Donkeys, Twee, and Tinashe: Holly-lujah, It's a Very Obscure Holiday Playlist


Oh, please, maybe one time, and no more: Lou Monte, “Dominick the Donkey” – I run the risk of offending the proud Italian-American community with this blurb, but I will do my best to avoid that: this Christmas song is an aural nightmare that I will succumb to once a season, and usually, after that, never again. I was introduced to Dominick, an industrious pack animal, by a friend from New Jersey who was shocked to hear that this song was new to me. Unfortunately, it is now a staple. I listen to it once a season, enchanted by the clippity-clop of the Italian Christmas donkey, doing the work that Santa (?) can’t, because the hills and mountains of Italy are too steep and treacherous for his sleigh? Again, I’m not sure if this is actually true, but given what I know about donkeys, this tracks. It’s a real earworm, the kind of thing that I imagine you’d hear once at a drugstore on December 22nd, and burst into seasonal tears, singing the chorus in your head as you wrap presents for your ungrateful family, binging on peppermint bark and anxiety. Thanksgiving, who? —Megan Reynolds

Fuck yes: Mariah Carey, “O Holy Night” — It’s hardly revolutionary to say that this is a classic of the holiday music genre but my lifelong resistance to holiday cheer has made it so that I only heard Mariah’s version of this song for the first time maybe five years ago. I regret my hardheadedness; this song is perfect, she is resplendent and so extra in the way that the holidays should be. I do not think Christmas is a day that is particularly holy, but you bet your bippy that I’m going to listen to Mariah wail that high note while setting up my fake Christmas tree and I shan’t feel bad about it. Earnest season begins today! —MR

Y: Martin Newell, “Winter Palace 2″ – Newell, known as the reclusive frontman of the English ‘80s indiepop group Cleaners from Venus, beloved as a underground cult hero, also happens to be the mastermind of a holiday song that never seems to get the respect it deserves: “Winter Palace 2,” from 1985’s Songs for a Fallow Land, reissued by Brooklyn label Captured Tracks in 2011. It is jangly, it is lyric-less, it is slightly spooky in the manner in which all lo-fi recordings that include sleigh bells seem to embody a lost holiday season. Play it loud or soft, but listen alone. —Maria Sherman

Also yes: The Aislers Set, “Holiday Gone Well” – Look, this is clearly a loose definition of holiday song: the lyric “I fell in love again / You’re a holiday gone well,” is more about love found than Christmas (and for the record, all indiepop bands love to flirt with English idioms, so it is highly likely “holiday” here is meant to mean “vacation,” as they say in the U.K., but I’m American and so are the Aislers Set, so let me have this one.) Some may find this song toothache-inducing, far too sweet, but those people are wrong. Allow yourself such dessert pop. —MS

Holly-lujah: Avalon, “Light a Candle” – For many, many, many years I was not allowed to listen to secular music but the one exception was Christmas time because even the heathens were singing about Jesus. But even with the perpetual gift that is Mariah Carey’s Christmas, one of the best albums is “Joy” from the Christian group Avalon. This one track is my favorite off the album for depressing sentimental reasons and also because it’s loaded with four-part harmonies that feel like a warm sweater. —Shannon Melero

A merry little Yes-mas now: Tinashe, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Not to preemptively doom a song that was just released to obscurity or anything, but this is Tinashe I’m talking about, after all. On Wednesday she released a seven-track Christmas EP, Comfort & Joy, featuring wavy and trappy renditions of standards, both religious (“O Holy Night”) and secular (“Last Christmas”) in nature. They’re all good, but I like this boppy riff on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is generally such a sad song I can’t quite bear to listen to the whole thing. I feel like Tinashe really means it. —Rich Juzwiak

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