Day 12: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 12

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones –
Xmas Time (It Sure Doesn’t Feel Like It)

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“Now I’m standing in downtown crossing, and I’ve got nowhere to go /
I might sleep here on the sidewalk, I’m tired and cold /
The colored lights on the common, they don’t shine so bright for me /
There’s no such thing as peace on earth, there’s no peace or harmony”


Never has there been such a catchy song about feeling utterly alone at a time of year that emphasizes togetherness. It’s a heartbreaking reality for a lot of people — for all sorts of reasons.

My appreciation for this song cuts deep on a few levels.

First, it’s just a really beautiful piece of emotions-laid-bare art. It’s confessional without being sappy and paints vivid picture after vivid picture of the crushing weight that someone can experience during this season.

I also think it’s healthy to remember and take stock of where we are now versus where we we’ve been. Who among us hasn’t had a season of our life where we felt alone and small? Again, could be any reason. Money is tight. First holidays without a loved one. First holidays post-breakup. Or literally any other thing. Once you’re on the other side of that period, speaking for myself at least, it makes you appreciate what you have now.

Which brings me to the last reason I appreciate this one… It helps me remember and consider those folks that are still in it. This is a great time of year to look for lonely people. To hold a door. To treat someone to a cup of coffee. To take some cookies to a neighbor. Not ever in a judgmental way. Simply because I can now, and I couldn’t before.

If you or someone you know is struggling, a guide (“Emotional Wellness This Holiday Season”) and other help is available at

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Day 11: Suddenly, Tammy! – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 11

Suddenly, Tammy! –
Rock ‘N’ Roll Santa Claus

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suddenlytammy“No one wants to play with a Charlie In The Box!”

Another song to file under: “just plain fun”.

I love that you can hear the band having fun on this song — just jamming out and throwing in their favorite quotes from holiday movies and TV specials. (Can you name all the references?)

For those of you who have appointed yourselves to expect me to post something darker: I promise I’ll be back tomorrow with something weightier. Until then, I’m rocking out to this one on repeat.

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Day 10: Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 10

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan –
Time of the Season

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isobel“Christmas Eve the lights went out,
That don’t really help the situation /
She grabbed his coat and kicked him out,
Some angel had been praying for salvation /
Cats don’t believe in Santa Claus, spayed and declawed,
It’s not me you’re deceiving /
And peace and love is all around,
At this time of the season”

I’m not entirely sure what this song is about. I mean, sure, it’s a relationship song. Clearly. And it takes place (more or less) during the Christmas season. Aside from that…

I’m in love with the way that this song is a perfect marriage of music and lyric. The intimacy of the music — which is just gorgeous, by the way — perfectly supports the fact that the lyrics are more like a page from someone’s journal than a “song”. The hushed, unison vocal delivery somehow floats on top of a beautiful swelling sea of strings, circuitous acoustic guitar picking, and bouncing bass lines.

It’s all so simple, but the sum of the parts is next-level beautiful.

Recommendation: Listen to this one in headphones. It’s so worth the extra attention.

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Day 9: Great Lake Swimmers – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 9

Great Lake Swimmers –
Hang A String Of Lights

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“Colors and lights come alive when they’re all plugged in /
And then I start thinkin’ when one starts blinkin’ they all start blinking”


Two happy tunes in a row? Why not!

Today’s song is all right there in the title: a bouncy ode to hanging a string of lights. Honestly, I can’t really say much more about this one. It’s not deep. But it’s catchy as hell and makes me smile when I hear it.

Sometimes that’s enough. :)

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Day 8: Fountains Of Wayne – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 8

Fountains Of Wayne –
I Want An Alien For Christmas

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fountainsofwaynepromo-05042011“I want a little green guy /
About three feet high /
With seventeen eyes /
Who knows how to fly”

The last few songs in this series were kind of heavy. It’s time for some Fountains Of Wayne.

This song is pure and innocent power-pop joy. (And very family friendly. My kids love this one.) It’s really amazing to me that it’s only two minutes and nineteen seconds long, because the Fountains Of Wayne boys pack a lot of story — and a killer synthy keyboard solo — into that time.

(Which itself is a great lesson/reminder for this time of year: great things come in small packages.)

Later in the series, I’m going to be featuring some “bonus tracks” — equally great songs that didn’t make it into the 24 day advent calendar. Fountains Of Wayne have two of those bonus tracks. (It was really hard to choose which one to feature here.) So if you like “I Want An Alien For Christmas”, you have more to look forward to!

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Day 7: MU330 – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 7

MU330 –
X-Mas Card

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mu330-475“You sent a Christmas card to my parents / I get nothing / I get nothing!”

Ah, another post-breakup Christmas-time lament, this time in the very holiday style of… ska punk?

I kid, I kid. I actually really love this song. Musically, it’s a super-fun, bouncy little thing with a great bass line and fun horns. Lyrically however, it’s all breakup angst.

We broke up! Why did you send a Christmas card to my parents? Should I have sent you something — just to “prove” that I’m over you?

Tonally, if not literally, it reminds me of the scene from Wayne’s World where Stacy gives Wayne a gun rack. “We broke up six months ago! Get the net!”

This song is criminally short — and because of that is easily the song on this list that I hit “repeat” on the most. It always leaves me wanting more — in the best of ways.

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Day 6: Lightnin’ Hopkins – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 6

Lightnin’ Hopkins –

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lightnin_hopkins“Yes, you know I went down in New York City, I saw Santy Claus /
he was standing there with a bell ringin’ in his hand /

Well you know the poor children was running up hollerin’ ‘are you gonna come to me Santy?’ /
He said ‘Little girl, please put somethin’ in ol’ Santa’s hand.'”

Lightnin’ Hopkins was a “country blues” singer who did most of his work in the 1950’s and 60’s but whose influence carries down through from Keith Richards all the way to younger guys like Jack White and Gary Clark Jr.

Here, on the equally humorous and poignant “Santa”, Hopkins is doing a “talking blues” style tour through a few different Christmas vignettes. Recorded (as best I can tell) in 1962, this song features some brilliant acoustic guitar work by Hopkins — otherwise accompanied by only a very simple and subtle drum beat.

This song sounds downright sleazy — but is actually quite sweet. How can you not love something like this as a change of pace from the overly glossy junk you hear in stores and on the radio this time of year?

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Day 5: Cracker – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 5

Cracker –
Merry Christmas Emily

(Warning: NSFW Language)

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cracker-600x600“I still think about you, do you still think about me?”

As much a rumination on a relationship that long ago hit the skids as a true holiday song, “Merry Christmas Emily” is one of a special breed of holiday songs that uses the holiday season as a framing device. Santa, Frosty, and the gang need not report for duty on this one.

This is also a Christmas song that takes place in a non-traditional setting, at least for holiday songs: under California palm trees in the 80 degree heat. Not to mention taking place in a haze of wine, pills, public arguments, and longing.

(For me, living in the northeast, it still trips me out that a LOT of folks don’t have the “White Christmas” that I’ve always known. Wearing shorts and drinking outside on Christmas day? I can’t even imagine.)

Musically, the riff-heavy work of guitarist Johnny Hickman is a perfect embodiment of the angst beneath of the surface of the melancholy and humor in David Lowery’s lyrics. This is peak Cracker: the yin and yang of Lowery and Hickman backed by an ace cast of players. (That bass line = fire.)

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Day 4: Robert Earl Keen – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 4

Robert Earl Keen –
Merry Christmas from the Family

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robertearlkeen“Send somebody to the Stop-And-Go, we need some celery and a can of fake snow…”

This song will one day be regarded as a true Christmas classic, along the lines of “White Christmas”.

How could it not? It has it all: margaritas, bean dip, tampons, broken Spanish, cigarettes, and enough side-eyed looks at family drama to fill two or three more songs.

Seriously though, who doesn’t have a side of family (or two) that reminds you of the rag-tag bunch in this song? This is a great example of a song that’s funny because it’s true.

I could listen to this song on repeat — and totally have on the right kind of dreary winter Sunday… not unlike today.

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Day 3: Calexico – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 3

Calexico –
Green Grows the Holly

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calexico2jairozavalaFiled under: gorgeous.

This arrangement and recording dates from 2012 but the core song itself — or rather the poem it’s based on — is attributed to King Henry VIII.

Yes that King Henry VIII.

Some of my favorite holiday songs are reinventions or unexpected interpretations of classics or standards. I love the way Calexico put a very English, very Elementary-school-choir song through their Tex-Mex filter, complete with mariachi horns and rich acoustic guitars and percussion.

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Day 2: Solomon Burke – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 2

Solomon Burke –
Presents for Christmas

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solomonburke“You know I’m even fat enough to be the world’s biggest Santa Claus! Ha!”

Now this… if this doesn’t stir something in your soul and get your foot tapping and your head bobbing, well friend, I feel sorry for you. I love this song’s unending groove and unrelenting joy.

If you’re unfamiliar with Solomon Burke, take some time and dig into his catalog. He’s a pioneer of soul music but I never hear him getting his due, which is a shame.

Later in this series there are some definite downer songs, so I wanted to get this one out early.

This is your go-to pick-me-up and the antidote to any holiday season ills or stresses. Turn this up loud, smile wide, sing along, and dance your bah humbugs away.

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Day 1: The Ramones – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 1

The Ramones –
Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)

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Kicking off the Cool Christmas Tunes 2016 Advent Calendar with the Ramones was an easy decision. This song has it all: it’s catchy, fun, irreverent, and true. Christmas can be excruciatingly stressful but we all just want a moment’s peace — possibly while zoning out to “Rudolph” and/or drinking way too much eggnog.

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