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I worked in retail during every holiday season for the past 20 years. (My first job was a seasonal gig at a clothing store endlessly folding clothes.) What do all retail places have in common during most of November and December? Christmas music.
I can't stand most piped in Christmas music (or Christmas music in general). It makes me angry. So one of my coping mechanisms is to listen to Christmas music that thumbs its nose at the usual carols. Punk is great for that!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of punk Christmas music. There are, in fact, a number of entire punk Christmas albums out there. These are my six favorites, though, and show that Christmas has been punk'd for over 40 years.
"Father Christmas" (1977) by The Kinks
"Father Christmas" tells the timeless tale of a person who dresses up as Santa Claus at Christmas and is beaten up outside a department store by a "gang" of poor kids who tell him to save the toys for the "little rich boys." These kids would rather have money than "mess around with those silly toys." The repeated chorus is catchy with "Father Christmas, give us some money..."
Our narrator is also asked to "give my daddy a job 'cause he needs one; he's got lots of mouths to feed." Lest you feel too sorry for these kids, though, they also ask, "But if you've got one, I'll have a machine gun, so I can scare all the kids on the street." (Which may actually be more heartbreaking than asking for a job for their dad.)
The song drives its point home with these lyrics: "Have yourself a merry merry Christmas / Have yourself a good time / But remember the kids who got nothin' / While you're drinkin' down your wine."
While technically a little early for the punk rock label (the genre was just getting started about the time this song was released), The Kinks influenced several punk bands, including others on this list.
"There Ain't No Sanity Clause" (1980) The Damned
The title "There Ain't No Sanity Clause" comes from the 1935 Marx Bothers film A Night At The Opera when Groucho is discussing a contract with Chico, but of course "sanity clause" sounds a bit like "Santa Clause," and this song was released around Christmas time (in November) and it was intended as a Christmas song. Against hopes, the song never charted.
The verse that directly references the holiday is as follows: "Did you expect that I would believe / The tale you told last Xmas eve / About the man that man is fat and round / Delivers gifts without a sound."
Given my husband's extreme love of The Damned (one of his most beloved T-shirts says "Damned Damned Damned"), I am rather surprised this song isn't on yearly rotation in our home (or maybe he just listens to it when I am not around). The repetition of "Ah hah there ain't no sanity clause" is catchy, but the lyrics are garbled and hard to follow, in my opinion. Decent guitar solo, though, and you can't leave The Damned off a punk rock list.
"Fairytale of New York" (1987) by The Pogues
According to The Telegragh, "Fairytale of New York" is not only "the true sound of Christmas," but "the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century." There is no doubting its popularity in the UK, and I have been hearing it a lot more in the US as well, possibly thanks to KT Tunstall's 2008, ever so slightly cleaned up, radio-safe cover.
The title comes from the 1973 novel A Fairytale of New York by James Patrick Donleavy about the Irish-American experience, though the plots of the book and the song are not the same. Shane MacGowan (singer and writer of the song) asked Donleavy for his permission to use the title for his song. One assumes he said yes, and The Telegraph reports he is now a fan despite the differences.
I think this is a really pretty song, and I love the contrast of lyrics with music, so this gets played often in my house during the holidays by both myself and my husband, who performed it at a Christmas party last year.
"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" (1989) by The Ramones
We had a person come into my day job recently asking about punk rock Christmas albums, and one coworker immediately fired back with this song. The album which "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" came from, Brain Drain, is not a Christmas album, though it did produce the popular, charting single "Pet Sematary," one of The Ramones' biggest hits, so it can't be all bad, right? (Joey Ramone has rated it one of his least favorite albums, so there is also that.)
The lyrics are pretty standard Christmas fare with children tucked in their beds dreaming about dancing sugar-plum fairies, snowball fights, Santa, Rudolph, expressing love for one's loved one... But there's that title. Does this mean the narrator normally does fight with his love and he wants a break? Is fighting how they normally express their feelings? So many questions.
But it's a fun, catchy, and upbeat song, and there is no actual fighting in the song. And I am amused how shocking people find the title lyric.
"Homo Christmas" (1995) by Pansy Division
I did not discover Pansy Division until college, possibly because I didn't have a computer at home until then to explore the untamed wilds that were music on the internet in the late 90s.
"Homo Christmas" is graphic, and my husband is not a fan. I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking it was hilarious and beautiful and adorable all at the same time. I shared it with my secretly gay friend at the time (coming out was not a safe option for him), and his eyes lit up brighter than a Christmas tree. We listened to it together every Christmas until we lost touch years later. (I still think of him when I hear the song.)
In the most basic words, this song is about wanting to cheer up a friend by having sex under a Christmas tree. The chorus goes, "I wanna be your Christmas present / I wanna be your Christmas queer / I wanna be your Christmas present / Have a homo Christmas this year."
Isn't that sweet?
"Oi to the World!" (1996) by The Vandals
This is one of my husband's favorite Christmas songs. Originally released in 1996 by The Vandals, the song was covered by the band's friends No Doubt in 1997, then it was re-released in 2000 with a new intro. "Oi to the World" is the title track of The Vandal's Christmas album. So hey! We have our first (and only) actual punk Christmas album on this list.
The song tells the story of two guys named Haji and Trevor who get in a fight, but decide to put their differences aside because of the magic of Christmas. And bourbon. Basically.
If you're into punk covers of classic songs, this album also features The Vandals' minute and twenty second cover of "Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairies" from The Nutcracker ballet.