Track-A-Demia is an ongoing music series that uses popular and underground tracks to explore the nature or current news headlines and buzz. It’s an informal crash course on viewing the world through song.
Every year the holidays creep up and every year we as humans are subjected still to the topsy-turvy of life’s ups, downs, and all-the-way-arounds. Sure, Coca-Cola and capitalism run most of the commercial real estate “game” of X-Mas, but true or well-read heads know about the pagan and esoteric origins of our existence and why we celebrate the season and sun as they relate and pertain to our souls. In this spirit and gesture, this edition of Track-A-Demia focuses on a list of Christmas-themed songs that, although different in genres, explore the musical and/or moral fluidity of true goodness, inspiration, uplift, and expansion.
But if that’s too heady, the other way to value this special list is just as an alternative to all the elevator music, generic café USA, and Christmas coal music that we’re all sick and tired of hearing every December. The hope is that these particular renditions—and total new editions—inspire you to see even redundant or contrived paradigms as opportunities to re-envision and reimagine your world.
Seasons greetings to your ears.
Joan Jett & the Black Hearts – “Little Drummer Boy” :: I Love Rock ’n’ Roll (1982)
Given the often-misconstrued true meaning of Christmas, where capitalism often trumps humanitarianism, it’s always humbling to hear the story, and song, of the Little Drummer Boy. As the myth goes, the child, unable to offer baby Jesus any material gifts, instead plays a noble drum song for him reminding everyone that coming from the heart is the most priceless to offer. When Joan Jett and her band The Blackhearts, covered the tune for their first album together “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” the group stuck to the minimal chords and pop-driven energy of early punk rock. This, laden with Joan’s definitely signature mezzo-soprano voice and some exciting drumming makes for a very winning formula that really re-imagines and reinvigorates the original carol. No doubt, the classic one still rocks, but Joan’s version punk rocks it.
Run DMC – “Christmas In Hollis” :: A Very Special Christmas (1987)
Hollis, Queens’ Run DMC is true New York City rap and group dynamics at its quintessential finest. We’re talking the absolute modern archetype for every ‘90s DJ and MC(s) group from DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, A Tribe Called Quest, Cypress Hill, N.W.A, Gangstarr, and beyond. When the group got together with then burgeoning super-producer and mogul Rick Rubin to create “Christmas In Hollis” it was evident that they took everything that was right with their winning hip hop formula and infused into an incredible Big Apple yuletide narrative: “It was December 24th on Hollis Ave/ in the dark / When I see a man chilling with his dog in the park / I approached very slowly with my heart full of fear / Looked at his dog, oh my god, an ill reindeer.” In true genre spirit, the track features sampled pieces of Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa,” along with “Frosty The Snow Man,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Joy to the World.” The tune is a medley-laced masterpiece with some of the most creative lyrics about Santa losing his wallet and Run DMC getting rewarded for being both nice in Christmas spirit and on the microphone. Oh, and the video for it, equally as awesome.
Eek-A-Mouse – “The Night Before Christmas” :: A Reggae Christmas (1988)
Not only is dancehall legend and “deejay” (emcee) Eek-A-Mouse in the running for one of the most unique stage names in reggae, but his voice, style, and cadences are also undoubtedly one of the genre’s most distinct. His prowess in the use of onomatopoeias and quirky sounds was as genius as his witty lyricism. Once you hear Eek you will always know it’s him. This is why his 1988 rendition of “The Night Before Christmas” is a dubby and playful treat that rivals the coconut milk and cookies that reggae fans leave might leave for Rasta Clause. Ironically, the tune is actually a melodic adaptation of “We Three Kings,” but with the addition creative Christmas Eve lyrics that really paint Eek’s humble Jamaican scene. “Lots of cake we’re sharing / Christmas time again / Drinks we’re preparing / Christmas time again / Bulbs on the tree blinking / Some flashing like lightning / It’s very exciting / To see the children playing.”
No Doubt – “Oi To The World” :: A Very Special Christmas 3 (1997)
‘90s No Doubt and lead singer Gwen Stefani were a very special and damn near sacred manifestation of pop music at its eclectic finest. The band itself was a punk and ska-driven rock band with supporting brass-playing members. Aesthetically, the band’s fashion and style were just as progressive and innovative, combining both elements of British and American punk with Jamaican reggae as well. “Oi To The World” an obvious play on “Joy To The World” is the band’s cover of friend band The Vandals who created the song in 1996 for a Christmas album. No Doubt’s version carries the original track’s exciting speed and visionary lyricism about division and unity as seen through the eye’s of a musician who meets the opposition of prejudice and hate. The song’s message is clearly about inclusion, even in the often dividing world of skins versus punks. The song’s chorus says it best with “If God came down on Christmas Day / I know exactly what he’d say / He’d say oi to the punks and oi to the skins / But oi to the world and everybody wins.” It then goes on to end with a serendipitous and heart-warming ending that places the story’s villain and antagonist in need of the protagonist’s mercy and love.
The XX – “Last Christmas” :: BBC Radio (2012)
In the ever-expanding world of modern digital music, where the many analog vibrations and frequencies of older styles are lost, English band, The XX, are truly a refreshing exception. Right up there with acts like Daft Punk, Radiohead, Portishead, and even German digital grandfathers, Kraftwerk, the XX trio uses digital magic to achieve very warm and spirit-evoking vibrations, reminding us that soul isn’t always limited to just the old ways or analog dimension. The band’s 2012 rendition of Wham’s “Last Christmas” is an absolute testament to this power. The Yin and Yang of Rome Madley Croft and Oliver Slim’s vocals placed over Jamie XX’s drum patterns and ethereal production works wonders to completely transform the 1984 season-specific classic. Although the track’s lyrics are melancholy, especially for anyone experiencing recent heart-ache, you can’t help to also appreciate the beauty in it’s production, a solemn trade-off still.
Cristina – “Things Fall Apart” :: A Christmas Record (1981)
Although the post-punk/disco, tongue in cheek masterpiece known as “Things Fall Apart” landed later than this edition’s initial list, it was way too good to pass on. So instead of passing, we decided to include it as a very honorable mention. All compliments go to our Editor-In-Music-Loving-Chief, Alina Nguyen, for this super gem. First off, the toy-tuned intro and outro are subversive genius. Secondly, the tune’s aggressively-decayed track, laced with Cristina’s crude lyrics and vocal delivery are a very out of this world “fuck you” to the pretensions of holiday cheer. Well done! Hell, if anybody knows cynicism it’s a Harvard drop-out. Quitting the archetype of Ivy League universities to live your own life and deliver no-wave gold like Cristina Monet-Palaci did definitely merits an “A+” on Track-A-Demia. “The party was a huge success / But where should we go next they said / They killed a tree of ninety-seven years / And smothered it in lights and silver tears.” Thank you Cristina. Thank you Christmas.