If you're want to give yourself a truly magical gift this season, I insist you stop what you're doing right this second and travel back in time with the seminal holiday album of 2004. The O.C.'s Chrismukkah soundtrack perfectly sums up teen culture in the mid aughts. Music From The O.C.: Mix 3 – Have a Very Merry Chrismukkah is, from start to finish, essentially the experience of watching a great episode of the teen soap but in audio form.
The soundtrack is made up of a who's who of indie rock bands regularly featured on The O.C. Each song more moody, yet slightly hopeful, than the last, like a Christmas celebration on a Southern California beach at dusk, where everyone is beautiful and each person's sun-kissed sad smile is hiding a secret that won't be revealed until the mid-season finale. When this album was released on October 26, 2004, The O.C. was in the midst of its second season and still riding high on the success of its first season, in which the show averaged over 8 million viewers. Though the album only peaked at No. 39 on Billboard's Soundtrack chart, every teen I knew back then (when I was 15) would have gone crazy for it. The O.C. set the standard for music lovers back then.
Let's start with the very concept of Chrismukkah (a neologism of Christmas and Hanukkah). I can't really explain it, but young people were absolutely crazy for portmanteaus in the mid-aughts. The year 2003 saw both the very first Chrismukkah episode and the rise of "Bennifer" (that'd be Bed Affleck with his first Jennifer love-interest, Lopez). Why did we enjoying combining proper nouns? Did it have something to do with the increased popularity of text messages and instant messaging? Was it just a simpler time when this counted as some sort of proof of wit? Were we lazy? Who knows.
All I am sure about is that my heart melted when Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) explained the concept to his new buddy Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie). And when holiday season 2004 rolled around I could not wait for another Chrismukkah special.
Still the album wouldn't hold up as a good nostalgia listen if it weren't for the songs. A combo of pop punk, dream pop, shoegazing and plain old indie rock, what the tracks have in common is a general affinity for simple chords like those in '50s rock or minimalist arrangements paired with lyrics that tell an emotional — or at least bittersweet — story.
Case in point, the Eels song "Christmas Is Going to the Dogs." The opening verse is as follows:
Get off your sled and go to bed, don't you ever tire?
Throw a bone, I'm finally home curled up by the fire
Snow is falling from the sky like ashes from an urn
Sweet dreams, my little one now it's my turn
Um, Snow is like ashes from an urn? That's a pretty depressing analogy for the weather phenomenon children love playing in. Guess they weren't that into "White Christmas."
Then The Ravonettes went ahead and put that sensation of leaving a holiday party early because your parents said you had to be home by 11 p.m. and your crush is talking to another girl as you're leaving into a number called "The Christmas Song" (no relation to the song of the same name popularized by Nat King Cole):
All the lights are coming on now
How I wish that it would snow now
I don't fell like going home now
I wish that I could stay
Ignore the fact that they're rhyming "now" with "now," because I needed to hear this song on repeat and cry when things weren't going my way with a guy I liked.
Even the relatively upbeat "Christmas With You Is The Best" by The Long Winters, is all about how much the song's narrator likes celebrating the holiday with his romantic partner because that means he cannot celebrate it with his family:
We both hate the holidays
Our parents act crazy
And the mall is insane
Let's skip it all
And have a non-traditional,
Of course, this being a television series' soundtrack geared toward people in their teens and 20s in the 2000s, it just wouldn't be complete without a Jimmy Eats World track. Seriously, just look at this IMDB page, which includes Smallville, Roswell, Alias, The Hills, and, of course, multiple One Tree Hill episodes. An even more melancholy cover of an already bummer '80s song, "Last Christmas" (originated by Wham!) just seems appropriate for this situation.
Honestly, looking over the playlist also just reminds me of how much "indie" was king in those years. Jimmy Eat World is easily the most mainstream band on the list. While you might have been very uncool in certain circles for not knowing Eels, I can't say I remember them playing on any radio station other than the local college airwaves (shout out to Towson University's WTMD). In this age, before Spotify and Pandora had taken over, to know performing artists that weren't playing on the mainstream radio was to be particularly plugged in and to operate on a whole other level.
All this is to say, go ahead and play this album for somebody who was a teen in 2004. The O.C. may be off the air, but the Chismukkah spirit can live on in all of us, one emo-pop-surf-indie-rock song at a time.