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.