Some of the worst holiday songs and covers are branded into the modern human psyche. They blast through shopping malls, SUV door panels, Christmas cards and culminate in the year’s most wretched TV advertisements.
Luckily there are many musical geniuses who have been able to elevate the holiday cheer for those “Grinches” who can’t seem put up with another round of “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.” These are their stories:
Rev Run & the Christmas All Stars – “Santa Baby”
RUN-DMC’s Rev Run took Eartha Kitt’s classic Christmas song and, with the help of everyone from Puff Daddy to Snoop Doggy Dogg, transformed it into something a little more ‘90s.
The first few lines are taken verbatim from Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” (“It was December 24 on Hollis Ave. in the dark”) and are followed by Salt-n-Pepa making pleas to Santa for a light blue, 1998 convertible fresh off the market.
Meshugga Beach Party — “Oh Hanukkah”
Meshugga Beach Party is a Jewish surf band. According to their website, they were in the semi-finals of “America’s Got Talent” in Portland, Ore. and also cut a track with guitarist Duane Eddy.
“Oh Hannukkah” combines the traditional sounds of surf music with the even more traditional sounds of Jewish songs into something altogether new and exciting.
(Also, as far as holiday surf music is concerned, Los Straitjackets do a fine job.)
Dr. John — “Il Est Né, Le Divin Enfant”
This jazz-soul-zydeco song is magical. Dr. John is able to take a traditional French carol and give it this New Orleans voodoo flare. It’s a special example of a cultural and musical phenomenon that most advertising agencies wouldn’t naturally take to, so nobody will ever have to fear it getting ruined.
Elvis Presley — “Blue Christmas”
Christmas can get lonely sometimes, and Elvis Presley seemed to know that better than anybody.
The songwriters of “Blue Christmas” acknowledge the blue tint that snow often gives off in a classic example of combining literal and figurative images. Presley understands this fully when he compassionately sings “You’ll be doin’ all right, with your Christmas of white / But I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas.” It’s as if he sees a palette of colors and in those crystalline flakes, and they bring him to sorrow.
Marc Cohn — “Ma’oz Tzur (Rock of Ages)”
Marc Cohn is a singer-songwriter originally from Cleveland but his most well-known song is “Walking in Memphis,” in which he frequently references Elvis.
“Ma’oz Tzur (Rock of Ages)” is an English translation of “Ma’oz Tzur,” a Hanukkah song that dates back to the 13th or 14th century, according to oztorah.com. Cohn’s version keeps the serenity and faithfulness of the original but adds in acoustic and electric guitar and various forms of percussion as well.
The Drifters — “White Christmas”
This is the best cover of the already-fantastic song written by Irving Berlin and most popularly performed by Bing Crosby.
The Drifters were one of the premiere doo-wop groups of the ’50s with hits such as “This Magic Moment” and “Under the Boardwalk.” Their cover of “White Christmas” reached younger audiences when Macaulay Culkin lip synced it into a comb in “Home Alone.”
The Bird and The Bee — “Carol of the Bells”
The Bird and The Bee, an indie-pop duo from Los Angeles, recorded their version of “Carol of the Bells” as a single in 2007, according to the band’s website. The song contains strange vocal and instrumental layering, giving it an eerie feel. The catch is that “Carol of the Bells” was already bizarre, and so was The Bird and The Bee, making this specific song possibly only second to Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” in terms of uncanny Christmas music — and that’s awesome.
John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band — “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”
“So this is Christmas,” John Lennon sings as if he never really understood. In the song, Lennon acts as a translator between those who are comfortable and privileged and those who are downtrodden and suffering. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” was originally a protest song against the Vietnam War, but every lyric stands true today. The most moving part is the children repeating in the background “War is over / If you want