Here are songs #100 to #91 in the 2018 edition of Indi’s alternative holiday playlist.
100. “Sleigh Ride” – TLC
This song is occasionally billed as a remake or interpretation of the 1948/1950 classic “Sleigh Ride” (the tune was written in 1948, the lyrics were written in 1950 for The Andrews Sisters to perform). I don’t see it; certainly it borrows the name, and even a couple phrases, but the song is wholly different on every other level. I would call the borrowed lyrics a shout-out, rather than saying the whole song is meant to be an interpretation of the original “Sleigh Ride”. This “Sleigh Ride” was originally released as part of the soundtrack for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, and features the sparkly harmonies of the three singers over a funky bass line.
TLC has been called the best-selling American girl-group of all time, and is routinely counted among the greatest musical groups. What’s remarkable is that they pulled that off despite criminal charges – Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes threw a bunch of her football player boyfriend’s shoes into a bathtub and lit them on fire after a fight, and the fire went out of control – being screwed over by the record label and filing bankruptcy – they were only making 0.56¢ per album, split three ways, off of the biggest selling album by a girl group ever – and bickering between the members. Tragically, Left Eye died in a car crash in 2002 while filming a documentary – the camera was actually rolling during the accident. T-Boz and Chilli have carried on ably since, though they’ve only released one album – 2002’s 3D, which mostly eulogized Lopes. In 2017 they released their final album, TLC – part retrospective, part new music – after a Kickstarter campaign which became the fastest pop music campaign to reach its funding goals.
All Time Low started out as a high school band in the eighth grade, doing covers of pop-punk bands like Green Day, Blink-182, and, of course, New Found Glory – they are named after a lyric in the New Found Glory song “Head On Collision”. By the time they were in tenth grade, they had been signed to a record label, released an EP and a full studio album, and had their contract dropped. And then they were re-signed to another label, and then, in their senior year, only then announced that they were actually going to get serious about their music. Their first EP and album after that both charted – the latter went gold – and they’ve been a mainstay of the pop-punk scene ever since.
This song comes with a video featuring a puppet in a stereotypical office setting that seems to be having some kind of breakdown in the middle of the office Christmas party – sorry, holiday party, as the coworker insists it must be called.
98. ★ “Holiday” – The Hopefuls
The Hopefuls are another of those bands that isn’t really a band; more a label for a series of collaborations. They were initially The Olympic Hopefuls, until a run in with the International Olympic Committee’s legal team, but the artists that make up the group are associated with several other acts: Alva Star, Intl Falls, Spymob, Storyhill, and likely many more. Their major gimmick is dressing up alike onstage (they compare themselves to The Beatles in that way), and their mission is upbeat, feel good indie pop.
This track comes off of their 2005 debut album The Fuses Refuse to Burn, which comes from a line in this song.
It might come as a surprise to most Canadians that Sarah McLachlin didn’t release a Christmas song until 2006 – almost 20 years into her career. That year she released the album Wintersong, of which this is the title track, which went on to become the biggest Christmas album of the year in both Canada and the US. Unfortunately for our purposes, all the songs on that album (and her subsequent Christmas singles) are religious carols, with the exception of a decent cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” that became the lead single off the album, and this song, which was never even released as a single.
“Wintersong” has a beautiful, slow, melancholy melody, covered by McLachlin’s dreamy vocals. However, there’s not much to it, and the lyrics aren’t particularly creative either. It’s often said that artists sleepwalk through Christmas albums and singles, and that certainly seems to be true here. On the other hand, when an artist of McLachlin’s talent sleepwalks, the results are still a length ahead of what many other artists can do on their best days. The lyrics seem to be about someone who has passed, with McLachlin reflecting on the memories as she looks over the winter scene.
The Webb Brothers are Christiaan, Justin, James, and Cornelius Webb, plus Cal Campbell on drums. A lot of people seem to think they’re a UK band, but they’re actually from Chicago; they’ve just had most of their success across the pond. This is a band with a hell of a pedigree: The Webbs are all the sons of legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb, and Campbell is the son of Glen Campbell.
This track is a cover of a tune by The Chamber Strings from their 1999 debut Gospel Morning.
If you’re looking for something that is both irreverent and downright fun, Lady Gaga should always be one of the first places you check. Unsurprisingly, her take on Christmas music is not something you should expect to find on the Pope’s playlist. “Christmas Tree” is a synthpop mishmash of some traditional carols and other Christmas music, and some common Christmas tropes, all under some hilariously decadent lyrics that use “Christmas tree” as a metaphor for Gaga’s ladyparts. It’s hard not to giggle deliriously at the subversive and overt sexualization of Christmas tropes and classic songs. In this song, the fun comes in pulling the stockings down, not putting them up, and the idea of “spreading” Christmas cheer takes on an interesting new dimension. The “pa-ra-pa-pum-pum” from “The Little Drummer Boy” becomes the sounds of vigorous coitus, and even Handel’s “Messiah” gets skewered, as the classic “Hallelujah” chorus gets replaced by shout outs to Space Cowboy and Lady Gaga.
It’s very rare that the biggest complaint about a song is that it’s too short, but at two-and-a-half minutes you’re just getting into the pulsing beat when it’s abruptly over. I can only hope that there are some remixes out there that extend it enough that it can turn into a really great party song – oh man would it make my holiday to see a mass of people jumping up and down to the pounding beat while chanting:
Ho, ho, ho… under the mistletoe. Yes everybody knows… we will take off our clothes.
If you don’t look too closely, you might assume Trainwreck Riders is a country band from the heartland of America. But listen a little more closely, and things start sounding a little… of. While the band certainly has the sound of a standard country or blues/country band – bright, twangy guitars, harmonica, cracked vocals crooning – it also has hints a much more modern, indie rock flavour. And their lyrics – and the video – betray their city roots; they hail from San Francisco.
Trainwreck Riders are associated with what’s called “alt-country”: a genre that is the bastard offspring of country and 1990s alternative rock. Trainwreck Riders, for example, credits the Meat Puppets as their inspiration, and the band came together after meeting at a Mudhoney concert. At the same time, they also have connections to the country side of alt-country. The “trainwreck” in their name refers to a phenomenon in bluegrass music, where a song’s tempo increases gradually until it becomes too fast for the musicians to keep it, and everything is allowed to collapse into chaos.
I seriously doubt I need to introduce Neil Young to readers. Young’s career is one of the most influential in all of modern music. He’s one of only three people to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame first for his solo career then later as part of a band (the other two are Clyde McPhatter of The Drifters and Rod Stewart of Faces; it’s far more common to first be inducted as part of a group then for a solo career later, for example, as with all The Beatles). I could fill a page with the list of the man’s awards: multiple Junos including Artist of the Year, multiple Grammys including Best Rock Song, even a fricken’ Oscar nomination. All this and yet arguably he’s even more famous these days as a peace activist.
This song first appeared on some rare pressings of 1975’s Tonight’s the Night, but was officially released only on 1977’s Decade, Young’s first and for almost three decades only retrospective compilation album.
This isn’t The FLips’s first time on the list: they were previously represented by “Christmas at the Zoo”. This year, I decided to go with something different. This tune is a bit more straightforward than “Christmas at the Zoo”, both musically and lyrically. It comes from the 2003 EP Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell, released a year after Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, and before At War with the Mystics, two of their most popular albums.
Almost unbelievable but true, The Flaming Lips are the official rock band of the state of Oklahoma. This, despite antics like releasing a single on a flash drive encased in a blob of bubble-gum flavoured gummy-bear material shaped like a foetus. (A previous release was even more elaborate, encased in a gummy brain which in turn was encased in a gummy skull that was over three kilograms in total.) They are particularly famous for their live shows, and in fact were first signed to a major record deal after a record company executive observed them damn-near burning down the legion hall they were performing in with their pyrotechnics.
The Elders are an American band formed in 1998 from a group of seasoned musicians. They’ve never had any mainstream success of note, but they are often first-choice headliners for Celtic and Irish music festivals. Their unique sound blends the poetic storytelling and sparkling melodies of traditional Irish music with a very contemporary folk-rock sound, sometimes described as “Ameri-Celt”, and the result works astoundingly well. (The closest equivalent I can think of off the top of my head would be Great Big Sea, minus the latter’s distinctly maritime flavour, but with the addition of a hint of bluegrass.)
This tune doesn’t quite have The Elders’ distinct sound; it trades the traditional Irish flavour for a more standard pop-rock groove. Despite being uptempo with a nice, catchy melody, the lyrics are strangely depressing. They seem to be describing a family where everyone’s either dead or dying. The family gathers for the holiday, raises a toast to the departed/departing, then… just agrees to meet at the next holiday and do it again. If it sounds kind of Sisyphean to you, you’re not alone. Regardless, it’s a nice tune, and nice to sing along with if you don’t dwell too deeply on the meaning.