Thursday Ten: A Not-So-Traditional Christmas

By | December 11, 2014 at 4:00 PM

When you’re trapped in the hellish nightmare of a busy mall in December, it’s not unusual for the tinny sound of Christmas music to make you wish you would get trampled to death by a thousand frantic shoppers just to put an end to your suffering. Thankfully, hearing your favorite bands cover the same songs has the opposite effect, filling you with the joy that the holidays are meant to inspire. That’s why for this week’s Ten, we picked some of our favorite covers of traditional Christmas songs to help lift your holiday spirits; check them out below!

P.S. Holiday shopping is terrible but try not to actually get trampled to death, guys.

August Burns Red – Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a light, whimsical orchestral piece composed by Tchaikovsky in 1892 for The Nutcracker. It’s a classic for Christmas time, even 122 years later, that immediately brings to mind the magic of the nutcracker prince on Christmas Eve. The staccato strings sound just how I imagine the gentle tip-toe of Clara’s toys would beneath the tree when the clock strikes twelve. However, despite my long love for the traditional ode to our sugar plum fairy, it is August Burns Red’s gritty and aggressive guitar-driven cover that strikes my fancy this holiday. The fast pace of this version is far from gentle, and instead of calling forth the delicate dance of the most dainty and graceful ballerina in the production, I imagine a frothing mosh pit of ballerinas donning black instead of pink, jumping and headbanging around a Christmas tree covered in glowing red mini-lights, black tinsel, and skull ornaments. Despite the startling contrast that August Burns Red bring to the table, I can’t help but admire the pure musicianship of the song. Transforming a piece of classical music into this rock orchestra isn’t easy–it’s not just mimicking a handful of chords. It’s more like a three-minute guitar solo. The guitars drive the melody, but move flawlessly from each crisp note to the next in perfect harmony. Combined with the forceful drums that keep pace with the ferocity of a strobe light, we now have a piece of music as new and interesting as it is traditional. For me, the holidays and the music that comes with them are always a magical time, but I’m always happy to find an unconventional cover to add to my Christmas playlist! (Hannah Pierangelo)

Bright Eyes – Blue Christmas

Is anyone at all surprised that Conor Oberst manages to be angsty even during “the most wonderful time of the year”? Amidst all the usual holly jolly carolling, the ode to holiday loneliness of “Blue Christmas” is a welcome respite for anyone who doesn’t find themselves filled with Christmas cheer once December rolls around. Given that 2002-era Oberst exhibited a strong “bah humbug” attitude towards life in general twelve months of the year, it’s no surprise that he found himself drawn to this song; while the rest of the covers on his Christmas album are your usual holiday standards, this antithesis to the Christmas carol is the only one that seems to actually fit the emotional state of the rest of his discography. His cover isn’t radically different from the version popularized by Elvis in the 50’s, but all he really needs is his trademark acoustic guitar and unmistakeable voice to make any song his own–the piano and clean electric guitar are just icing on the musical cake. While Oberst thankfully seems much less miserable these days than his early 2000’s self, his back catalogue has a song for every flavor of sadness–and it just wouldn’t be complete without some Christmas sadness too. (Eleanor Grace)

Front Porch Step – I’ll Be Home For Christmas

First recorded in 1943 by quintessential crooner Bing Crosby, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was written from the perspective of a WWII soldier away from home. In Front Porch Step’s version, you can hear similar sentiments echoed in the life of a touring musician, especially one who has toured vigorously for the greater part of this year. Gently sung over an acoustic guitar, Front Porch Step’s Christmas cover is quite a dramatic shift from the harsh vocals and overflowing angst that consume the majority of his original compositions. Sleigh bells, a xylophone, and carol-esque backing harmonies all add to the festive cheer as well, especially the tongue-in-cheek “Jingle Bells” melody played at the very end. When you’re spending time with your older relatives this holiday season, this may be the one Front Porch Step song you can put on that won’t scare them. (Catherine Yi)

Go Radio – O Holy Night

Since the mid 2000s, Jason Lancaster–through Mayday Parade, Go Radio and now a solo career–has been conjuring up melodies that tug at the coldest of heart strings and have the ability to make anyone and everyone want to fall in love. His distinct vocal style blended seamlessly with raw, powerful lyrics consistently induces spine tingling results, and this effect proves no different with Go Radio’s adaptation of the traditional Christmas carol “O Holy Night”. Found on the album ‘Tis The Season to be Fearless, the track begins very similarly to the traditional version, but piano chords are soon interrupted by the heavy strumming of an electric guitar. Lancaster’s voice is as powerful as ever, belting out verses that allows for this rendition to compete with other versions and raise the question that it may, in fact, be the best version out there. About a minute and a half in, the most exciting thing happens: a beloved seasonal song turns into a pop punk Christmas dream. Traditional pop punk guitar rhythms combine with a more uptempo pace, proving faster than most versions and making for an exciting twist. There’s two major takeaways from this cover: 1) Jason Lancaster can really, really sing, and 2) Christmas has never been more punk. Grab some spiked eggnog and enjoy! (Alyson Stokes)

Panic! At The Disco – White Christmas

Shortly after Vices & Virtues, Brendon Urie released a 1 and a half minute version of Bing Crosby’s classic “White Christmas”. This rendition copies the same scat-tastic beginning of the most famous version recorded by The Drifters in 1954 (you know, the one Kevin McAllister sings while “shaving” in Home Alone?) with Urie singing in a deeper-than-normal register over his own high-pitched background vocals. It’s hard to bring something new to one of the most covered songs in the world, but Urie gives it his best shot. That frenzied ode to “Jingle Bells” in the last ten seconds brings the typical Panic! At The Disco feel to an otherwise traditional cover. (Sam Devotta)

The Ready Set & Kina Grannis – Last Christmas

In 1984, “Last Christmas” sprung onto the holiday scene with the mindset of a breakup song, the presence of a Christmas tune, and the hopes of a love-filled future. Since then, thirty years have passed, along with more renditions than Wikipedia could count. When The Ready Set took his turn with the holly-wrapped mic, he brought along singer/songwriter Kina Grannis, and the two delivered what is the most intimate performance the song has ever known. Slow and absolutely heartbroken, they gather ‘round the Christmas tree and acoustic guitar for a quiet performance straight out of your local coffee shop. Glimmers of hope are provided by the holiday spirit wrapped into its soft chords and an optimistic view of the future, but there’s no escaping the fact that it’s simply a beautiful, sad Christmas song. (Emillie Marvel)

Relient K – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Put on those cozy slippers, pour yourself a cup of eggnog, and curl up in front of the fire… because Relient K have the Christmas tunes covered. Having released not one but two Christmas albums, we’re spoilt for choice this season, but a personal favorite has to be “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, purely because of the way they not only respected the original but also made it very much “Relient K”. First sung by Judy Garland in the movie Meet Me In St. Louis, it was meant to cheer up her character’s little sister, but instead warmed the hearts of millions and became an instant classic. Of course, like all Christmas songs, it’s been covered over and over, but Relient K have finally done it justice. Where a soft melody reaches out from days gone by, a full band is in place, but they’ve kept that serenity that makes the song so charming. And by adding in just that extra bit of spirit in the form of guitars, bass, and a lazy drumbeat, they’ve made it their own and reinvented a classic. But their greatest achievement is capturing the most appealing thing about this song: its full-on nostalgia effect. More soporific than the eggnog, complete with airy violins, warbling vocals, and twinkling piano keys, you’ll soon be as starry-eyed as the fairy lights on your tree. Relient K’s version may be 60 years more recent, but they’ve managed to bring that same nostalgia with the silky vocals, delicate synths, and plenty of that all-important Christmas cheer. (Alex Bear)

The Summer Set – This Christmas

For 2013’s Punk Goes Christmas compilation, The Summer Set covered the old Donny Hathaway classic “This Christmas”, and it has since become one of my favorite songs to listen to around the holidays. This song has been covered by countless artists over the years, but The Summer Set’s version is completely unique to others you’ll hear on the radio. If I hadn’t grown up with the original, they might have fooled me into believing they wrote the track themselves.The upbeat tempo, electronic beats, and husky twang of Brian Dales’ voice bring a new flavor to the once smooth jazz tune, and put a modern twist on this timeless classic. While Hathaway’s version encompassed the more intimate side of the holidays, The Summer Set’s approach expresses the more joyful, optimistic feelings of the season. And if you don’t feel the urge to throw on an ugly sweater and bake sugar cookies after hearing this song, you might just be a Scrooge. (Danielle Desisto)

Weezer – The First Noel

Back in 2008, Weezer took the Christmas classic “The First Noel” and told the traditional story of Christmas with an alternative rock twist, educating their audience on the origin of the holiday in a way that’s unique from the annoyingly overplayed anthems of the season. Christmas used to be a time to celebrate family and togetherness across all Christian religions. But as the holiday strays farther from its religious roots and closer to a corporate capitalist goldmine, what once was a holiday symbolized by images of the nativity, generosity, and compassion is often now associated with chaotic shopping malls and the annoying internet presence of the ungrateful recipients of expensive gifts. Regardless, it’s always important to recognize and appreciate the origins of the festivities in which you participate; popular culture often does this through Christmas carols, but these often get lost in the mess of songs repeatedly played on mainstream radio stations starting in mid-November that, by the time December 25 rolls around, make some people a little crazy. Weezer stand out among the masses of carolers by reminding us of the reason we celebrate the holiday in the first place, without making us want to set fire to our Christmas tree. (Tori Bilcik)

William Beckett – Do You Hear What I Hear?

The 1962 original comes to life with William Beckett’s cover of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” off of last year’s installment of Punk Goes Christmas. Long gone are the echoing choral voices that have a mysterious, haunting aura; Beckett’s crooning is heartfelt and cozy, ready to keep you warm on cold winter nights. Accentuating violins and peppy drums replace the marching band-esque drumming and turn the song into a journey, carrying not just a Christmas message that passes from the night wind to the king, but a declaration of better things to come. By the time the song comes to its end, with Beckett’s voice ringing out clearly, you’ll have shivers running down your spine and no doubt that he truly does have “a voice as big as the sea.” (Emily Yee)

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