Celebrate A Really Weird Christmas With These 9 Unknown Songs
These are not the songs that you'll catch sung at your annual city-wide caroling extravaganza. These tracks will not warm your heart in a festive holiday commercial (though more than a few of them can probably be caught at Starbucks on a given December day). But they are some of the greatest (in more ways than one) Christmas songs you've never heard of. Over the years, some of our greatest vocalists have covered Christmas classics — Ingrid Michaelson performing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" — or have written instant classics — Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." But other new songs haven't gotten quite the immediate acceptance into the cultural cannon as Mariah's has.
Some of them are not even quite Christmas-specific; songs like A Fine Frenzy's "Red Ribbon Foxes" and Ingrid Michaelson's "Snowfall" (not on the list: her equally superb "When the Leaves") are more about the feeling of winteriness than they are about holiday-specific cheer. Nonetheless, they provide a tree-trimming ambiance that fits in equally well alongside the Phil Specter Christmas album A Christmas Gift For You (a sublime example of Christmas cheer). There's no unifying weirdness to these songs. They're marked more by obscurity than inaccessibility, so they are likely to become your new favorites with the holiday season fast approaching.
1. "Red Ribbon Foxes," A Fine Frenzy
Alison Sudol's Oh, Blue Christmas EP contains classics like "Blue Christmas" and "Christmas Time is Here," but the real highlight is the Sudol-penned track "Red Ribbon Foxes." It's a little quirky, but in a distinctly Fine Frenzy kind of way.
2. "Winter Song," Sara Bareilles And Ingrid Michaelson
I had originally selected Lenka's "All My Bells Are Ringing" as the representative Hotel Café Presents: Winter Songs track, but Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson's collaboration on "Winter Song," the first and titular track, is really where it's at.
3. "Christmas In The Room," Sufjan Stevens
This one is really just kind of weird.
4. "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," The Civil Wars
A classic performed by a folk band, The Civil Wars' "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is sweet and quite faithful to the classic. The Joy Williams and John Paul White duo split up in 2014, but at least they gave us a solid Christmas song before doing so.
5. "Love Is Christmas," Sara Bareilles
Sara Bareilles could make a lot of appearances on this list. She released a couple EPs and singles between 2010's Kaleidoscope Heart and 2013's The Blessed Unrest, and included among those was "Love Is Christmas." Since 2013, she's been hard at work on the book for Waitress: The Musical.
6. "Christmas TV," Slow Club
Somehow, a song entitled "Christmas TV" and derived from an album called Christmas Thanks For Nothing still manages to be super listenable all year round. Slow Club's "Christmas TV" appeared in a second-season episode of Chuck, and for fans of the series that scene might be more powerful than any holiday resonances.
7. "River," Joni Mitchell
Like "Christmas TV," "River" is one of those songs I can listen to year-round without really minding that they're quite festive. Sara Bareilles' "River" cover is also splendid, and still less holiday-inspired.
8. "Snowfall," Ingrid Michaelson
"I want a snowfall kind of love," croons Ingrid Michaelson in this short-but-sweet wintery track. Like "When the Leaves," which she released around the same time, "Snowfall" is more about the feeling of winter and festivity than it is about a particular day on the calendar.
9. "Wexford Carol," Alison Krauss And Yo Yo Ma
An American bluegrass singer and a classical cellist might seem an unlikely combination for collaboration, but Alison Krauss and Yo Yo Ma make it work with their rendition of "Wexford Carol."
If you're looking to vary your Christmas playlist — or you're wondering what song was playing over the stereo as you sipped a PSL at your local coffee shop — the above are pretty likely contenders. They might not be the most immediately accessible, but they have character.