i-D's top 10 christmas songs from unexpected artists

From Kanye to King Diamond, i-D rounds up the carol covers and original, holiday-themed tracks from some truly unexpected artists in genres spanning everything from gangsta rap to heavy metal.

by Courtney Iseman
18 December 2014, 10:00am

kanye west

There's something about the sappy sounds of holiday music that have come to seem more appropriate for drugstore aisles than your Christmas party or even your headphones when you're sincerely trying to get in a festive mood. Luckily, a little searching will find you carol covers and original, holiday-themed tracks from some truly unexpected artists. You can decorate your tree this year to a seasonal soundtrack without losing your music cred or sacrificing your normally cool tastes.

1. Kanye West, Christmas in Harlem

Kanye is a ubiquitous force. So you wouldn't expect him to let a huge affair like Christmas go by without blessing the world with his own take on it. 2010's Christmas in Harlem celebrates the time of year in a way that's true to hip hop. The track, fittingly about one of Kanye's favourite activities: shopping, has been described by Rolling Stone as a follow-up to Run DMC's Christmas in Hollis.

2. The Ramones, Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight)

If you thought the holidays were decidedly un-punk, The Ramones have a song to prove you wrong. You wouldn't peg the gangly forefathers of New York punk as ones to pen an ode to the season, but they have a thing or two to say about Christmas. The song calls for couples to skip the bickering on this special day. But the signature distorted guitars and driving rhythm keep things tough for even the most discerning rock fan/Christmas carol-hater.

3. The Vandals, Oi to the World

Speaking of punk, brash band The Vandals really gets festive with a whole holiday album. Oi to the World is the title track of the record, full of songs in line with the band's sardonic yet goofy vibe. The album includes gems like A Gun for Christmas, Christmas for My Penis, and Hang Myself from the Tree, but Oi to the World has become a punk holiday anthem.

4. Pink Floyd, Merry Xmas Song

Psychedelic Pink Floyd's Merry Xmas Song is an unreleased song recorded in 1975 for a BBC radio performance, and comes across as an intimate peek into the band's inner banter. With Santa-based lyrics and a cheery piano accompaniment, the track, sung by drummer Nick Mason, is traditional in sound. But audible horsing around in the background creates a gently mocking vibe.

5. King Diamond, No Presents for Christmas

Prefer to headbang for the holidays? Satanic heavy metaller King Diamond has lent his powerful vocals to the 1985 song No Presents for Christmas. The Danish singer's chilling falsetto is present, as is a metal mix of brutal rhythm and guitar, but the strange lyrics reference cartoon characters and King pays a little homage to a classic (I'm dreaming of a white…Sabbath) for good measure.

6. Eazy-E, Merry Muthaphuckkin' Xmas

Christmas and one of gangsta rap's founding fathers go together like holly and ivy, so let Eazy-E provide the score for your holiday with his tongue-in-cheek Merry Muthaphuckkin' Xmas, an ode to Santa Claus, crime sprees and drugs. A former drug dealer-turned hip hop star through both his N.W.A. and solo work, Eazy-E remained true to his Compton roots in his seasonal celebrating.

7. Beck, Little Drum Machine Boy

Hanukah songs can be a bit harder to come by, which is why it's good news that Beck has us covered. The alternative icon recorded The Little Drum Machine Boy for a 1996 Geffen Records compilation, Just Say Noël. Beck lays out menorah mentions over one of his stranger mixes of beats, sound effects and electronic elements, and perhaps best of all, he uses the song to declare himself a "Hanukah pimp."

8. Sonic Youth, Santa Doesn't Cop Out on Dope

Another gem on the Just Say Noël album is Sonic Youth's cover of Martin Mull's Santa Doesn't Cop Out on Dope. The influential alt-rock outfit takes a traditional carol-like approach to this song, framed cheekily as storytime for children. Listen to Thurston Moore is tell the "kiddies" that Santa doesn't do smack or much of anything, so they should save their joints and just leave him cookies.

9. Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Xmas Time (It Sure Doesn't Feel Like It)

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones relates to the reluctant holiday participant in all of us with Xmas Time (It Sure Doesn't Feel Like It). The Boston band's mix of gritty punk attitude and swelling, vibrant ska sounds is alive and well in the song that plunders the depths of December despair, when it seems like everyone but you has somewhere to be and people to spend the holidays with.

10. Spinal Tap, Christmas with the Devil

If it's a campier take you seek, look no further than the delightfully ridiculous Spinal Tap and its Christmas with the Devil. True to the dynamic that made Spinal Tap a hit - its silly yet often dead-on comedy doesn't completely steal the show from the members' actual talent and classic metal sound - Christmas with the Devil is a foot-tapper/head-banger for sure, but manages to keep things perfectly silly.


Text Courtney Iseman
Photography Fabien Montique
Styling Rushka Bergman
[The Back to the Future Issue, No. 310, Winter 2010]

top 10
kanye west
Christmas Songs