Black Ice: The Dark Side of Christmas Music
There are two types of people in this world—those who absolutely adore tinsel town Christmas ditties, and those who disdain the metallic ring of jingle bells. Those who belong in the latter category are plagued with Frank Sinatra’s croon fawning over icy streets and roasting chestnuts, and are subjected to radio stations devoted to glitzy holiday tunes, but what are the scrooges left with? This playlist is an early gift to anyone tired of the schmaltzy cliches and just want a good cry while cradling a glass of spiked eggnog.
“Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” – Joey Ramone
Punk rockers not only celebrate Christmas alongside us mere humans, but they sing about it, too. The only Christmas gift Joey Ramone wants is to have one night absent of bickering: “’cause Christmas ain’t the time for breaking each other’s hearts.” A departure from his trademark brevity and chipper whopping vocals, Ramone adopts an exaggerated tenor, and trades in the flurry of guitars for a stripped-down drum line.
“Wintersong” – Sarah McLachlan
After cursing her rich, rich soprano to an eternity of associations with dying puppies and starving kitties with her contribution to an infamously tragic ASPCA commercial, any Sarah McLachlan track can be considered a miserable opus. McLachlan wielded her tearjerker powers over the holidays with her holiday album, Wintersong. Addressing themes like death and loneliness, the album, especially its title track, eschews the guiltless joy of Christmas and trudges through the cold remove of the season.
“Christmas in Prison” by John Prine
Complimenting his satisfying meal eaten in prison and reminiscing on the comaraderie between himself and his fellow prison mates, Prine is still haunted by loneliness. Not even the holiday cheer present outside the prison walls can distract him from his loss. One of the most tragic lines, “Even when I don’t dream, her name’s on my tongue and her blood’s in my stream,” serves as a reminder that twinkling lights and waving snowmen can’t relieve the sting of heartbreak.
“River” – Joni Mitchell
A tragic cut off Mitchell’s heartbreak masterpiece, Blue, it’s not surprising that “River” fits in the tragic mold of the Canadian folkster’s defining album. An emotionally crippled Mitchell attempts to weather a nasty breakup in the wake of the holiday season. Mitchell craves nothing more than what most of us search for in the holiday seaso: an escape. She may be looking to outrun some emotional demons, and others away from cumbersome distant relatives, but it’s an escape all the same.
“Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day? (Well You Deserved It!)” – Sufjan Stevens
Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean breakups become less petty. With an anthology of indie-centric Christmas songs floating in his catalog—not to mention Silver & Gold, his second slew of holiday EPs released this year, it’s safe to say that Christmas really resonates with Sufjan Stevens. Revenge and sadomasochism gets the best of the chilly indie singer with this bitter scoff at a former flame. Stevens reaches his most jibing point with the poignantly delivered lines, “I stay awake at night after we have a fight. I’m writing poems about you and they aren’t very nice.”
“Merry Christmas Darling” – The Carpenters
With a picturesque Christmas in the making—logs on the fire, Christmas tree decorated to perfection—it’s still incomplete without the object of her desire. In true Carpenter style, the track is schemed around heavy harmonies and polished pop melodies; but this song takes a particularly dark turn on pop star’s season of choice. Karen Carpenter’s quivering soprano shakes with yearning as she calls for her lover to join her in her frost-covered fantasy.
“It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way” – Jim Croce
Any Christmas song that begins with, “snowy nights and Christmas lights, icy windowpanes make me wish that we could be together again,” is sure to be departure from the yuletide gay of Christmas carols and Bing Crosby covers. The swarm of velveteen bows and cluttered shopping bags may usher a feeling of disgust for many, but each tiding of Christmas cheer is nothing but a painful reminder of the one gift that an ailing Croce cannot have—a woman.