Updated: Dec 24, 2020
A look at the uneasy relationship between the indie music fan and Christmas pop songs, as well as seven indie Christmas song favourites to get you through the festive period.
The uneasy relationship with Christmas pop songs
Working retail over the festive season is enough to make anyone hate Christmas songs. Bah Humbug!
Trust me, for four years as a student in the mid to late noughties, I worked in a well-known supermarket chain where the in-house radio station had the same ten songs on repeat. It was all-day. Everyday. And I hated it!
Stacking shelves is never fun and there's something about having bland, cheery Christmas songs forced down your throat that forces you into a state of absolute depression. There's only so much Mariah Carey, Wham! and Wizzard you can take without losing your mind.
It's the contrast that makes it worse. Here you are slaving away under a manager who'll bite your head off at the first opportunity, soundtracked by songs over the tannoy about how "it's the most wonderful time of the year".
To make matters worse, I'm a fan of indie rock. It's simply an impossible scenario to get through.
Familiarity breeding contempt
The Christmas song dilemma is one that faces many fans of the indie genre. Today, you can just about get away without hearing many of the songs at the top of the chart (unless you work in retail, of course...). Then Christmas comes around and the same songs you've heard a million times (since you were born) are again absolutely everywhere.
They're played on Christmas nights out (well they were before this year!), on every radio station, adverts, in shopping centres and on TV shows. It's inescapable. The same songs are then forced on you in your office work. You daren't ask for it to be turned down for fear of being called a scrooge!
Does familiarity breed contempt? Oh yes. Yes it does. Even worse when it's music you've spent your entire life rejecting, seeking an alternative solution to.
Finding solace in the indie Christmas song
A couple of Christmasses ago in my office, as Paul McCartney reminded us that he was "simply having a wonderful Christmastime" for the millionth time, it dawned on me that the speaker situation could've been a lot better (or worse, depending on your love/hate relationship with Christmas songs!).
Here, I saw my opportunity. "I'll bring in a better speaker tomorrow" I announced to my surrounding colleagues. The following day, I seized my opportunity. Instead of the usual famous Christmas pop songs, the plan was to play indie Christmas songs over my phone from a playlist I had created the night before. No more mindless anthems by East 17, Ariana Grande or Michael Buble.
Over time I learned to I find solace in well written, well-crafted songs which were to my taste, but weren't going to offend anyone for lacking "Christmas Spirit". As long as I found a middle ground, I was good to go.
Thankfully, it went down a treat - or so I assume, I was also just as likely to be receiving daggers from people too polite to say anything!
It took me years to realise that there's actually a whole host of brilliant Christmas songs, some well-known, some which perhaps aren't. Many aren't to my taste, but life's too short to not find any joy at this time of year.
The joy of seven indie festive songs
As an indie-rock fan, here are seven songs I have turned to at this time of year.
Julian Casablancas - I Wish it Was Christmas Today
Perhaps one the most surprising Christmas singles was released by The Strokes frontman in 2009. The original song was used as part of an SNL sketch with Jimmy Fallon and Tracy Morgan in 2001, before Casablancas covered it for a 2009 album of festive classics. It's incredibly cheesy, but with Julian's customary laid back singing style and rock 'n' roll backdrop, it's hard not to love this one.
Low - Just Like Christmas
In 1999, Minnesota indie rock band Low, released their Christmas EP. The opening track 'Just Like Christmas', is a fantastically unique festive dream pop song. It documents the band touring from Stockholm to Oslo and how it reminded them of being young. There may only be two verses and a repetition of the lines "it was just like Christmas", but it's an absolute delight.
The Pretenders - 2000 Miles
With a jangly indie folk-rock sound, this is a song which - perhaps surprisingly - appears again in the UK charts every December. It was initially released in 1983, the melancholic guitar playing of Robbie McIntosh and the yearning of singer Chrissie Hynde combining perfectly. The song is about deceased original band member James Honeyman-Scott who died the year before the song came out. It's just beautiful.
The Shins - Wonderful Christmastime
Here's a song that's been played to death. Though, when it's performed by Albuquerque's favourite indie band The Shins, you're reminded of the joyful nature of the song that the original must've had upon release. James Mercer and co bring their own unique style to this Paul McCartney classic.
Marika Hackman - Driving Under Stars
In 2016, English alternative singer-songwriter released 'Driving Under Stars' from her Wonderland EP. There are sleigh bells and 80s indie nostalgia all over this addictive track.
The Waitresses/Summer Camp - Christmas Wrapping
I could hardly moan about working in retail over Christmas and not have 'Christmas Wrapping' on this list with it's chorus "Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!, but I think I'll miss this one this year". The song is a tale of a busy single woman who has no time to meet a man she met at a ski shop in Spring. The tale finishes on a "very happy ending" when she bumps into the man again on Christmas Eve at a convenience store after she forgot to buy cranberries. For something a bit different, British indie-pop duo Summer Camp, deliver a brilliant alternative synth-infused cover.
Sam Fender - Winter Song
Here's a new one for you. Geordie singer-songwriter Sam Fender has just released the stunning 'Winter Song', a cover by Newcastle folk-rock band Lindisfarne. It's a poignant festive song which looks at homelessness and the need for empathy at this time of year. Simply stunning.
As an indie-rock fan, I used to completely reject Christmas pop songs, believing them to be part of an empty, soulless capitalistic machine. As I've gotten older, this cynical, hipster mindset has slowly departed (thankfully!).
Life's too short to not find some sort of festive joy and this year (of all years) has taught me to appreciate many a Christmas song, even if they are more on the indie scale!
What are your favourite indie Christmas songs? Let us know @BFloodlights.