Here are songs #80 to #71 in the 2020 edition of Indi’s alternative holiday playlist.
Even death metal fans get into the holiday spirit! And… vikings? Amon Amarth takes its name from Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings, as rendered in the fictional language of the elves. They’re a Swedish death metal band famous for using Viking themes in their lyrics and imagery, with album titles like With Oden on Our Side and the song “Twilight of the Thunder God” describing the final battle between Thor and the world-serpent Jörmungandr at Ragnarök. This song fits with the theme, but plays with it in a hilariously clever way.
The song is sung by a band of self-proclaimed Vikings, who remark on their disdain for Christianity and its traditions… then admit that they nevertheless enjoy the holiday. The lyrics are deliriously funny:
Most of the year, we are but heathens, / sailing, fighting, plundering, and crushing skulls. / We confess to fight for Odin; we pretend to be his horde. / But when the year draws to an end things get kind of bizarre. At which point, the Viking skull-crushers start singing about how sentimental they get over their childhood holiday traditions such as presents and gingerbread, with daffy imagery like
five bearded vikings reenact the Nativity scene, and the chorus ending:
Nobody can escape the magic of Christmas. (This same band also did an insanely death metal take on, of all things, “Jingle Bells”.) Definitely a tune you’ll want to bring out while celebrating the holidays at the grandparents’.
MxPx started out back in 1992, releasing their first album, 1994’s Pokinatcha, while the band members were still in high school. They were originally intended to be a punk rock band, but when pop punk became huge in the late 1990s, they became part of the wave. Interestingly, for most of their early years, they were considered a Christian punk rock band—they have three #1 albums on the Billboard Christian charts… hardly a feat to sneeze at for a punk group. They’ve walked away from their Christian roots though, with singer Mike Herrera saying in 2015 that he wasn’t a Christian anymore.
This song is an amusing mashup of holiday cheer and a Romero nightmare. As to be expected in such a scenario, there’s plenty of blood and guts, shotguns and axes to the head, all described in high-energy punk attitude. It doesn’t sound like it ends well for the narrator though… or anyone else for that matter.
I’m far from the only atheist whose noted that the traditions associated with Christmas are far less fun than those of Halloween. And it’s only natural to connect the two holidays—they occur around the same time, close enough that some stores literally take down the Halloween junk and put up the Christmas junk at the same time; that was the inspiration of the Tim Burton film The Nightmare Before Christmas. The San Francisco trio Happy Fangs apparently agree with me about which holiday is superior. (Interestingly, they also seem to think that even Thanksgiving is superior to Christmas, if “Fangsgiving” is to be believed, which they insist is “more than just a portmanteu, bites better than cookie dough, gives December a new glow”.)
Happy Fangs has a dirty-but-fun sound, with Michael Cobra’s raucous guitar over Jess Gowrie’s pounding drums, topped by Rebecca Bortman’s cheery vocals. Bortman has a blast creeping up Christmas traditions, intimating that when Santa is checking who’s asleep or awake he might be up to something else, and addressing the listener after an evil laugh:
I bet you thought this song was going to be jolly.
Santa Claus is weird. He’s weird enough if you’re from a climate where it’s cold enough that the fur suit and sleigh make some kind of sense, but if you’re from a tropical climate, Santa Claus looks really weird. Growing up in Barbados, I recall bafflement from other kids about the fact that Santa Claus is so red. They didn’t understand what cold does to pale complexions—having a shortage of either to observe—and there were only two things they were aware of that would turn someone’s nose and cheeks bright red. One was booze, and there was plenty of speculation that Santa was indeed quite pickled during his journey. The other was excessive sun: a sunburn. And once the idea hits you, it makes perfect sense (at least to someone growing up in the tropics)—and simply by following that train of thought, this song pretty much unfolds.
This song was originally written by a German ex-pat Caymanian named George Nowak, who has written thousands of songs under the name The Barefoot Man. However, this version is by the Barbadian band The Merrymen. In my opinion, this is by far the better take. The rhythm is eased up, and the children’s chorus dropped, and Emile Straker’s sonorous vocal work adds a po-faced gravitas to the song, rather like the tone an elder takes when sharing a myth—like the Santa Claus myth itself—to wide-eyed, credulous children.
From the FLips comes this off-beat Christmas song about a guy who decides that he’s going to let the zoo animals out of their cages for Christmas, only to be foiled when the animals say, “thanks but no thanks, man”, they’d rather free themselves, though they appreciate his concern.
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.
South Park has always had a very close relationship to Christmas. It started with a 5-minute short by Trey Parker and Matt Stone called The Spirit of Christmas, in which Jesus and Santa have a fight over ownership of the holiday. The short was commissioned by a Fox executive, who had seen an earlier Trey and Stone short called The Spirit of Christmas—in which Jesus battles a homicidal Frosty—as a video Christmas card he could send to friends, but went viral. The popularity of the video led to talks with Fox to create a series, but Fox decided against it, reportedly because they were grossed out by the idea of Mr. Hankey, a sentient piece of shit (like, a literal piece of shit). Comedy Central had no issues with the scatological character, and South Park was born.
This song comes from the 1999 album South Park: Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics, the soundtrack to the third season episode of the same name. Performed by Trey Parker—“Juan Schwartz” is one of his aliases—and an actual children’s choir, it offers a hilarious contrast between the absurdly bleak lyrics and the charming melody and cheerful children’s voices.
The California punk scene produced an astounding number of headlining bands over two periods of a few years, and The Vandals have the rare distinction of being associated with both of those periods. They first broke out alongside Bad Religion, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, and Social Distortion in the early 1980s, standing out from the crowd by being the clowns of the group rather than tackling the same serious social issues the others focused on. They started to fade away in the late 1980s after some lineup changes, but reemerged in the 1990s along with an entirely new wave of Cali punk bands that included Blink-182, Green Day, and The Offspring.
This song comes from an honest-to-goodness Christmas album that they made in that second period (albeit one that comes chock full of their trademark humour). It obviously predates the idiotic “bathroom bill” battles, and is—in a way—ahead of its time with its transgender/transsexual theme. Granted, it’s not a serious look at the topic, and is really just on the level of marginally offensive, juvenile humour. On the other hand, the song can be interpreted as a cheerful celebration of finally transitioning to the gender one’s always felt themselves to be. And of course, how can one resist the cathartic subversiveness of a Christmas song with the lines:
Chop it off! Chop it off! My penis, chop it off!
Graham Parker is primarily known as a rock musician—mostly from his time backed by The Rumour as Graham Parker & The Rumour—but the truth is that over his almost five-decade long career, he has dabbled in several genres. Parker recently reunited with The Rumour—famously depicted in the 2012 Judd Apatow film This Is 40—and they released a couple albums, but nowadays Parker has a new backing band: The Goldtops.
But Parker’s first love, going back to his childhood, has always been soul music. This track is off of Parker’s 1994 EP Graham Parker’s Christmas Cracker. It’s basically just a list of call-outs to some of soul music’s biggest names—everyone from James Brown to Otis Redding, Sam Cooke to Aretha Franklin – all put together in a fun fantasy Christmas party.
The Sing-Off was a reality show that ran for five seasons, whose conceit was to find the best a capella group. The second season runner-up was a group called Street Corner Symphony, which was formed for the express purpose of competing on the show. That group consisted of brothers Jeremy and Richie Lister, brothers Jon and Mark McLemore, John Martin, and Adam Chance. Today Street Corner Symphony still exists, with an entirely different lineup: only Jeremy Lister remains of the original group (Richie Lister has been replaced with younger brother Jonathan Lister, who actually competed in The Sing-Off in the third season with a group called The Collective).
Jeremy Lister also has a solo career, which had started long before Street Corner Symphony and seen some success, though his first full album—The Bed You Made—wouldn’t come until 2011. (He also performs as Lister Brothers with Jonathan and Richie.) This tune was released on the 2009 compilation album Gift Wrapped – 20 Songs That Keep on Giving! that includes Michael Bublé, R.E.M., and The Flaming Lips.
When I first listed this song in 2013, I commented mainly on the hilariousness of the lyrics. Some people walked away unsure if “Red Water” was actually a serious representative sample of doom metal that I just found funny, rather than one actually intended to be tongue-in-cheek. Well, it comes off Type O Negative’s October Rust album, the first track of which is called “Bad Ground”… and is actually 40 seconds of speaker buzz (the sound a speaker makes when the speaker cable has a bad ground, natch). A previous album was called Origin of the Feces, and the cover featured a closeup on front man Peter Steele’s anus. Their greatest hits album—called The Least Worst Of—opens with “The Misinterpretation of Silence and Its Disastrous Consequences”… which is just 40 seconds of silence and is actually one of the two best-known tracks from their first album (yes, silence is literally is one of their greatest hits). Yeah, this is not a band that is adverse to horseplay.
This has to be the most depressing Christmas song ever written. It is relentlessly morose—both lyrically, with lines like,
the table’s been set for but seven… just last year I dined with eleven, and musically, even turning “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” into a funeral dirge. That said, with lines like
the stockings are hung / but who cares? / preserved for those no longer here…, it’s still loads of fun to sing along to. In fact, I have a friend who—whenever something goes horribly awry this time of year—loves to break out wailing, “woe, mistletoe!”