Music to Cheers to: A Christmas Playlist that Doesn’t Suck (Finally)

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Let’s face it: A lot of holiday music is insufferably loathsome. And the act of putting on a hazmat suit to sift through the overwhelming junkyard of cheesy, toxic tunes in the hopes of discovering some that don’t drive you seasonal-affective-disorder-esque crazy is ridiculously daunting. Fear not! For we here at The Manual’s Beat Laboratory have donned the required radio(un)active waste-resisting apparel and performed the heavy sorting to bring you a bountiful harvest of holiday/Christmas/wintertime tracks that will get you through even the most challenging aspects of the year-ending madness that is “The Holiday Season.” Where tired, over-played versions of these songs might typically send you running to finish off the eggnog bowl, we hope these hand selected free-range, artisanal variations on the theme will give you the strength and stamina to combat cabin fever, family gatherings, dark isolation, and lingering global apocalyptic concerns.

Of course, there’s no better way to get things started (and confront the impending Armageddon) than by harking the herald LCD Soundsystem sing. James Murphy tried to get away from his phenomenal band a few years back and end it all but — spoiler alert — they got back together and are better than ever. And in so doing, their rock-solid American Dream album and supporting tour have reignited the passions of wayward hipsters and esoteric music freaks everywhere. “Christmas Will Break Your Heart” was the first song released as LCD 2.0 and is damn near a perfect holiday torch tune, complete with heartache, stagnant longing, and the crescendo-building desire to come home to a loved one.

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The Raveonettes, Pretenders. and Mike Mains round out our opening, user-friendly rock section, giving way to the drum machine/synth soaked musings of Chicago’s Andrew Belle as he ponders a confusing circle of what a former lover would think if he came back home for Christmas, while simultaneously informing us that he hasn’t thought of them at all. Sounds like someone needs some help at playing hard to get.

DRAM (aka Does. Real. Ass. Music.) and his mom, BigBabyMom, kick off the soul/funk/hip hop section with a rousing, eclectic, stripped-down take on the often over dramatized ode to the ring-a-linging “Silver Bells” of Christmas. Interwoven within the outstanding instrumental funk iterations of classic tunes to follow are a few hip-hop tracks exploring night shifts, gift-giving, and the veritable decathlon of unique, funky ways in which to express holiday cheer via Ronkat The Funklectik’s truly “Funky Christmas.”

The fresh breathy air of the bird and the bee’s “Carol Of The Bells” whispers its way around the snow globe in your mind’s eye as you prepare for the subsequent scaled back section of contemplative, jazzy, downtempo Christmas jams. This, of course, culminates with the always peculiar pairing of Bing & Bowie bah-rump-a-bah-bumping their way through “The Little Drummer Boy” (and “Peace On Earth”, written expressly for Bowie mere hours before performing on the Crosby TV Christmas Special, as he’s said to have hated “The Little Drummer Boy” and refused to do a duet of it with Bing).

It’s hard to dislike Rogue Wave (of San Francisco) and their dreamy slowed down rendition of the Bobby Helms-popularized “Jingle Bell Rock” as we gear up for the ever more raucous rock ‘n roll tunes to come. From the Christmas cornerstone of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” through She & Him’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” we find ourselves scratching our heads as we stumble upon the slightly funky-electro version of Paul McCartney’s happy-go-lucky homage to simply having a wonderful Christmastime (and yes, Tuxedo, I feel that ’80s hand-clap, disco-infused love you’re passing around).

Now shake it out and loosen up while doing the Peanuts kids dance from Charlie Brown’s Christmas as we get into the ear-to-ear-smile-inducing “Linus And Lucy” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. With a spring in our step, we then plunge into the dark December 25th based themes that Paul Simon encourages us to consider on his newer track, “Getting Ready For Christmas Day,” from his album So Beautiful or So What. From there, we rock out with our collective stockings out at the hands of the lesser known It Hugs Back, the deeply missed Tom Petty, the sibling-rivaled Kinks, the punk-pioneering Ramones, and the lo-fidelified Julian Casablancas before “Christmas Wrapping” it up with The Waitresses and their timeless ode to chasing a boy through a myriad of holiday scenarios before bumping into him in line at an all-night grocery in New York.

Across town, Run-DMC‘s “Christmas In Hollis” gets us back into the hip-hop zone and the high octane “Sleigh Ride” by Earth, Wind & Fire nicely transitions us over to some proper funk with which to get down with ourselves (rest in peace, Sharon Jones, as we drink deeply from the funkity funk well of wonder you create in delivering a soul enlightening version of “Funky Little Drummer Boy”). And further posthumous respect is paid to George Michael, as we get down with an R&B/Soul version of “Last Christmas” by Lynn & Burney and Soul Made. The often maligned Carpenters give us a Beach Boys-esque harmony laced “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” to help us pick up the pace coming out of Seal’s “Let It Snow” and the unique soft beat-based “Santa Baby” by Crystal Theory.

And then it’s off to the races as we alt/indie rock ourselves further along with Bright Eyes, Phoenix (featuring Bill Murray), Jimmy Eat World (power popping through our 2nd tribute version of George Michael’s “Last Christmas”), Low, and D.I.D. before we down shift into Fiona Apple’s warbling and heart warming “Frosty The Snowman.” From there, each track gets softer and softer, slower and slower, like an office party carouser slowly nodding off at his desk following all the fun and festivities.

May these songs help you and yours attain a zen-like level of holiday music consciousness, which, in turn, allows you to actually enjoy yourself and your time with friends and family. Happy holidays!

P.S. If you’re cooking up a storm for the holidays, you might want to check out our mouthwatering cooking playlist.