Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus, winter is a time for merriment (with booze, of course). Aside from overeating and growing discontentment over your weird uncle’s iffy politics, there’s one larger thread of celebratory commonality: music. So, in the spirit of the season, we’ve asked several Valley bands to share their underrated favorites. Those heartfelt carols and yuletide jams beyond the season’s barrage of “Blue Christmas” or “Let it Snow!” No matter what you celebrate, you’ll have something to drown out Aunt Barb.
Weird Radicals’ Andrew Cameron Cline
Harry Nilsson – “Remember (Christmas)”
“Remember (Christmas)” by the genius Harry Nilsson simultaneously encapsulates and transcends what one expects from holiday music. Reflection, melancholy, and pastoral nostalgia are all found at Nilsson’s piano while he deftly avoids typical Christmasy fare, save for the obligatory sleigh bells! This stands as one of my favorite holiday songs because it achieves what so many others only attempt: a Christmas song you can listen to year-round. Nilsson’s voice is angelic, yet unnerving; regretful, yet filled with hope. I am hard-pressed to find another singer so well-suited to nuance as Nilsson. His unforgettable delivery demands emotional reaction, just as one might find from a classic hymn. The Beatles considered Nilsson a true original for all of these reasons, and so should you.
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The Edisons’ Nick Cento
LCD Soundsystem – “Christmas Will Break Your Heart”
Flashback to 2015, where I was fresh out of a five-year relationship and was feeling similar to the Grinch atop Mount Crumpit. Disgusted by love and togetherness that the holidays bring, this song was released and has been my commiserating partner (paired with a bottle of bourbon) ever since. Merry Christmas!
Sam An (a.k.a. Lana Del Rabies)
Grouper – “Disengaged”
I’m not anti-holiday by any means, but I’m not the best person to ask about holiday music. However, this track by Grouper takes me back to memories of the transition from fall to winter while I was living in the Midwest. I’m an Arizona native, but I’ve lived in Detroit and spent a lot of time in Chicago. It was the first time I ever felt seasons change in real way. I remember walking down the city streets under the glow of holiday lights and people-watching while listening to this record, and it will forever embody this time of year for me.
Celebration Guns’ Christopher-Ignacio Blanco
Steve Vai – “Christmas Time Is Here”
In high school, I was a huge Steve Vai fan and had all of his albums. I don’t really love traditional Christmas music, but hearing Steve Vai’s Yuletide shredding on this 4:22 instrumental is the closest I come to getting in the mood this time of year.
No Volcano’s Jim Andreas
The Flaming Lips – “Christmas at the Zoo”
Clouds Taste Metallic is my favorite record by the Lips, and my favorite lineup of the band (Wayne Coyne, Ronald Jones, Steven Drozd, and Michael Ivins). “Christmas at the Zoo” begins with bells ringing and Wayne Coyne singing, “There wasn’t any snow on Christmas Eve and I knew what I should do / I thought I’d free the animals all locked up at the zoo.” The song is so full of imagery with such a positive vibe it makes me happy no matter what time of year it is. The video is a real trip, with fake snow and animals shooting laser beams out of their eyes — just what you would expect from the Lips.
Jane N’ The Jungle’s Jordan White
John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band – “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”
There’s a magic in the air around Christmastime, and I think it has to do with the love and hope for a brighter future. This song sings about people coming together, uniting as one, singing about world peace, which is quite powerful and helps me to connect to the beauty and all the wishes and prayers surrounded by the holidays. I hope one day that the wars can be over and we can all live in peace. It’s about a time of giving and helping others in need and helping create a better world. This song gives me those emotions when it’s often so easy to disconnect about why we celebrate Christmas all together. Also, there’s something angelic and haunting when you hear the children singing in this song that’s truly beautiful and gives me hope for our future.
The Apaches’ Adam Gold
They Might Be Giants – “Santa’s Beard”
The Apaches love to listen to “Santa’s Beard” during the holidays. It’s a reminder of the fact that sometimes the surprises you receive aren’t the ones you expect.
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Wyves’ Corey Gloden
The Kinks – “Father Christmas”
I feel like this song is a direct representation of the stress incurred by the middle and working class around Christmastime. “Give my Dad a job, give me some money / Leave the toys for the little rich boys.” The song just rocks. When you can combine Christmas with sticking it to the man, you got me on board.
Dry River Yacht Club’s Henri Benard
Pentatonix – “White Winter Hymnal” (Fleet Foxes cover)
To me, this is a beautiful rendition centered around the beauty of the human voice, full of joy, love, human connection, and pure cheese. And, it is still so much fun to sing along to this tune with your loved ones, even after so many years.