The Thanksgiving leftovers barely have time to nestle into their respective pieces of Tupperware before we move on to the next holiday, Christmas, and the endless barrage of Christmas music that comes with it. During those first few days of the Christmas season, the classics are for the most part tolerable. You’re putting up the tree, untangling lights, wondering where the hell the ornament your aunt got your wife and you about a decade ago went, and throughout it all, the familiar sounds of Brenda Lee, Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, Elvis, and others play through the house and the car and every damn store you go in.
It’s okay to admit that the classics get to you. This is a safe space. Two days into the season and I’m ready to fast forward to the cold darkness of winter if I have to hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” one more time. Oh, and did you know that they made a movie based on that song and it’s an insult to dog owners everywhere? It’s true. It’s on Netflix. Don’t watch it. You’re welcome.
You can’t really escape Christmas classics during December. It’s true. But you can find a way around it thanks to alternative versions of the classic songs in question recorded by modern artists. For instance, recently Spoon covered the Beatles’ Christmas tune “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)” for Spotify. Here are ten other different versions of some Christmas classics that hopefully can help get you through the magical Christmas season with your sanity still intact.
Khruangbin “Christmas Time Is Here”
Texas desert space funk trio Khruangbin covered “Christmas Time Is Here,” made famous thanks to its inclusion in A Charlie Brown Christmas back in 2018. The group makes the Vince Guaraldi their own, giving it a nice groove and inserting a dose of atmospheric wonder to it, without losing the general essence of the original. You’d have to think Schroeder would approve.
Death Cab for Cutie “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
Few Christmas songs have the energy and gusto of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Between you and me, it’s probably my favorite Christmas song out of all of them. And while Death Cab’s version does have some energy to it, it’s definitely a more meditative and slightly somber take on the Phil Spector, Wall of Sound classic. It’s always been a song of emotion and in their version, Death Cab twists that emotion ever so slightly, making it more of an emotional plea.
The Shins “Wonderful Christmastime”
“Wonderful Christmastime” hasn’t reached iconic classic status yet, but as far as “modern” songs go, it’s definitely on the top of the waiting list. Its number is bound to be called one of the years. I can feel it. The Shins version, included in the 2012 compilation of Christmas songs, Holidays Rule, doesn’t stray too far from Paul McCartney’s original. If anything, they add even more top-tapping pop to it. Come on, that’s an achievement in its own right. How could anyone make a McCartney song more chipper? They do it, though, even getting literal, adding a children’s choir to the bridge.
Coldplay “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
This is from the version of Coldplay that you first fell in love with, long before they became global pop world-beater Coldplay. This is the Coldplay that centers around somber Chris Martin’s puppy dog vocals and a lingering piano in the background. There’s nothing groundbreaking about this version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” nor is it any kind of wild right turn. And you know what, that is perfectly fine. Ultimately it’s a delicate and beautiful version of a delicate and beautiful song.
She & Him “Silver Bells”
I’ve always liked “Silver Bells.” It’s fun to sing along to and even if you don’t know all the words, it’s easy to throw in a couple words here and there that feel like they belong. With only the ukulele strumming along to Zooey Deschanel’s crooning, they take it down a few notches and make a song made to sway along to that much easier, effectively improving the song’s Sway Rating, which isn’t a thing or more accurately, wasn’t a thing until now. This version of “Silver Bells” scores an 8.4 Sway Rating. Not bad.
Amy Winehouse “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”
Much like Amy Winehouse herself, her take on “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is a bit of a bridge between old and new. She takes this weird Christmas classic to school and does so in a very bare-bones fashion. You know that if she had wanted to, she could have really done this song up; possibly blown it out with the help of Mark Ronson. But it’s cool that she didn’t and that it comes off as if it was recorded during soundcheck, with only a few band members present, cigarette smoking wafting through the air, and at least one person thinking about how bizarre the song is.
Sidecar Radio “Little Drummer Boy”
A now-defunct band from Maine, Sidecar Radio throws a little Sublime-esque stank on this holiday standard. With its upstrokes and reggae/rock backbeat, you could say it’d fit nicely as the soundtrack to that Corona commercial you see every year — you know, the one with the illuminated palm tree. Well, that’s until the drummer goes off and the volume starts to wake the neighbors. Your young cousins will probably dig this one, which is dope. You can use it to relate to them. Or try to relate to them.
Weezer “O Holy Night”
You have to hand it to Weezer because even with an elementary-school choir mainstay like “O Holy Night,” they can run it through Rivers Cuomo’s scientific lab of pop music and make it sound like them. What is traditionally an exceptionally ethereal and mildly surreal song gets chunked up with distortion-wielding guitars and hammering drums. I think it’s a safe bet that your grandmother prefers the original. Or maybe not. I don’t know. Grandmothers are wild cards.
Jimmy Eat World ‘Last Christmas’
You could be forgiven for thinking that Jimmy Eat World, tried and true purveyors of adrenaline-thumping pop/punk/rock would put together a loud and driving version of Wham’s “Last Christmas.” Yet while the band’s cover of “Last Christmas” does have some drive to it, the music that is along for the ride is a bit more muted than some of our Jimmy Eat World favorites. A defining quality of Jimmy Eat World is the earnest and hopeful vocals of singer Jim Adkins and true to form, he gives the song a slightly more positive vibe than the original. Also, I love Jimmy Eat World. Excellent music to listen to in the car.
Sharon Van Etten ‘Blue Christmas’
Our first version of “Blue Christmas” comes from Sharon Van Etten. It’s haunting and lonely, sad and reflective. It makes you feel like you should be looking longingly out a frosted window, wondering where it all went wrong. Hey, Happy Holidays! And hey, keep the spirit alive with Van Etten’s equally downshifted version of “Silent Night.”
Bright Eyes ‘Blue Christmas’
Conor Oberst never met a song he couldn’t take straight down sorrow lane in a broken-down truck with soft country music crackling through the old radio and partially-busted speakers. So with that being said, what better than Oberst twanging up “Blue Christmas?” He aches! He yearns! He pines! Oberst makes you feel his pain. Hey, cause it’s the holidays and no one does nagging pain better than The Holidays. Just ask your local liquor store.
Portions of this piece originally appeared on UPROXX.