The AJ Holiday Playlist

A group of Arts Journalism grad students share their favorite songs for filling the air with holiday spirit.

“The 12 Pains of Christmas” – Bob Rivers

Although this song doesn’t necessarily capture the best feelings of Christmas, it’s a hilarious take on what my parents have to go through each year. This little jingle is the antithesis of seasonal joy, but yet somehow attests to the accurate spirit of what the holiday has become—a chore-laden month filled with grumpy, distant family members and yes, those damn AA batteries are NEVER included. It’s a subversive testament to those 10 lords-a-leaping. Don’t get me wrong, though: the whimsy, capering music behind the satirical lyrics put the joy right back into the holiday, and the 12 pains of Christmas are instantly at ease.

Besides, it’s time to start thinking about those New Year resolutions.

- Josh Austin


“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (Remix)” - DMX

When it comes to Christmas music, crooners and crappy pop renditions are usually standard fodder. Who doesn't like Michael Buble's sultry voice or Bing Crosby crooning along? It's what Christmas is all about.

Except for now. I have found a new way to spend the holidays. Listening to DMX rapping "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." There are no words except, When is THIS Christmas album coming out?!

- Nic Bell


“All I Want For Christmas Is You” – Olivia Olson (from Love, Actually)

Go big with the warm-fuzzies during the holidays, or go home and bury your head in shame under your unhung wreaths and twinkle lights. Unabashedly, I will admit to loving LOVE and Christmas, so the rendition of “All I Want for Christmas is You” in Love, Actually hugs my heart to pieces. It makes me feel good inside and I hope it will give you that same cozy feeling. Now, go get the you-know-what kicked out of you by love this season. Happy Holidays!

- Paige Cooperstein


“Oh You (Christmas Blues)” - James Murphy

Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg is an infuriating film, as irritating as a pine needle in your underwear but clever and keenly calculated. You can appreciate its austerity and artistry, but Baumbach loves to throw unlikeable characters at you, like a child throwing rocks and spreading a not-quite insidious smirk. Ben Stiller, who occasionally decides he wants to be a real actor and gives some solid performances in some very strange films, portrays the titular character, who is recovering from a mental breakdown (think of him as the less funny cousin of Bradley Cooper’s character in Silver Linings Playbook). The film exudes quirkiness, in typical Baumbach style. It lacks the empathetic, ironic sorrow of The Squid and the Whale, which sometimes feels like you’re watching scar tissue form over an open wound on the screen (Jeff Daniels, brilliant, has a way better time here than he does spewing Aaron Sorkin’s indulgent, would-be HuffPo puff prose); but Greenberg has a killer soundtrack, provided by Mr. Counter-Cool, James Murphy, of LCD Soundsystem. The film’s worth watching just so you can listen to the music.

In a profile that ran in The New Yorker a couple years ago, Murphy told of his odd, stubborn tactics: He uses an old microphone that cackles and hisses with ear-clawing static whenever he isn’t singing into it, so he plugs and unplugs it rapidly, maybe lustfully, into the amp—while dancing. The soft pop pop of the phallic metal joint sparking in the receiving end almost adds a strange secondary, syncopated beat to the disco-punk mania unfurling on stage. When a friend gave him a new mic that wouldn’t require such extreme measures, Murphy kindly accepted the gift, and continued to use old reliable.

This coolly-contrarian persona slips comfortably into Baumbach’s cinematic world. Baumbach’s writing is wry, but you don’t really laugh. Murphy’s music is infectious like the clap, but you don’t really rise and dance. So when Baumbach needed a Christmas-themed song, Murphy delivered. “Oh You (Christmas Blues)” sounds nothing like LCD Soundsystem—it’s steeped in wrecked, drunken pain, the somber song of a barfly with lead weights dangling from his heart. The bass kicks and sputters with anti-funk attitude, the piano clangs, a heavily-distorted guitar weaves piercing trills; Murphy sounds like someone is plucking those weights right out of his chest cavity, his voice ascending into a shrill, wavering howl by the end. “I won’t forget/ I won’t forget/ I got what I get/ These Christmas bluessssssss, hooooOOOOO!/ And that’s the TRUuuuUUuUUTH! HOOOOOOOO!!!” And then silence.

- Greg Cwik


"Intro + Deck The Halls With Parts Of Charlie" - Tales From The Crypt
In some ways, my childhood was a bit unconventional. Case in point: My sister and I watched way more HBO programming than we probably should have at a young age. At 11 and 12 years old, we parked ourselves in front of the television for every new episode of the adult-themed comedy Dream On and the late-night lampooning alternative sitcom The Larry Sanders Show. Our hands-down favorite, however, was the campy blood-soaked horror-fest Tales From The Crypt, based on the banned EC Comics series of the same name. The Crypt Keeper, a decaying puppet that regaled "boils and ghouls" with a pun-filled intro and outro to every schlocky episode, was the breakout star of the series, and his cartoonish voice takes center stage on this track from the long-forgotten 1994 Tales From The Crypt Christmas Album Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas. Hit play at your own risk: it's worse than you think.
I received the audiocassette of this album in my Christmas stocking as a kid, so at some point, my parents actually paid hard-earned money in order for me to be the owner of this yuletide mangling of much-loved Christmas classics. In retrospect, I'm sure this weird, terrible album helped fuel my love for the bizarre, so with that in mind, thank you Mom and Dad: I hope you both have a scary little Christmas.

- Nick DeSantis


“Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas (Sometimes)” – Harvey Danger

For almost four years during undergrad and beyond I worked at the local Kinko’s, back when it was still actually called Kinko’s. Fun fact: The franchises were named after the owner’s curly red hair. In an amazing coincidence, I too have curly hair, and so does Sean Nelson of the Seattle-based rock band Harvey Danger. The band had one massive radio hit in 1998 with “Flagpole Sitta,” and that was enough to include them on that year’s holiday compilation put out by KROQ in Los Angeles. “Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas (Sometimes)” was Harvey Danger’s contribution. A few years later the band released a video of the song online in the early 2000‘s and finally released it on an EP in 2005.

Another amazing coincidence: there’s a Kinko’s worker in the video! When I came across it, I was still working at Kinko’s, and thrilled that someone–my favorite band of all people–made a song about  a holiday that wasn’t awful and that I could relate with.

“Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas (Sometimes)” is the most un-Christmasy Christmas song I know of that isn’t trying to be gross, mean, or dark. Nothing gets subverted or twisted here, instead Harvey Danger actually carves out a new kind of niche in the retread Christmas song genre: Isolation in the workplace. Instead of saccharine nostalgia, the song delivers tangible workplace loneliness (assuming you’re a christian, of course) and the unrivaled lameness of working on a day where you make more in an hour than the company takes in.

I didn’t have to work on Christmas. Those years at Kinko’s I spent working Christmas Eve instead, and each year I left a small present for our holiday workers to open the next day: a copy of this video with some snacks. I did have to work Thanksgiving, though. That counts, right?

Joseph DiDomizio


"Baby It's Cold Outside” - Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Betty Garrat and Red Skelton (from Naptune's Daughter)

The duet is sweet, joyful, and funny of course, but don't be clouded by its gleeful appearance. My friend and I never catch the rhythm although we only tried to hum it! Anyway, the grooving is great. The former phrase hasn't ended yet and the next arises. They overlap a little bit but never come along together. The video includes two performances of the song: The second one reverses the roles of the first one.

- Xiaoran Ding


“Lonely Christmas” - Eason Chan

From South China, where I grew up, Christmas is pretty much another Valentine's Day of the year, or pre-game of New Year/Winter party season. "Lonely Christmas" is a classic by Eason Chan, the "King" of Hong Kong pop music industry. Every year around this time, in Hong Kong/Canton, you can hear the song playing in radio, karaoke, pubs, everywhere. Single people just love it: a celebration of loneliness.

- Vinny Ying Huang


"Candlelight" - The Maccabeats

"Candlelight" went viral during its 2010 debut on YouTube. The song is a spoof of Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" performed by Yeshiva University a capella group The Maccabeats.  The music video incorporates Jewish history, values and food, but most importantly provides a much needed alternative to "Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel." The music video skillfully splices reenacted Biblical stories and a contemporary Hanukkah dinner. The result is both humorous and reverential.

"Candlelight" provides a spot on the holiday playlist for Jews to celebrate their heritage without getting caught up in seasonal nonsense. Hanukkah does not carry the significance of other holidays and does not need comparison to Christmas. Jews are, or at least should be, capable of celebrating their own religion without the need to be included during Christmas time.

For me, the song ultimately teaches us it's okay to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays," but wrong to not know how to flip a latke.

- Zach Marschall


Follow the official Goldring Arts Journalism Twitter to get the latest news about the activities of this year's cohort.

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