Add these tunes to your Christmas gathering playlist

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It’s Christmas once again, the only time of year when you’ll ever mention Mariah Carey and Shane MacGowan in the same breath. No doubt that “All I Want for Christmas is You” and “Fairytale of New York” will get played everywhere as usual. And while we love those songs (at least the Pogues one), we’re here to add a little spice to your Christmas mix. What follows is a list of less-obvious Christmas classics, including a handful released this year and a few old favorites. And yes, you can find everything with a few YouTube clicks.

Smash Mouth: “Christmas Wrapping:” Just released this week, the kings of cover versions strike again with a fresh version of that holiday favorite by the Waitresses. But wait, you say – This song needs a female singer and Smash Mouth doesn’t have one. No problem: They got Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles to do the honors, making the whole thing hard to resist.

Bad Religion: “Christmas Songs EP:” Punk rockers doing Christmas carols is a time-honored joke by now, and we’ve heard countless trashings of “Silent Night” over the years. But veteran SoCal punks Bad Religion (who are coming to the MGM Music Hall in May) sound remarkably sincere on this set of nine mostly traditional carols. Sure, they speed everything up and add the requisite pounding drums, but they don’t mess with the tunes, the lyrics or the overall sentiment. If you ever longed to slamdance to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” here’s your chance.

Taylor Swift, “Christmas Tree Farm:” Shockingly, Taylor’s holiday single from 2019 wasn’t that big a hit, not even making the US Top 40. But it’s one of her niftier homages to ‘60s pop, echoing the Crystals and Ronettes’ tracks on Phil Spector’s classic Christmas album. Swift sings of feeling stressed for the holidays and wishing she was in a quieter and prettier place, a sentiment most of us can relate to.

Letters to Cleo, “If I Get Home on Christmas Day:” Speaking of ‘60s-styled pop tunes, this beloved Boston band (which still reunites in town every December) came up with a gem on their Christmas EP from a few years back. Kay Hanley’s vocal soars on this vintage Elvis Presley tune, which gets a jangly country sound — more upbeat in fact than the Elvis original.

Abbie Barrett, “Christmas Star:” Boston songwriters seem to have a thing for slow and haunting Christmas songs (Juliana Hatfield also did a nice one a few years ago). Barrett is currently one of the best in town, and her new Christmas single is a beautiful tune about feeling lovelorn for the holidays.

War, “It’s Christmas” and Earth, Wind & Fire, “December:” Nothing says Christmas like a ‘70s funk band rewriting one of its classic hits for the season. It only took a few lyrical tweaks to turn EWF’s “September” into a Christmas song, so close to the original that you almost can’t tell the difference. Same goes for War’s “It’s Christmas,” which just dropped two weeks ago. Based on their oldie “It’s Summer,” it replaces the lines about opening fire hydrants with ones about seeing Santa at the mall, but the sunny groove is intact.

Chicago, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town:” Who’d have thought these guys would turn in the hippest version of this seasonal standard? A long way from the band’s trademark ballads, this is a funky version full of their trademark horns. Singer Bill Champlin offers some updated advice for the kiddies: “You better be cool, you all gotta chill. You better behave, you all know the drill.”

Nick Lowe, “Christmas at the Airport:” This recent tune is a classic example of the wit and charm that make Nick Lowe a world-class songwriter. It’s all about getting stranded at the airport during a snowstorm, and trying to amuse yourself when you know you’re not flying anywhere for Christmas. “I took a set of X-rays, they came out rather well. I’ll be doing Santa’s sleighride on the baggage carousel.”

Big Star and others, “Jesus Christ:” One of the great mysteries in alternative rock is how this perfectly joyful Christmas song wound up on a famously dark and lowdown album, “Big Star 3rd.” But this Alex Chilton-written tune, with its chorus of “Jesus Christ was born today,” is as gorgeous and uplifting as any holiday song you can name. It’s been covered by some of the many bands who hold Big Star as an influence including R.E.M., the Decemberists and New England’s own Throwing Muses. Heck, even the Monkees did it on their 2016 “Christmas Party” album.

Bob Seger, “Sock It To Me Santa:” Nobody outside of Detroit knew who Bob Seger was when he recorded this non-hit single in 1966. But a half-century later it’s still one of the wildest Christmas tunes ever waxed, as Seger channels James Brown to declare “Santa’s got a brand new bag!” You want a timeless, inspiring holiday sentiment, he’s got one right here: “Come on Comet, come on, Cupid — Don’t just stand there looking stupid!”



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