The Undertow: A way-too-early list of my favorite, lesser-known Christmas songs

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Here are a few holiday hits that are lesser-known that you should add to your wintry mix.  Photo by    freestocks.org    on    Unsplash

Here are a few holiday hits that are lesser-known that you should add to your wintry mix. Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

I was at the homecoming tailgate Saturday and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” was played twice: Both en route to East Hartford on the student bus and from the speakers of some unidentified frat. It may still be peak fall (the leaves around campus are picturesque right now), but I am taking those two instances as an excuse to get started on Christmas season – I usually wait until we get past Halloween, but the combination of the tailgate experience and there not being any “Halloween music” is all I need to start crafting my Christmas playlist. If you are doing the same, here are a few of my favorite holiday hits to round out your wintry mix.   

That Was the Worst Christmas Ever! – Sufjan Stevens 

Sufjan Stevens is one of my favorite artists of all time, and his soft, ASMR-adjacent voice is the perfect accompaniment for the upcoming barren months. He must have some self-awareness about this, having released two full-length Christmas albums in his lengthy career. My pick of the litter is the confusingly titled “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!,” a graceful acoustic waltz. The title implies that you might hear Suf croon about accidentally kissing your cousin under the mistletoe or the Christmas tree catching fire, but it is just about mixed feelings about the holiday season. Like many of his catalog, Sufjan makes the melancholy feel like a warm blanket.  

Last Christmas – Cascada 

It’s 10:30 p.m. on Christmas night. Your entire family is hitting the eggnog and mulled wine just a bit too hard and you quickly realize you need to put on something Santa could North Pole dance to. You’re about to hit the all-time classic “Last Christmas” by Wham! when a thought surfaces: Are there any up-tempo Eurobeat covers of this? There is, and it is insane. Cascada, famous for “Every time We Touch,” one of the most infectious hits of the 00s, released the sugary cover as a bonus track in 2007, and it goes hard. George Michael’s light 80s synths are traded in for drum-and-bass, and although it is not technically as good as the original, it is one of the only holiday tunes that could fit in seamlessly in a club setting.   

Christmas Song – Phoebe Bridgers 

I am one of Christmas’s biggest non-Christian fans. A seasonal Jew For Jesus, if you will. That said, there is a lot about the holiday season that can bring you down, especially if your friends mean more to you than the family cutting ham at home. Also, it is cold. Los Angeles songstress Phoebe Bridgers, who released the gem of a debut, “Stranger in the Alps” two years ago, quietly released this simply titled and orchestrated but beautiful ballad last winter. The chorus, which is a duet with fellow singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, reminds us why Christmas isn’t merry for all. “You don’t have to be alone to be lonesome/It’s easy to forget,” they sing. “The sadness comes crashin’ like a brick through the window/And it’s Christmas so no one can fix it.”  

Christmas in Washington – Joan Baez 

Sometimes a cover can be more than the sum of its parts. Six years before Joan Baez’s rendition, Steve Earle released the original “Christmas in Washington,” in the mid-90s, a beautiful anthem about discord on Capitol Hill, when in reality things were not that bad for the USA. Not ideal or anything close, but not bad. Six years later, Joan Baez released her version months after the United States’ embarrassing and shameful invasion of Iraq, bringing a new darkness to Earle’s words. A lifelong figure to human rights and protest song, Baez sang Earle’s lyrics with a new pain of the thousands of souls facing the worst years of their life. Americans reunited in the comfort of their homes while families halfway across their world saw theirs destroyed. It is a sobering anthem to realizing the privilege of having a holiday season that has only grown more true in its message as the world has worsened. Merry Christmas!  

Marshmallow World – The Regrettes 

In 1950, Bing Crosby released “A Marshmallow World.” It is bad. Sure he’s a great singer and all, but the sun already sets at 5 p.m. this upcoming season – I do not need another drowsy Baby Boomer-pleaser for my playlist. For years I held this position about the candy-named song (and I still do for the original), but a few years back the Californian punk outfit The Regrettes flipped Bing’s candy-laced track into an absolute bash that sounds like it belongs at Warped Tour, not bingo night. Complete with an absolutely killer combined guitar/saxophone solo in the middle, The Regrettes’ version of a yuletide classic is everything that is good about covers: turning a cold product into a beautiful concoction. It is the Christmas morning brunch of songs.  


Daniel Cohn is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.cohn@uconn.edu.

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