Holiday Music Revisited: Different Reinterpretations of Christmas Classics
As it happens, I’m in London right now, and one can’t find more inspiration to write an article about holiday music than here.
If you’re not familiar with the city, let me tell you how the festive season starts here: a day or two after Halloween, you start seeing Christmas decorations everywhere you look, and your favourite coffee shop starts playing a playlist that, for the distracted listener, might sound like an infinite loop of two songs: Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas and Wham’s Last Christmas.
Everyone and everything seem to have one simple message to convey: Christmas is coming, so buy tons of presents, and get yourself a Christmas jumper!
By now, you might have noticed my innate passion for Christmas. I love the day in itself, don't get me wrong: the communality, sharing presents and all that.
How can you not love that? But I’d prefer not to celebrate it for two months straight, that's all.
Throughout the years, musicians found their own ways to celebrate Christmas without sounding too cheesy, Mariah Carey-ish, or Michael Buble-ish.
From metal bands to octogenarian actors, many artistes had a go at this traditional type of music and decided to do it their own way, and often managed to convey powerful messages in the process.
So, let's take a look at some who I think did a remarkable job revisiting Christmas music.
WILLIAM SHATNER – ‘SHATNER CLAUS’
William Shatner. Credit: Jason Shook
I’m a huge Star Trek fan and was always fascinated by William Shatner’s work as a spoken-word artiste. So when his 2018 Christmas album Shatner Claus came out, I was beyond excited.
The album ended up being my Christmas album ever since, to my partner and family’s dismay.
Every rocker will find the artistes involved in this album mouth-watering: Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, Iggy Pop, Rick Wakeman from Yes, and many more participated in creating this modern Christmas masterpiece.
The album is energetic, irreverent, and perfectly arranged; the ideal music for a Christmas evening with your family after the second or third glass of wine.
RUN DMC – ‘CHRISTMAS IN HOLLIS’
Now, this is what we should all be listening to on Christmas. The title refers to the New York neighbourhood where Run DMC grew up, Hollis, in Queens.
I guess it’s hard for an artiste to make festive music without sounding ostentatious, but in 1987, Run DMC found the perfect balance between their now-legendary hip-hop style and Christmas tradition.
And the music video is just as iconic: Santa flying away with his sledge pulled by a dog cracks me up every time.
JETHRO TULL – ‘CHRISTMAS SONG’
This beautiful song from Jethro Tull’s Living In The Past is a not-so-subtle critique of the materialism surrounding Christmas celebrations.
No words can better express the feelings behind the lyrics than Ian Anderson’s, the band leader.
"I'm not exactly a practicing paid-up Christian but I have grown up and lived with a so-called Christian society for 55 years and still feel great warmth for the nostalgia, festive occasion and family togetherness, so much a part of that time of year,” he has been quoted as saying.
“Maybe without Christmas we would have that much less to celebrate and enjoy in this troubled old world. But it's really all the Winter Solstice and the re-birth of nature overlaid with the common sense and righteous teachings of Mr. C.”
He went on: “A Christmas in this modern world should, in my view, accommodate the leisure needs and affections of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics…
“Christmas – an aspirin for the soul or cold-turkey celebration of the birth and life of Christ? It has to be a measured bit of both, doesn't it?”
Since you’re at it, I’d strongly recommend you go and listen to this fantastic album in its entirety.
TYPE O NEGATIVE – ‘RED WATER (CHRISTMAS MOURNING)’
A goth-metal song vaguely about Christmas and mainly about the sense of loss. The song is powerful, poignant, and shows a side of Christmas we often try to forget, the one that reminds us of the people we lost and the passing of time.
Don’t play this song while at the table with the rest of your family. Enjoy this track responsibly and in the privacy of your own bedroom.
KATE BUSH – ‘DECEMBER WILL BE MAGIC AGAIN’
I can’t think of any artiste who can represent the mystic and ethereal atmospheres of Christmas better than Kate Bush.
“December Will Be Magic Again” is a beautiful piece arranged to evoke the festive season while sounding like a classic Bush song.
The haunting piano, Bush’s high notes and the jingling bells all merge together to create an immersive soundscape that can melt the heart of even those who can’t wait for the Christmas holidays to end.
THE KILLERS – ‘DON’T SHOOT ME SANTA’
The Killers. Credit: ThorntonDrury/Wikimedia Commons
This song is fantastic on so many levels: the message, the lyrics, the music, and the video!
Everything about it defines it as a masterpiece that transcends the standardised genre and offers a funny, cheeky piece of music.
Check out the music video, where musician Ryan Pardey plays a dubious and vengeful Santa Claus.
JAMES BROWN – ‘SANTA CLAUS GO STRAIGHT TO THE GHETTO’
James Brown's music is inimitable and unforgettable, but this little gem is worth noting mostly for the powerful lyrics that speak of the artiste's rough childhood and how many kids were experiencing a similar situation when he was writing this piece.
To me, that’s what Christmas music should be about: a reminder of what we should do for those in need, be they part of our family or not, and use this time of the year to make the most of the opportunities we have to do good.
SUFJAN STEVENS – ‘SONGS FOR CHRISTMAS’
Sufjan Stevens. Credit: Evans Richardson/Asthmatic Kitty Records
There’s no doubt in my mind that Sufjan Stevens is one of the best songwriters of the 21st century. His music transcends time, feeling both fresh and ancient and with lyrics that, more often than not, hide a secret meaning between the lines.
Comprising music recorded between 2001 and 2006, Songs For Christmas features songs Stevens sent to family and friends for years before it was officially released in 2006.
Throughout the album, you can sense the devotion and genuine feelings the songs are based on.
Minimalist in nature, with a nostalgic feel that's unique to Stevens' repertoire, Songs For Christmas conveys a beautiful message of beauty and love, enhanced by the communality typical of the festive season.
Cover Credit: A Paper Creative
For more festive articles, read:
- Alternative Christmas Songs To Play This Festive Season
- Greatest Hits: Christmas Gifts for the Music Lovers in Your Life
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Writer | Marco Sebastiano Alessi
Marco is an Italian music producer, composer and writer. He’s the founder of Naviar Records, a music community and record label exploring the connection between experimental electronic music and traditional Japanese poetry.