Pick 5: Not-So-Traditional Christmas Songs for Traditional Christmas

Christmas Day is over, and all of the traditional Christmas songs have also gone away – for the past month (and sometimes into November), you couldn’t go to any public place with a sound system without hearing these yuletide tunes on repeat. I’ve never been one for traditional Christmas music; I blame my parents for playing Josh Groban’s Christmas album Noel over and over during the holiday season when I was younger. However, it is still officially Christmas, the 12 days of Christmas, in fact. And so, I’ve gathered a list of some alternative Christmas songs that I’ve grown to love and appreciate over the years to carry us through to the end of the season on January 6.

“Hard Candy Christmas,” Dolly Parton

This Dolly Parton classic wasn’t conceived as a Christmas tune. Originally written by Carol Hall for the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, “Hard Candy Christmas” became a bona fide Christmas song once Dolly put it on her collaborative album with Kenny Rogers, Once Upon A Christmas, and after she performed the song on Bob Hope’s Christmas special in 1988. I love this song because it starts off so sad. And then there’s so much possibility and hope for the future with every ‘maybe’ Dolly croons – life and the holiday season may be hard, but we have the opportunity to make of it what we will. Dolly lets us know that it will all be fine.

“I Just Wanted to Say,” My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket, one of those quintessential early aughts indie bands, released a Christmas EP entitled My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style in 2000, which was very early in their career. And, with artists like Nick Cave listed in the composer credits the EP is anything but a fiasco. My favorite song of the bunch is “I Just Wanted to Say.” The song has a sad indie sound with some alt-country guitar twang, but it’s actually a very endearing and sweet song lyrically – Jim James just wants to be a little part of your cheer.

“River,” Joni Mitchell

“River” is another song that was not meant to become a part of the Christmas song canon, instead being merely written with the temporal setting of the Christmas season. The song borrows melodies from classic Christmas songs that give it that Christmas feel, but the melancholic and nostalgic lines and winter imagery by the Queen of sad and thoughtful lyrics are what really make this a spectacular Christmas song for me.

“Christmas in Harlem,” Kanye West, CyHi da Prynce, Teyana Taylor

Anyone who knows me knows I love and am fascinated by Kanye West, and I try to find any excuse to talk about him. And so, of course, his Christmas song would be on my list! “Christmas in Harlem” was released in 2010 as a part of his GOOD Fridays free music giveaway series. Like most of the other songs on this list, the lyrics speak to the sadder side of Christmas like not being able to be with family and the disillusionment with the consumerist culture surrounding the season.

“It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!,” Sufjan Stevens

This is definitely the happiest track from my list! The song comes from a box set of five different Christmas and Christmas-related EPs the singer Sufjan Stevens released between 2001 and 2006. Sufjan is known for his haunting lyrics and unique banjo playing, and what this Christmas song lacks in haunting lyrics, it more than makes up for in unique and wonderful banjo sounds! I picked this song out of the long track list just because I thought you all deserved at least one genuinely happy sounding Christmas song – and who doesn’t love a banjo-filled Christmas?

Summer Apostol is a frontline associate at The Museum Store and also a technical services assistant at Kelly Library at Emory & Henry College. More importantly, she is a huge music fan and active in the radio world, helping Radio Bristol DJ Toni Doman with spooky (and not-so-spooky) sound effects for “Mountain Song and Story” and hosting her own radio show “Art Talk” at local station WEHC 90.7, where she makes the connection between visual art and music through interviews with local and visiting artists.

≪ Back to all blog posts

Site Search