Look, there are a LOT of holiday songs out there. And we have our chart-based list of the 100 Greatest of All Time Holiday 100 Songs, as well as our staff picks for 100 Best Christmas Songs of All Time. And even that’s just scratching the seasonal surface. For every “All I Want for Christmas Is You” or “White Christmas,” there are a hundred half-assed holiday songs you hear once and happily let jingle off into oblivion. Songs that would have better served the public by exemplifying what is described in “Silent Night.”
But this list isn’t about the seasonal songs that soar or the ones that bore. This roundup is about the freaky festive fare that hits you like a fruitcake: It might leave you with a queasy feeling in your stomach, but its distinct flavor is going to linger for a while. And sometimes it’s the oddball tunes that light up the cloudy night like Rudolph’s nose.
Which is why we’re pressing pause on tasteful recordings from artists such as Bing Crosby and Vince Guaraldi for a moment and spotlighting these 10 Weird Christmas Songs. That means everything from a metal version of a religious classic (by a British knight!) to an instrumental Xmas reggae by a Beatle (who is also a British knight!).
Here are 10 bizarro holiday tracks that will either enrapture your wondering eyes or send you fleeing up the nearest chimney for escape. And if you dig these but want to go even deeper into the wild wintery world of Xmas oddities, check out this Christmas mixtape where long-lost gems and stone-cold classics sit comfortably side by side at the fireplace.
Can, “Silent Night”
The song originally known as “Stille Nacht Heilige Nacht” comes home to Germany – mutated into three minutes of psych-rock riffing on the iconic melody, anchored by Jaki Liebezeit’s propulsive drumming. It’s innocent and instantly familiar, yet at the same time cerebral and strange. When Santa takes the Autobahn, this is his driving song. – ROBERT LEVINE. Listen here.
Christopher Lee, “The Little Drummer Boy”
Most nonagenarians concern themselves with the wondrous world of fiber, but when late screen legend Christopher Lee turned 90, he unleashed a surprisingly crushing (and decent!) metal Christmas project. You don’t really know “The Little Drummer Boy” until you hear Saruman (or Count Dooku, if you’re more of a Star Wars Stan than LOTR nerd) intone “parrrRUM-pa-pum-pum” with all the eloquent relish of a British knight. – JOE LYNCH. Listen here.
Low, “Little Drummer Boy”
A very slowcore Christmas? Low’s 1999 holiday EP is cold comfort you can sink into, the sonic equivalent of a sweater against the season’s chill, and the band’s version of “Little Drummer Boy” somehow ended up in a Gap ad (see it here). Stockinggaze began here. – R.L.
Paul McCartney, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reggae”
McCartney’s solo career has zig-zagged between accessible and experimental – think Wings on one hand, collaborations with the producer Youth on the other. But that doesn’t explain how this reggae-tinged instrumental take on “Rudolph” ended up as the B-side of “Wonderful Christmastime.” It’s hard to tell if he’s kidding – harder still not to smile anyway. – R.L. Listen here.
Ramones, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”
Let’s face it: Christmas is usually less about Peace on Earth than Peace in the Family. And the relatives will stay happy – or at least quiet – with this plea for holiday harmony that’s delivered at the speed of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” At 2:03, it’s short and simple – even by the standards of Ramones songs. – R.L. Listen here.
The Royal Guardsmen, “Snoopy’s Christmas”
In 1983, Paul McCartney saluted the 1914 Christmas Truce during the Great War with his “Pipes of Peace” video, but sorry Sir Paul – Snoopy did it first. In 1967, a group of teens dubbed The Royal Guardsman melded martial drum beats, audio clips of bombs exploding, a garish German accent and clanging church bells to tell the story of Snoopy and his longtime foe the Red Baron putting aside their differences to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Despite the group’s name, they weren’t British, and despite the song’s title, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz wasn’t involved — which only makes this song’s existence all the more miraculous. – J.L. Listen here.
William Shatner ft. Billy Gibbons, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
By the time William Shatner cast himself as Shatner Claus on a 2018 holiday album, he was fully in on the joke of his oddball sing-speak histrionics. But even knowing that, it’s hard to prepare yourself for the experience of Captain Kirk stumbling over the word “Donder” and telling Rudolph, “dude! you’re gonna go down, down man, in history!” while ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons – the only man whose beard puts Santa’s to shame – tears away on the gee-tar. – J.L. Listen here.
TobyMac ft. Owl City, “The First Noel”
Naturally at some point Christian rapper TobyMac was going to release a holiday album, but you probably didn’t expect “Fireflies” hitmaker Owl City to swoop in and join him on a couple album cuts. The most confounding is their revamp of “The First Noel,” which melds Owl City’s earnest electropop with the sound of TobyMac getting turnt while shouting out Newsies and New Testament shepherds. The whole thing is as sickly sweet as your third slice of candy cane pie, but on the other hand, have you really experienced the reason for the season until you’ve heard “b-b-BORN is the King of Israel!” shouted out as an emo-synth rallying cry? – J.L. Listen here.
The Vandals, “Oi to the World!”
“If God came down on Christmas Day… he’d say to every boy and girl, where’s the oi I gave to the world?” With “Oi to the World,” The Vandals’ Dave Quackenbush, a SoCal punk adopting his best/worst British working-class accent, spins an utterly bizarre holiday yarn about a punk named Haji defending himself against a racist skinhead on Christmas. They end up bleeding out on a rooftop until Haji “saw the North Star shining more than ever” and decides to save the aggressor’s life, subsequently drowning their differences in bourbon. No, it’s not exactly peace on earth, but it did attract the attention of No Doubt, who covered it for 1997’s A Very Special Christmas 3. – J.L. Listen here.
James White, “Christmas With Satan”
“Christmas with the devil,” White sings, “It’s gonna be a helluva party.” And it is – as long as you like White’s no wave skronk. His Feast From Hell has “certainly no virgins / This Christmas cannot be made white / By any known detergent.” For good measure, White and his band shriek through a few bars of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman” and – why not? – “Hava Nagila.” – R.L. Listen here.