We figured out somewhere along the way that our Holiday Mixtape show wasn't an annual tradition, actually. Mostly because we skipped doing it last year altogether. In retrospect, it's probably better this way: Christmas songs tend to feel like abrupt departures from the norm, with a set of rules all their own, and a certain ascribed timelessness that may ensure a somewhat Stepford Wives sameness but also, when the chips fall just right, a perpetual seasonal bonus for the performer in question. Which, let's be honest, is probably why many of the more recent holiday tracks happen.
It's with these greater thoughts in mind that we present our 2017 Holiday Mixtape show, in which we unwrap a few ditties you know and a great many you won't. Consider them conversation starters while you're spiking the eggnog.
I Wish It Was Christmas Today - Julian Casablancas
Mark guessed it was the other way around, but this track's genesis was part of a recurring SNL gag, where Horatio Sans led a peculiar band of holiday sweater wearers (Fallon and the omnipresent Casio keyboard, held in place by Kattan, Tracy Morgan doing this dance in place where his wrists are made of jello). And so of course Julian Casablancas of The Strokes rolled this song out as a semi-serious bonus release when his solo record dropped, and here we are. One of the better Strokes tracks not at all on a Strokes record. Cool sneaks up on you sometimes.
Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You - Billy Squier
It's Christmastime, 1981, and you work for MTV. There's some sort of an announcement, you're all shuffled into a studio onto some bleachers, wondering what the hell is going on, exactly, when in saunters Billy Squier at the top of his fame. He breaks into "Christmas Is The TIme To Say 'I Love You'" and by the time he's about halfway through, you think you know the words and start to lean into it. He does that weird dancing thing where he kind of looks like a rock marionette that needs a bathroom break, and there are VJs in a time capsule.
Just Like Christmas - Low
One of those situations where Low gifted their fans a holiday record, highlighted by a track ('Just Like Christmas') that doesn't remotely sound like any Christmas song you know. If melancholy came in the wrapper of sunny disposition, it would be this one, and if it showed up under your tree, there's a solid chance you'd listen to it all year round.
Merry Christmas Lil' Mama - Chance The Rapper
Chance (here in collaboration with R&B star Jeremih) is checking all the boxes with his holiday mixtape series, and this track spotlights his freewheeling command of the studio. From religious shout outs to a pretty direct request for some love from the ladies, this one's a surprising, confounding, thoroughly entertaining rollercoaster.
Christmas Time Is Here - Vince Guaraldi
Laconic and gorgeous. Christmas songs often have a tiny INSISTENT ear worm (much like what Checkov was subjected to in Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan), but this is always a palette cleanser. It takes its time, and just when you want to punch a 6 year old in the nose because "GODAMMIT I am not gonna buy you that drone, go meet up with your mom over there at Aveda"...and all of a sudden...there it is...and always feel better for 2 minutes. Till that little f$@ker shows back up...My favorite Christmas song.
Surfin' Santa - Lord Douglas Byron
All I'm saying about this one was that I was surprised that his Reindeer were named Jan and Dean...(was I?)
Christmas In Hollis - Run DMC
Go listen to RUN-DMC's classic (and it really lives up to that standard) and then search out Chance the Rapper's video "Jingle Barack". It's a parody of that RUN-DMC classic and some people are saying it might be a tremendous, beautiful, fantastic, and the best RUN-DMC tribute you will ever witness.
Redneck 12 Days of Christmas - Jeff Foxworthy
I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas - Gayla Peevey
I have somehow managed to never hear this song until about six months ago (you know, in the spirit of mid-summer). But this is from 1953, and features a ten-year-old waxing on about her wish for a rather-unwieldy animal to show up under her tree in her suburban home. Kinda hard to un-hear, but I don't think I want to.
Barbecue - Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas
Okay. So not necessarily a Christmas song, but definitely from a Christmas show, Jim Henson's fantastic Emmit Otter's Jugband Christmas from 1977. Apparently, Shane has never seen this inspired network holiday classic. To be fair, I haven't either in many, many years, but dug it as a kid. And hey--I'm from Texas, and this song is about barbeque.
Santa Baby - Gwen Stefani
A somewhat sanitized version of what has become a yearly staple of salacious Santa-sexualizing. Ms.Stefani provides just enough of what Shane refers to as "coo-ing" to render this thing close enough to foxy (but still weird), while toning it down for a morning Today Show audience.
Dominick the Christmas Donkey - Lou Monte
I kinda outsourced this one from a co-worker, but if Shane's reaction is any indication of success, then I'll take it. More than one of said co-workers consider this a classic. I'll just say this--if you've been desperately looking for a truly bizarre novelty song about a donkey cavorting about the the Italian hillsides in an attempt to help Santa deliver presents, well here ya go. You are welcome, and Merry Christmas.
Producer Mark's Picks
Merry Christmas Everybody - Slade
It pains me to admit that I have a soft spot for 70's British Glam Rock but… well… there it is. Slade's frontman, Noddy Holder, honestly looks like he's constantly having the time of his life. Mix that with 1973's Christmas #1, and you have a recipe for perfect holiday cheer.
Santa's Coming For Us - Sia
Seems just about anyone can stroll into a shopping mall, drop a few grand into a kiosk, and cut their very own Christmas album. So what a surprise to hear what could potentially be my favorite Christmas collection of modern times from an artist that I discounted as an eccentric performance personality with "Black and White Cookie" hair. Saying that this is my least favorite of all the tracks I've heard off Sia's 2017 Everyday Is Christmas release may sound like a slight, but couldn't be more of a compliment. Plus… I really love videos with a barf-load of celebrity cameos.
Lonely This Christmas - Mud
Slade may have captured the top slot for UK Christmas singles in 1973, but the following year it took a completely differ… aw, who am I kidding? It's another British Glam Rock band disguised as Elvis vocal impersonators complete with "Darlin'" soliloquious interlude. And if you aren't distracted by the guitar player's single wind chime earring, it's likely because you're staring at his exposed nipple.
Don't Shoot Me Santa - The Killers
The Killers recorded 11 (ELEVEN!) Christmas singles before calling it quits (on Christmas singles) this year. I'm not a big enough The Killers fan to have known that they ever recorded one. This particular song, and the video for it, apparently form the backstory for an ongoing struggle between lead singer Brandon Flowers and the jolly old elf himself, Santa Claus. It's an hilarious video with a solid The Killers backing and a modicum of simulated peril.