I’ve always loved Christmas music, although as an adult my tastes have tended to lean away from the standards and more toward rock covers or original songs by rock bands. I know, I’m predictable. Anyway, this year I wanted to compile a list of my favorite Alternative Christmas songs to share with everyone. Some of these may be on the obscure side, not because I have hipster music tastes but because a lot of them came off of compilation CDs that are likely out of print (99X used to release some great Christmas albums, and I don’t know how many of those songs are now available on iTunes.) A few quick notes:

  • I use Christmas as a catch-all for holiday music, as there are also some New Years songs & one Hanukkah song in here as well.
  • When I say Rock, I don’t mean every song is heavy with drum solos & guitar riffs. Basically, I just mean that these aren’t your typical standards or pop songs. There’s everything here from piano rock to pop rock to metal.
  • There are a number of songs that have several covers I like, so in those cases I just picked my favorite version of that particular song.
  • Yeah, I know, a lot of these songs tend toward being emo or depressing. We all have our own holiday associations.

Without further adieu, here is my Alternative Christmas Top 40!

  1. The Fray – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”: I love John Lennon’s original, but there’s something about The Fray’s version that I like a little better. There’s also a version by TrancesArc that I really like.
  2. Paul Young – “What Christmas Means To Me”: This straddles the line between rock and pop, but I grew up on this one, so I like it.
  3. Billy Idol – “Yelling at the Christmas Tree”: It’s Billy Idol singing an original Christmas song, and it sounds exactly like you’d expect a Billy Idol Christmas song to sound.
  4. Shawn Mullins – “Lonely Ole Christmas”: This is a fun original song with a bluegrass feel to it. — Girl since you been gone there’s been some drinkin’ goin’ on, but I ain’t had an ounce of Christmas cheer this year.
  5. Mary’s Eyes feat. Candi Pearson – “Little Drummer Boy”: This is the rock cover that “Little Drummer Boy” deserves. I mean come on, it’s right there in the title. This song needs a great drum part & wailing rock vocals, and Mary’s Eyes delivers.
  6. Matthew West – “The Heart of Christmas”: The world’s in a hurry this December, city streets and shopping malls. I wish we could slow down and remember the meaning of it all
  7. Film – “Merry Christmas Everybody”: Keeps the poppiness of the original song by Slade, but bumps up the rock quotient for added fun.
  8. Rob Thomas – “A New York Christmas”: So call on your angels, your beaten and broken / It’s time that we mended so they don’t fade with the season
  9. Waking Jane – “Do You Hear What I Hear?”: Just a solid rock cover of this song with great guitar work. Not typically one of my favorite Christmas songs, but this version makes it work.
  10. Bowling For Soup – “I Miss You Most On Christmas”: Bowling For Soup is one of my favorite bands, and this original song brings their unique sound & lyrical quality into a Christmas song — I miss you when the sun starts to set / Every day on the day that we met / But I miss you most on Christmas
  11. Angie Aparo – “Silent Night”: The best version of this song out there, period. Angie Aparo has an amazing voice, and it feels raw, powerful, & beautiful here.
  12. As Tall As Lions – “It’s Only Christmas”: Well it’s Christmas time and all the lights are bright / I want to hold you close and burn them in your eyes
  13. Christina Perri – “Something About December”: Christina Perri has a voice that’s made for singing this sort of ballad. — We’re hanging mistletoe and hoping that it snows / I close my eyes and then I can still remember how to get back home.
  14. Neon Trees – “Wish List”: There’s no mistaking that this is a Neon Trees song. — I’ve been an animal since you left me / I need you wrapped under my tree / My Christmas cheer is here and ready / But where are you to set it free
  15. Thomas Howard – “Silent Hill”: Yes, this is a song from Dance Dance Revolution. Yes, I know that seems silly to have on a list of favorite Christmas songs. No, I will not apologize for its inclusion.
  16. Linkin Park – “My December”: Another song I won’t apologize for. High school emo Brian really liked “My December”, and adult slightly-less-emo Brian still thinks it’s a good song.
  17. Thriving Ivory – “Our December”: Not overtly Christmas themed, as it sounds similar to Thriving Ivory’s other songs (which means it sounds very pretty) — I remember streets covered white, and I remember a long tonight / Said our December will be littered with lights, and I see her walking to me
  18. Emily Saliers – “River”: A beautiful cover of Joanie Mitchell’s “River” by Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. The version I have is a live recording off 99X’s 2001 Christmas album, so I don’t know if there’s a studio recording out there anywhere.
  19. Butch Walker – “Santa’Self (F*ck Your Christmas Party)”: Butch Walker’s newest Christmas song about a narcissistic ex, that he just released for free last week! It should come as no surprise that I’ve got some Butch on this list, & this song comes complete with an old school sax solo.
  20. Left Front Tire – “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)”: The original Ramones version is good, but I like Left Front Tire’s cover better. Bowling For Soup also has a version I really like.
  21. OneRepublic – “Christmas Without You”: I missed Thanksgiving, I missed a birthday or two. I didn’t make St. Valentines, but I was thinking of you. Only one thing in the world, that I couldn’t do. There’s only one thing that kills me, Christmas without you.
  22. Relient K – “12 Days of Christmas”: Okay, so “12 Days of Christmas” is one of those songs that people usually tolerate more than anything. That’s probably why I enjoy this version so much. Rather than making it a slog to get through to the end, it’s actually a fun, rocked out version. If you’re familiar with Eddie Izzard’s standup bit about this song, it seems like Relient K took a page from his book on the “Five golden rings” line. Plus, they do a fun little bit of adlibbing: What’s a partridge? And what’s a pear tree? I don’t know so please don’t ask me. But I can bet those are terrible gifts to get.
  23. Hip Heavy Lip – “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch”: How is this not the version of this song that everyone listens to? Hip Heavy Lip rocks it out with the perfect voice for this song, while keeping all of the charm of the original.
  24. All Time Low – “Merry Christmas, Kiss My Ass”: When I gave you my heart, you ripped it apart like wrapping paper trash. So I wrote you a song, hope that you sing along. And it goes, “Merry Christmas, kiss my ass!”
  25. SR-71 – “Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You”: Ups the punk rock ante of Billy Squier’s original, and does it with flair.
  26. The Maine feat. Eisley – “Ho Ho Hopefully”: The first of The Maine’s original Christmas songs on this list. — Ho ho hopefully this holiday will make us believe that we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be
  27. Another Man Down – “The Dreydl Song”: How do you make “The Dreydl Song” badass? You put it in Another Man Down’s hands, and let them throw in a little Bryan Adams for good measure.
  28. Down to Earth Approach – “Stay”: Sweet, sad, hopeful, and I love it — It’s true, if we’ve been drinking wine all night and we watch the snow fall down, and I can’t hold out another night, then this Christmas, I’ll be asking her to stay
  29. Lithp – “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”: Another badass rock version of a traditional Christmas song, which includes a few extra versus thrown in where they create a backstory for a young Santa Claus as he discovered his powers as “my favorite fat superhero.” Really, this one’s more of an original song than a cover (for a good cover of the original, check out Sugarcult’s version.) Also, sidenote: I’ve had this track for 15 years, and I just now got the pun in the band’s name.
  30. Goo Goo Dolls – “Better Days”: This is the kind of song that cries out to be featured in a Christmas movie, probably because it stands on its own as a good song even without the Christmas angle. — I need someplace simple where we could live, and something only you can give. And that’s faith and trust and peace while we’re alive.
  31. Graham Colton – “New Years Resolution”: Probably not intended as a holiday song, but it fits thematically & I’ve been listening to it a lot lately, so I’m going to include it. — I’ve got a new years resolution. I think I know what I’ve gotta do. I’ve got a new years resolution: gettin’ over you. / So here’s to the love, the love that we had. Here’s to the time, the good and the bad. Here’s to the ones you never forget. Here’s to the year that we had.
  32. Butch Walker – “Merry Christmas”: This may be downbeat and a little depressing, but I love the emotion in it, which is why it’s been a favorite since the Marvelous 3 version in 2000 (I list the Butch Walker version because I like his solo arrangement slightly better than the original.) — All of the times the kids are screaming the lines that say “Jingle bells, shotgun shells, daddy’s got a new 44.” Wish I could say that everything was okay, but I’d be lying like a rug on the floor.
  33. The Maine – “Santa Stole My Girlfriend”: It IS possible to be emo and still have a sense of humor about it. — Santa, you bitch. Didn’t get a damn thing from my Christmas list. All I got was this broken heart and that’s it. Santa, you bitch. Oh there’s only one thing that I truly wish. I wish my old girl would’ve never kissed Saint Nick.
  34. Anberlin – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”: Plenty of versions of this out there, but Anberlin’s is my favorite. The arrangement is great and Stephen Christian’s voice fits perfectly. If you’re looking for one with a little more rock to it, try Injected’s cover.
  35. Relient K – “I Hate Christmas Parties”: Another sad & beautiful song from one of my favorite bands. — I hope it snows this week. A snowflake on your cheek would make this Christmas so beautiful. But that would just bring the pain, ’cause things can’t stay the same. These holidays won’t be wonderful. I look under the tree, but there’s nothing to see, ’cause it’s a broken heart that you’re giving me.
  36. Jon Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home For Christmas”: Nobody does Bon Jovi better than Bon Jovi. This one’s considered a classic now, with plenty of covers out there, but as far as I’m concerned the original is still the best. The reason is simple, & it weirdly enough comes down to a musical theatre thing. More than any other version of this song, I believe him when he sings about how the only thing that will make him happy is for her to come home for Christmas.
  37. Acres – “I Gotta Rock For Christmas”: Now this is how you rock out for Christmas! My favorite hard rock Christmas song, and one that deserves to be on every self-respecting rock fan’s December playlists. — On his list of naughty little kids, my name is there for all the things I did. I try to be good but I just can’t make it stick. That’s one less stop to make for jolly old Saint Nick. / I gotta rock for Christmas. / Yeah, that’s okay. It’s all I ever wanted for Christmas anyway.
  38. Dexter Freebish – “Last Christmas”: I have so many covers of “Last Christmas” because it’s one of my absolute favorite songs out there. It’s the original emo Christmas song, and although Wham’s version is good, there have been so many great covers done over the years. Dexter Freebish’s version is my favorite, but I also love the covers by Jimmy Eat World, The Maine, and Yuji Oda (feat. Butch Walker.)
  39. Dave Mellilo – “All I Want For Christmas Is You”: Mariah Carey’s original is an awesome song, and Dave Mellilo’s cover flawlessly takes it into rock territory, beating out the My Chemical Romance version for my favorite cover of this song. I hate to go back to theatre terms again, but what makes this version so great is that Mellilo fully commits to it, which makes the vocals so raw and believable.
  40. Royal 7 – “It Looks Like Christmas”: This is my favorite Christmas song, and I hate how no relevant results turn up on a Google search for it (in fact, I alone account for 1/3 of its plays on Last.fm.) It’s an original song from 99X’s 2002 Christmas album, and it’s a beautiful piece of music. This is a song that belongs in a movie, and if I ever make a Christmas movie (and I’m considering it), I’ll be scouring the internet for Royal 7’s contact info to see if I can use the song. Again, I love it, and only wish it was more readily available so everyone could hear it. — I’m only looking at your picture, of this time last year. It’s just another silent night. How I wish you were here. / Days go by and I wonder why the memory brings a tear to my eye. I don’t know how but I’ve got to stay strong. Looks like Christmas after all.

So there you have it! My favorite alternative Christmas songs. Let me know if you have any favorites that I didn’t mention here, or if there are any here that you listened to and now also love.

Movies:

  • Creed (2015)
  • The Peanuts Movie (2015)
  • Two Night Stand (2014)
  • Last Night (2010)
  • Rocky (1976)

Books:

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker (audiobook) — 3/5

 

The Uncommon Law premiere was a success! We had a great turnout and it was such a wonderful experience to finally unveil the movie to the public.

Thank you to everyone who was there! I’ll have information on DVDs & Blu-Rays in the next few months. In the meantime, here are a few of the photos from the red carpet and the Q&A with cast/crew!

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I had a great time talking with the Atlanta Film Chat podcast this week! We had a really fun conversation talking about Uncommon Law, writing, the struggles of making a film without a budget, my love for romantic comedies & Japanese RPGs, and more. Please download & give it a listen!

When you think of an “indie film” you don’t typically think of a romantic comedy. The genre gets derided as being formulaic and unimaginative. However, filmmakers like this week’s guest Brian Work disagree and only want to make the films they want to make.

Link: http://www.cinematlmagazine.com/cinematl-reel-ga/2015/11/15/atlanta-film-chat-episode-78-writer-director-brian-work-uncommon-law

Uncommon Law Atlanta Premiere

The time has finally arrived! After four years of blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights, Uncommon Law is complete and ready for its world premiere! I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to be able to make this announcement at long last.

Uncommon Law is my first feature film, which I wrote, directed, produced, & edited. It tells the story of Brendan Walker (Mick Taylor) and Melissa Clark (Christie Vozniak), two best friends and longtime roommates who, after years of bailing each other out of bad dates by pretending to be married, receive a notice from the government that they’re now common law married.

The premiere will take place at the North Atlanta Trade Center in Norcross on Saturday, November 21st at 8pm. Doors will open at 7pm, so come early to mingle and walk the red carpet! The screening will be followed by a Q&A with cast & crew.

Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door. Advance tickets can be picked up at will call starting at 7pm on the night of the show. Concessions and full bar will be available (cash only for concessions/bar).

Tickets: http://mkt.com/cold-silver-productions/uncommon-law-atlanta-premiere-pre-order
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3342738/
Venue: http://www.northatlantatradecenter.com/

Movies:

  • Crimson Peak (2015)
  • The Martian (2015)
  • The Visit (2015)
  • Another Me (2014)
  • The Babadook (2014)
  • Mama (2013)
  • The Box (2009)
  • Dead Snow (2009)
  • Road House (1989)

Books:

  • The Fires of Calderon (Balance Keepers #1) by Lindsay Cummings – 3/5
  • You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day (audiobook) – 5/5
  • World of Warcraft: War Crimes by Christie Golden (audiobook) – 4/5
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green – 4/5
  • Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan – 4/5
  • Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Vol. 1: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman – 5/5
  • Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland – 3/5
  • The Martian by Andy Weir – 5/5

Music:

  • A Great Big World – This Is the New Year
  • Darling Parade – Crash & Burn
  • Gwen Stefani – Used To Love You
  • Hamilton Cast Album
  • Leslie Odom Jr. – Wait For It (from Hamilton)
  • Lindsey Stirling – Shatter Me (feat. Lzzy Hale)

Another couple of months where I didn’t get out to the movies too much, but I did do a good amount of reading. I’m taking a class on Teaching Young Adult Fiction, which has given me a good excuse to check out a lot of YA fiction.

Movies

  • American Ultra (2015)
  • The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)
  • Trainwreck (2015)
  • The Maze Runner (2014)
  • Penguins of Madagascar (2014)
  • The Marine (2006)
  • Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

Books

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (audiobook) — 4/5
  • The Battle of Jericho (Jericho #1) by Sharon M. Draper — 2/5
  • Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman — 3/5
  • Paper Towns by John Green — 5/5
  • Code Zero (Joe Ledger #6) by Jonathan Maberry (audiobook) — 5/5
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion (audiobook) — 4/5
  • Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters (audiobook) — 5/5

Music

  • Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – “Cecilia and the Satellite”
  • Halestorm – Into The Wild Life
  • James Durbin – “Parachute”
  • OneRepublic – “I Lived”
  • Panic! At the Disco – “Hallelujah”
  • Rascal Flatts – “Come Wake Me Up”
  • Sixx:A.M. – “Gotta Get It Right”

I’m currently taking a class on Teaching Young Adult Literature, and one of my first assignments was to write my Reading Autobiography, which was a detailed description of the sort of reading I did when I was young (focusing on middle school and high school.) I enjoyed going back down memory lane for the assignment, and so I wanted to share it here.

——–

Reading has been a big part of my life from a young age. Some of my earliest memories are of me getting in trouble for staying up late reading beside a tiny nightlight. In that sense, I was always a little ahead of the game. When my siblings and I were elementary school kids growing up in Ohio, I would always look forward to the Saturdays when we’d go to the Bexley Library to hunt for new books. I would always pick up one or two Peanuts or Garfield books, and then go straight to the kids section for the Matt Christopher baseball books. From there, I graduated to baseball players’ autobiographies. I remember reading Orel Hershiser’s and Hank Aaron’s autobiographies when I was in the third grade, and I guess I just assumed at the time that they were written for kids my age (because why else would I be allowed to read them), although looking at their lexile level now I see that they’re at a high school reading level. I think that just goes back to the whole notion that if a student is interested in the subject matter, they’ll read above their normal level. Oh, and I read a lot of the Encyclopedia Brown books, which taught me that if you ever see someone filing their nails after they’ve gotten out of the shower, it means they’re a dirty, dirty liar and shouldn’t be trusted.

We moved to Georgia when I was in fourth grade, and our primary source of books became the B. Dalton bookstore at Gwinnett Place Mall. There was also a Waldenbooks there, but for some reason that always struck me as the “fancy” bookstore. I still remember the locations of all the shelves I would venture toward in B. Dalton: The humor section where I’d get the latest Fox Trot or Garfield collection (the far back wall on the left), the juvenile book shelves (halfway back on the right), and the sports section (along the wall on the right side, just past the magazine rack.)

I read a lot of series books from fourth to sixth grade. The first ones I remember getting into were the Boxcar Children books. We probably had forty or fifty of those, and once I finished them I started reading my sister’s Babysitters Club books. Sure, I wasn’t the target audience for those, but they were still engaging reads (even if I did have to hide them inside a Sports Illustrated when I was reading them at school.) After that was Goosebumps, a series I thoroughly loved and devoured every time a new book came out. I also got into a lot of Choose Your Own Adventure books. We had a number of those that I’d read a lot, although now that I’m older I can admit with only some shame that I would cheat and sneak a peek ahead to make sure I wasn’t walking into a trap with every choice I made.

The_Black_CauldronAs I got further into middle school, I read more classic series books. I got sucked into the Chronicles of Narnia in sixth grade and burned through all of those pretty quick. In seventh grade, I discovered the Prydain Chronicles and made short order of that series as well. It was also my first experience with a series where multiple characters were killed off. I recall making a chart showing how and when characters were killed during The High King. It was also in seventh grade that I first got into Michael Crichton and read Jurassic Park. Crichton was my favorite author for the next several years, during which time I also read The Lost World, Sphere, Congo, Rising Sun, and Timeline (my favorite Crichton book, which also became the worst Crichton movie.) Pretty much anytime we went on vacation, I’d take a Crichton book with me to read on the plane or while lounging beside the pool.

Starting in eighth grade, my reading habits would change drastically for the next several years, not because of a book but because of a video game. It was in eighth grade that I discovered the Playstation game Suikoden. Before Suikoden, the games that I played were all fairly simple in their approach to story, as few had a plot more complex than “rescue the princess” or “stop the bad guys.” Suikoden was a whole new ballgame. It was an RPG, or Role Playing Game, where the story and character development were just as crucial to the experience as the gameplay itself (even moreso, in point of fact.) I was sucked in by the story of Tir McDohl, the son of one of the Five Great Generals of the Scarlet Moon Empire, whose best friend is killed by the consort to the corrupt Emperor and must go on the run. While in hiding he meets Odessa, the leader of the Liberation Army, a group dedicated to freeing the Empire from the Emperor’s tyranny. After Odessa is assassinated, Tir is thrust into the role of leader of the Liberation Army and must assemble the 108 Stars of Destiny to combat the Empire. It was a life changing experience for me, as the story had brilliant plot twists, moments of great triumph, and heart wrenching turns as favorite characters were killed or sacrificed themselves for the greater good. Almost twenty years later I now find myself playing through Suikoden again, and the story is still as good as I remember it. Additionally, the young adult book that I’m currently writing, Into the Black, is heavily influenced by the Suikoden series and other Japanese RPGs.

Suikoden_packaging01From that point on, I couldn’t get enough RPGs. I lost myself in Chrono Trigger, the Final Fantasy series, Xenogears, Vandal Hearts, and anything else I could get my hands on. Anyone who says that video games aren’t a legitimate storytelling medium is an uninformed fool who’s been playing the wrong games (I’m looking at you, Roger Ebert.) And so, on April 27th, 1997, I created my first webpage: IcyBrian’s Suikoden Page. It started out as a resource for information on the game itself: Walkthroughs, secrets, character lists, things like that. The internet was still in its infancy at this stage, and as people found my site they asked me to expand it and make pages for other games, and as I did the site became IcyBrian’s RPG Page.

And then a curious thing happened. Someone sent me a Chrono Trigger story they had written and asked if I would post it on the site. I shrugged and said, “hey, why not. Original content!” I had written little Mario stories when I was younger, so I was already familiar with fanfiction (even if I didn’t know what it was at the time.) Pretty soon, more and more people started sending me their stories to post. From there, the site became less of a resource and more of a community. I met a lot of fellow RPG fans and writers, many of whom are still friends of mine to this day.

For the next five years, IcyBrian.com was the go-to place for RPG fanfiction and fan art on the internet. My site had the largest collection of RPG fanfics anywhere (at least until the advent of fanfiction.net, an automated site where people could post literally anything they wanted without any sort of moderation or quality control, something I totally wasn’t the least bit bitter about in any way.) Throughout high school, the vast majority of my reading was fanfiction. Every day when I came home from school, I’d have a fresh batch of emails waiting for me in my inbox, containing new chapters to stories that were already posted on the site or new stories looking to be approved for posting. I would still read other books, namely the aforementioned Michael Crichton books and a number of plays, but most of what I read in high school was fanfiction. I’d print out chapters and put them in my binders with the rest of my school work so I could read them in class without arousing too much suspicion. I remember that Math class in particular was my designated fanfic reading time. I was good at math but really didn’t care about it, so I was able to get by only paying a little bit of attention in class, while dedicating the rest of my focus to the more important task of reading new stories about the RPG characters I loved.

The RPG site is still up, although a recent backend update on my server broke the script I used for the fanfic section, so I need to get that repaired so it’ll be back up as an archive. I haven’t read fanfiction in over ten years, and I now subscribe to the belief that writing in someone else’s world isn’t the best way to craft your own stories, but I still credit fanfiction with getting me back into writing and with shaping a large part of who I was in high school and in the years beyond.

Uncommon Law Blu-Ray

Words can’t express just how excited I am to hold this in my hands. Thank you so much to everyone who has been involved with making Uncommon Law a reality. It really is a dream come true.

It’s here! Uncommon Law has been four years in the making, and I’m finally ready to unveil the official movie trailer! I’m elated with how well it turned out, and I’m looking forward to premiering the film itself so I can share the finished product with the world. Please check it out & share it with your friends!