Jingle Hell, Jingle Hell: a Non-Traditional Christmas Music List to Give you a Break

Kelli Wilson

Are you holed up in your house, afraid to go out lest you are besieged by jingly, overplayed, and commercialized Christmas music? Well, here’s a fresh list of true seasonal spirit for your eardrums.

Rufus Wainwright - Hallelujah

Rufus delivers a deconstructed version of Leonard Cohen’s opus with this biblically-themed, modern love track. It’s a big departure from Wainwright’s usual orchestral arrangements, but he elaborates on the song’s premise by stripping down to his rich tenor and a piano.

Ray Charles, “That Spirit of Christmas”

This is my favorite Christmas song. It checks all the boxes: timelessness, musical structure, storytelling, and message. Ray shares the joy he perceives at Christmas—focused through the lens of his hearing—and the refrain asks us pointedly “Why can’t it remain / All through the year?”

Khruangbin , “A Calf Born In Winter”

A calming instrumental with mellow bells and slide guitar in adagio, guaranteed to make you feel like you’re the star of an indie montage shot in front of snowy landscapes. It’s my go to for ho-ho-holiday blood pressure relief.

Kool and the Gang, “Winter Sadness”

Keeping with the mellow tone of our last track, Kool and the Gang deliver their antithesis to “Summer Madness” with this spin. They masterfully weave jazz, synth, funk, and soul with an opening verse that drifts into head nodding exploration.

Low, “Just Like Christmas”

Low, a country-esque indie duo, often delivers slower-paced, minimalistic music, but they pick up the tempo slightly with this one. The harmonies in this track are haunting. And hey, they must be doing something right if rock god Robert Plant occasionally covers them, right?

Clarence Carter, “Backdoor Santa”

Born blind in Alabama, Clarence hit the scene in the early sixties, when the blues genre was evolving and reemerging, but still mostly written off by mainstream America. Clarence finally struck 12-bar gold with this sexually suggestive track in 1968, delivering the Christmas blues with a sound that I can only describe as the love child of BB King and James Brown.