Along with unending department store lines, wrapping gifts, trying (and inevitably failing) to attend every holiday gathering you’re supposed to, and the threat of receiving an Arby’s gift card, the constant wave of holiday music is among the worst parts of the season. From November 1 through the New Year, it’s virtually impossible to evade ancient “classics” about silver bells, jingle bells, a man trying to coax a woman to stay overnight with him against her will, and an array of shitty songs about one of two bearded figures who didn’t actually do any of the things mentioned in the lyrics.
Try as we may, there’s just no escaping holiday music. However, if you can’t avoid hearing cheesy seasonal songs this time of year, you might as well try to slide a few locally made contributions into the holiday rotation. The next time your host attempts to play their worn out Mannheim Steamroller album (again), suggest playing these 10 Milwaukee-made holiday songs that are amazingly tolerable.
1. Assault & Battery – “Who The Fuck Is St. Nick?”
Milwaukee punk band Assault & Battery raises a fair question during their portion of the recently released Cashing In On Christmas, Vol. 6 compilation: “Who The Fuck Is St. Nick?” While the gruff two-and-a-half-minute anthem doesn’t help us differentiate between the patron Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, and Kris Kringle, it is the only holiday song we know with “a big brown turd” in the lyrics.
2. Avenues – “Punk Rock Christmas”
On the poppier end of the punk spectrum, Avenues bestowed the gift of a catchy Christmas track last December. While the song about Santa, Rudolph, and “the whole damn bunch” sharing “a pint of holiday cheer” toes the line of being too repetitive in just over two minutes, we’d much prefer this to the brain-burrowing monotony of “Carol Of The Bells” and most other trite yuletide staples.
3. Brett Newski – “Black Friday Totally Sucks”
While it’s not technically about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or any other real holiday, Milwaukee folker Brett Newski recently released a single about the annual post-Thanksgiving ordeal that has muddied each of those once-sacred observances. While the disgusting footage of consumer chaos isn’t easy to watch, it’s not difficult to agree with Newski’s anti-Black Friday sentiment.
4. The Celebrated Workingman – “No More Christmas Suicide”
From one end-of-year tragedy to another, Mark Waldoch of Celebrated Workingman and a cast of other musicians donned elven hats and performed an original song at WMSE’s studio, imploring people to hang in there during the holiday season. “No More Christmas Suicide” (which they performed as part of Third Coast Digest’s “12 Songs” series in 2009) is as catchy as it is noble.
5. Direct Hit! – “I Ain’t Dreaming Of A White Christmas”
Just days before Christmas of 2013, Direct Hit!—unofficially Milwaukee’s unluckiest band—had its van (with close to $20,000 worth of gear, merchandise, cash, and personal belongings inside) stolen in Detroit while heading back home from tour. In effort to make back some of the staggering amount lost, Direct Hit! released a cover of Dollar Signs’ “Caroler” last December 25 for a $2 download. All right, so we’re breaking our self-set rule against listing covers. It turns out DH! would release a second Christmas cover, a song originally by The Priceduifkes called “I Ain’t Dreaming Of A White Christmas,” on a split the following summer. The first one was dedicated to supporters. If the lyrics are to be believed, “this one goes out to fucking Santa Claus, all the fucking reindeer, and the mortherfucking North Pole.” Both are holiday treats.
6. Field Report – “On Christmas Eve”
Back in October, Field Report put Marigolden—the band’s second album filled with crushing, emotional, and just plain wonderful songs—in the city’s collective stocking. Apparently, Christopher Porterfield was feeling extra generous this year, as the bandleader gave us a bonus gift last week (by way of Paste Magazine). “It snowed in Riverwest again like the night we were in the accident,” starts “On Christmas Ever,” a harsh, echoing song about Christmas-adjacent tragedy. While the work against holiday cheer that was built from “an old song on the trash pile” isn’t exactly what we were expecting to get, Porterfield can throw away the receipt because we’re happy with it.
7. Lisa Gatewood – “This Christmas Eve”
Though this song also tackles the night before Christmas, Lisa Gatewood’s “On Christmas Eve” is strikingly more delicate than Field Report’s rendition. Also part of TCD’s “12 Songs” series performed at WMSE in 2009, this seasonal cut by the singer-songwriter is a timeless gift you should want to open over and over again for many December 24s to come.
8. The Midwest Beat – “That’s What Christmas Means To Me”
Yeah, yeah…this one’s a Stevie Wonder tribute. We lied, whatever. This particular cover of the upbeat holiday classic is too good to neglect.
9. Something To Do – “Happy Holidays”
Veteran ska band Something To Do wrote and recorded the deceivingly named song “Happy Holidays” for a forthcoming Maximum Ink holiday compilation. Despite the presence of horns and a generally quick cadence, the song chronicles a lonely December from the perspective of a recently unemployed protagonist worried he may not make it to New Year’s Day. Say what you will about the downtrodden tone of the song, but just try to say this isn’t the best ska song about Christmas you’ve ever heard.
10. The WhiskeyBelles – “Mama Never Liked Christmas”
If any local act loves the holidays, its The Whiskeybelles. Last year, the country trio stepped into the booth with former Violent Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo and recorded an entire 12-song album entirely populated by holiday hymns. Nothing Says Christmas Like Whiskey is almost entirely covers (highlighted by “Blue Christmas” and “River”), but the ’Belles showed off their musical, vocal, and artistic chops with one country-tinged original called “Mama Never Liked Christmas.” It sounds like it’s been around for 50 years, and that’s a good thing.