Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
OK, the Phil Spector-produced classic is hardly obscure, but a song so rich, soulful and downright stirring can’t be excluded. Plus, it features Oklahoma’s own Leon Russell on piano (back in his studio session days) with a performance that was good enough for Spector to toss him a $100 bill on the spot.
“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” Gayla Peevey (1953)
Ten-year-old Gayla Peevey of Ponca City charmed viewers of The Ed Sullivan Show with this novelty tune. It certainly proved charming enough to initiate a fundraising campaign that culminated with the girl being presented with a 700-pound baby hippo named Matilda. Gayla, evidently a fickle child, promptly gave the hippo to the Oklahoma City Zoo.
“Christmas at the Zoo,” The Flaming Lips (1995)
The local zoo also appears in the Christmas canon of Oklahoma City’s alt-rock royalty. In this candy-coated psychedelic pop from the Lips’ album Clouds Taste Metallic, Wayne Coyne tries in vain to liberate the animals on a snowless Christmas Eve.
“Santa Claus,” The Sonics (1965)
The granddaddies of lo-fi garage punk serenade the big guy in hopes of winning “a cute little honey and lots of money.” As it turns out, this Kris Kringle is not so jolly.
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” Weezer (2008)
Who knew that the good tidings of this Yuletide chestnut could sound like a Rivers Cuomo original?
“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (1985)
The Boss recorded this jangly gem back in 1975 but didn’t get around to releasing it as a single until his Born in the U.S.A. heyday. No Xmas playlist should be without it.
“Christmas in Harlem,” Kanye West (2010)
“Little Saint Nick,” The Beach Boys (1964)
“I Want an Alien for Christmas,” Fountains of Wayne (2005)
“Merry Christmas from the Family,” Jill Sobule (1996)
Robert Earl Keen deserves props for authoring this wry ode to a booze-addled Christmas, but Sobule’s lovingly ambling cover is the perfect version. You might feel tipsy with just one listen.
“Presents for Christmas,” Solomon Burke (1967)
“This is gonna be a groove for me,” Burke promises as he opens this irresistible slice of soul — and the late, great king of R&B holds true to his word.
“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” The Brian Setzer Orchestra (2005)
Swing, swing, swing, Dr. Seuss! Only the Grinch himself could resist this big-band ode to the timeless 1966 cartoon How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
“White Christmas,” The Drifters (1955)
“Goyim Friends,” The LeeVees (2005)
With a tip of the yarmulke, this Jewishcentric rocker pays homage to Christmas revelers while “we will march on with General Tso and egg foo young.”
Cyndi Lauper and The Hives, “A Christmas Duel” (2008)
There is plenty of naughty and not so much nice in this raucous tale of a perversely dysfunctional couple at Christmastime. Just what the hell is in that stocking?
“Merry Christmas Baby,” Charles Brown (1947)
It’s closing time at your favorite watering hole. You’re out of smokes, and there’s no telling how much whiskey you’ve thrown down that miserable gullet of yours. This is the song for you.
“Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues w/ Kirsty MacColl (1987)
Shane MacGowan’s drunken lament is easily one of the best Christmas songs of all time — no small feat for a ditty that wrings emotional resonance from such lyrics as “You scumbag, you maggot.”