For better or worse, nothing encapsulates the Christmas atmosphere quite like Christmas music. Some people will argue that snow and wintry weather, overall, do a better job of setting the holiday mood but really, most of the world has gone forever without snow at Christmas (I think I, personally, have only had snow twice on Christmas in Virginia). No matter where you live on Earth, no matter how hot it is, no matter the lack of frozen precipitation… when it’s Christmas time, EVERYBODY plays Christmas music.
Unfortunately, Christmas music culture is unoriginal and stagnant. Both in terms of modern Christmas songs that pervade our life for a month (we get it Mariah Carey, all you want for Christmas is a relationship with a human being) or which lyrics are utilized ad nauseam (can't President Obama issue an executive order about a moratorium on rhyming ‘holly’ and ‘jolly’?), there's very little to get excited about, anymore — it's really ruining my gift-wrapping sessions at 3 AM.
We all need to take a collective step back from what we've known forever and start injecting some fresh, less-unbelievably-overplayed blood into the aural traditions associated with the 25th of December and so, allow me to provide you with a good head start on the Christmas mixtape you know you're already working out, in your mind.
Without question the most flamboyant, saccharine-infused Yuletide song I will claim to love. Really, any holiday track that involves the lyrics “forever and ever” at least will gain consideration and because this effort comes from the portion of Elton John’s catalog that didn’t involve candles in the wind or lion kings (look, both of those songs are fine but let’s be real – they’re not great for uplifting shopping spree montages), it’s pretty perfect.
I know. I know what you’re thinking. You read that title, recognized it as a song that’s older than everybody’s dad, and started to blur past. But wait! No! Then you saw the word “cover” and then your eyes got stuck on that name: Zooey Deschanel. Boom! I have your attention.
The song isn’t one of those covers that completely transforms the original but it does manage to put a distinctive spin on the oft-covered proceedings. It's slow (which, in the parlance of Christmas jams, usually means “snoozeapalooza”) but manages to be pretty charming and warm. Leon provides a classic jazz/blues voice and the presence of Deschanel, now more than ever, will keep all the hipsters from giving you “play some cool music” grief at the Christmas party.
Though it may be impossible to hear this song and not think of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, it definitely remains one of the most universally acceptable modern Christmas songs. I think part of its appeal lies in the fact that it isn’t really about some fictional relationship or event or anything historical – Petty just talks about everything that takes place at Christmas, without romanticizing or really hamming it up (which, you may have noticed, is what makes most Christmas music unbearable). Any song that stresses the point that “hey, Christmas happens every year, don't get too caught up in it” gets a lot of play from me.
My favorite part about about “Christmas All Over Again”, though, is that the song actually tells us to “have a good [Christmas]”, a sentiment that is sadly all too rare in songs like this.
Maybe it’s because Wham! and George Michael have effectively become a musical reference to which nearly nobody under the age of 25 has any real connection. Maybe it’s because Wham! basically stole the song from Barry Manilow but… the original form of “Last Christmas” has not aged particularly well (and really, was it so great in the first place?), meaning it’s one of the songs that has been rightfully covered by a dozen different artists in the two decades since its debut.
The Jimmy Eat World cover manages to be rocking while also maintaining a tolerable level of usually-overbearing Christmas spirit.
1. “Father Christmas” – The Kinks
Finally, a Christmas song that labels the Christmas season for what it largely is: an explosion of greed (it’s about a gang of kids mugging and berating someone dressed as Santa Claus). Of course, Ray Davies manages to paint it in his normal “this is sort of a joke but not really” light and thus, it’s not an overtly cynical or condemning anthem for the age of commercialism… just an entertaining romp that has managed to not get overplayed in the 30+ years since it was released. Oh, it rocks; I put this song on Kinks compilations, regardless of the time of year.