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14 alternative Christmas songs that you might not have heard before

Run DMC
(Image credit: Run DMC/YouTube)

Christmas songs are like sprouts: you probably loathe them, but once a year you pile them on your plate as if Boxing Day was the Apocalypse.

Of course, we’re all familiar with the croons, glam-rock party staples and snow-topped singalongs, but what about the alternative mixtape? The indie bands, rappers and disco queens whose festive gems and genre-destroying cover versions are lost under a deluge of Frank Sinatra and Boney M?

They’re right here, of course: grab yourself a glass of something non-traditional and check out 14 Christmas songs that you haven’t heard a million times before…

1. Prince - Another Lonely Christmas

Rocking around the Christmas tree is all well and good, but not a patch on listening to a funky little chap from Minneapolis moaning about his girlfriend leaving him.

That said, at one point he does mention that he’s got a bit of a thing for her sister, so you can’t really blame the poor girl for walking out.

2. Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

As even the hardiest of metal heads would testify, heavy metal Christmas music is awful. So awful, however, it (almost) becomes essential listening.

So, for the existence of compilations called Monster Ballads Xmas, We Wish You A Hairy Christmas and the similar (albeit longer-titled) We Wish You A Metal Xmas… And A Headbanging New Year, MusicRadar salutes you!

Here’s the first of two entries from We Wish You A Metal Xmas;  hard rock legends Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi take on that oldest of ye olde carols, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

3. Clarence Carter - Back Door Santa

Clarence Carter’s track about “making all the little girls happy, while the boys are out to play,” “chasing the children home,” and “giving them a few pennies so we could be alone” is still as refreshingly anti-Christmas as it was in 1968.

Covered by the likes of Jet, The Black Crowes and Bon Jovi, if nothing else, it’s a soulful reminder to keep your doors locked throughout December.

4. Run-DMC - Christmas In Hollis

'Novelty' hip-hop is a near-impossible trick to pull off, but in 1987, Run-DMC could still rock the beats and the funnies.

Christmas In Hollis is built around a sample of Clarence Carter's aforementioned Back Door Santa, and although it's (macaroni) cheesy as hell, it's all you need to make any old-skool yule rule. Word!

5. Oceansize - Walking In The Air

If the original, expansive soundtrack to flying through the winter sky holding the hand of an animated snow-sculpture wasn’t on a grand enough scale, Oceansize’s post-rock interpretation will blow your mind and melt your face. In equal parts bleak and oh so epic.

6. Cocteau Twins - Frosty The Snowman

Between Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole’s crooned staples and The Ronettes, The Beach Boys and The Jackson 5’s soul-tinged efforts, there was only ever going to be one logical artistic direction for Frosty The Snowman: lush and atmospheric with iceberg-sized instrumentals.

It was released with Winter Wonderland on the Cocteau Twins’ 1990 Snow EP, which will now set you back a fair few quid on eBay.

7. Big Dee Irwin - Swinging On A Star

Swinging On A Star was originally another croon favourite of Bing and his ilk, but it’s the little-known one hit wonder that was Big Dee Irwin and partner Little Eva’s ice cool 1963 rendition that we’re celebrating here.

With lyrics including “If you don’t go to school, you might grow up to be a mule,” it’s the equivalent of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town for the kids in the know.

8. Aimee Mann - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Given that she wrote and performed Wise Up, the song that soundtracks the bit in the middle of Magnolia where everybody essentially falls apart, you wouldn’t have expected Aimee Mann to release a knockabout Christmas record. She didn’t, and her version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas from 2006’s One More Drifter In The Snow is splendidly melancholic.

9. Lemmy, Billy Gibbons and Dave Grohl - Run Rudolph Run

The second cut from We Wish You A Metal Xmas… And A Headbanging New Year brings together a supergroup that it’s a shame we didn’t hear more from: Lemmy, Billy Gibbons and Dave Grohl.

10. Low - Just Like Christmas

Any fans of American indie (or just indie, for that matter) with a penchant for slowcore and sleigh bells will be familiar with Low’s 2003 Christmas EP. On the whole, it somehow manages to avoid any novelty clichés while staying in line with the Duluth trio's trademark sound. Just Like Christmas in particular is a revelation of rollicking Spector-style production.

11. James Brown - Santa Claus (Go Straight To The Ghetto)

Ah ha, The Godfather Of Soul. Or The Godfather Of Yule, as a quick glance though his prolific contribution to Christmas LPs might demand: James Brown Sings Christmas Songs; A Soulful Christmas; The Merry Christmas Album… we could go on.

This funky request for Santa to skip the lucky in favour of the brothers in The Ghetto is a fitting tribute.

12. Joey Ramone - Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)

The Ramones’ original 1987 version of Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) is suitably aggressive with an appropriately galling accompanying video. However, late frontman Joey Ramone reworked the track for a solo release in 2001, slowing down the tempo and softening the edges to create the mini festive (anti) fighting anthem that we’re raising a glass to here. Cheers; here’s to peace, man.

13. Donna Summer - Winter Melody

Winter Melody represents the festive period of Donna Summer’s 1976 five-track concept album Four Seasons Of Love (if you’re wondering what the fifth track/season is, it’s Spring Reprise). The song goes against the disco grain of the era, but the soulful melody does nothing to dampen the nostalgia and sentimentality of Christmas time.

14. Reuben - Christmas is Awesome

Reuben are (were) awesome, this song is awesome, the video is awesome and, yes, Christmas Is Awesome.

Lyrical highlight (delivered with screaming hardcore panache): "And if I eat a sprout, you gotta eat a sprout, you gotta suffer too." Awesome.