Whether you love holiday tunes or detest the moment that they take over our collective aural landscape (a moment that seems to arrive earlier and earlier … this year it was right after Halloween), you've got to admit that they tend to be soul-soothers. When we're relaxing with our family and friends in our soft and ugly Christmas sweaters, watching football and playing Monopoly, we gravitate toward songs that are familiar and comforting.
So treat this collection of funky Christmas songs like a little vodka spike in your eggnog. First and foremost, there's James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," an earnest yet optimistic plea for the suffering underclass. There are several great tunes from the Stax library, like Otis Redding and Carla Thomas' "New Year's Resolution" and The Staple Singers' "Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas." For Motown lovers, there's The Temptations' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which repurposes the arrangement from their "I Can't Get Next to You" to great effect, and The Jackson 5's tweens-go-wild merriment of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."
For modern standards, there's Donny Hathaway's seminal "This Christmas" and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects." For weird amusement, there's Prince's "Another Lonely Christmas," where he asks, "Remember the time we swam naked in your father's pool?" And as dirty ol' Rufus Thomas sings on "I'll Be Your Santa Baby," "I'll slide down your chimney and bring you lots of joy/ What I got for ya, mama, it ain't just a toy." Oh Rufus, you're too nasty! I'll take that over Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" any day.