - beyond delivering the humorous cynicism you'd rightly expect - also packs an emotional punch in the form of some genuine unironic sentimentality. It's a heartfelt reminder to all the Christmas naysayers that although some of the magic of Christmas might be artificial and overly commercialized, the magic of time spent with family creating warm memories is genuine and priceless. You'd need a hard heart to have dry eyes by the end.

Bob Dylan - Must Be Santa

Not what you'd typically expect from the Nobel laureate, whose 1960s classics typically featured harmonica rather than accordion and contemplative, dense lyrics rather than the wild abandon present here. "Must Be Santa" was originally recorded by Mitch Miller in 1960 and has been covered by others since, but Dylan's 2009 cover transforms it with a high-energy polka rendition.

The jaunty rhythm, call-and-response lyrics and the simple pleasure of hearing Bob dryly enquire "Who laughs this way: 'Ho-ho-ho'?" in his sandpaper and glue voice make this an irresistibly fun song that would be perfectly suited to a particularly raucous sherry-fuelled seasonal knees-up. The video is a wild ride too, not least because Bob Dylan seems to have developed the uncanny ability to teleport, what a legend. Merry Christmas everyone.

James Brown - Image sourced from Flickr

Björk - This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Ramones - Image sourced from Flickr