The Grinches behind the big music labels must be cursing all the Whos down in Whoville right about now. Gone are the days when Yuletide listeners were forced to shell out $17.50 just to score the one good track on a new holiday CD, nor do they have to suffer through yet another dreadful Mariah Carey cover of "O Holy Night" -- unless, of course, they want to. This year, it's all about single songs downloaded digitally and hardwired into the personal music device of your choice. That's right: Santa's making a playlist and checking it twice.
Here are four starter playlists for you techno-newbies, culled from holiday CDs of the last couple of years. Feliz navi-download!
Making Spirits Bright: Holiday sounds for alcoholics (and beyond!)
"Frosty's Rag (Frosty the Snowman)" -- Anita Baker on Christmas Fantasy: Baker sounds like she drank her breakfast before recording this loose and swinging rendition of the snowman classic, a morality tale on the dangers of thumpety-thumping when the cops are watching.
"Please, Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)" -- John Denver on Rocky Mountain Christmas: Who can resist a tear-soaked plea from the late "Rocky Mountain High" crooner? Pass the gin, John.
"Sugar Rum Cherry" -- Duke Ellington and His Orchestra on Martha Stewart Living Music: Jazz for the Holidays: After suffering through Martha's "The Apprentice," we all need a stiff one.
"The Man With the Bag" -- Jane Monheit on The Season: An unintentionally hilarious anthem for a stoner's holiday, which the jazz chanteuse scats her way through with splendid conviction. Everybody's waiting for the man with the bag? Dude -- no shit.
Kiddie-Table Insurgency: Songs for when you're stuck sitting with the 12-year-olds
"Jingle Bells (Single Mix)" -- Crazy Frog on Popcorn EP: The European wondertoad puts the "No!" into noel with his, er, its midtempo monotony. But the adolescent cell users seem to like it.
"Silent Butt Deadly Night" -- Various artists on Pull My Finger, Vol. 3: Smelly Holidays: There's nothing I could write that could possibly do this song justice, since it incorporates farts in lieu of instruments. Something definitely smells.
"The Christmas Song" -- Chaka Khan on 40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas: One of the few bright spots on the otherwise unimaginative remake of Vince Guaraldi's signature Charlie Brown Christmas CD. Download it just to chuckle over Chaka's diction on lines like, "ebb-body knows."
"Here Comes Fatty Claus" -- Rudolph and the Gang on A John Waters Christmas: Watch Grandma's eyes light up when the naughty reindeer announce, "Here comes Santa with his sack of shit." Ah, memories.
Cooler Than Yule: Selections to appease the snobby twentysomethings
"Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" -- Snowden on Licorice EP: This Atlanta band whimpers out an genial cover of the John Lennon standard, rendered here with a spare DIY flare. Extra points if you get the whole EP.
"Holly Jolly Christmas" -- Marah on A Christmas Kind of Town: Irony may be dead, but nobody bothered to inform the guys in Marah, nor did that stop them from putting together what may be the most weirdly entertaining holiday disc of the year. Cheeky.
"Last Christmas" -- Jimmy Eat World on The O.C. Mix 3: Have a Very Merry Chrismukkah: Long live Wham! But do fans of The OC even know who George Michael is? Probably not.
"Spotlight on Christmas" -- Kate and Anna McGarrigle on The McGarrigle Christmas Hour: Rufus Wainwright moans the lead vocals while his mom, aunt and sis hum along in the background in this zippy little Gap commercial of a carol. It's awful catchy.
"Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" -- Death Cab for Cutie on Maybe This Christmas Tree: The Death Cabbers give the rock classic an ephemeral sparkle. But has anyone ever pointed out just how relentlessly depressing the lyrics are?
An Aging Hipster's Holiday: Doing the Lindy looks silly with your walker, daddy-o
"Mr. Heatmiser" -- Big Bad Voodoo Daddy on Everything You Want for Christmas: Though the rockabilly refugees have been reduced to recording holiday discs, at least this track shows some imagination and brings back happy memories of trippy Rankin/Bass cartoons.
"We Three Kings" -- Rev. Horton Heat on We Three Kings: It's the Ventures meets the Magi, by way of Duane Eddy. Yee-haw.
"My Favorite Things" -- The Brian Setzer Orchestra on Dig That Crazy Santa Claus: We're still not sold on a song from The Sound of Music making the transition into the December canon, but Setzer's saucy rendition will surely be played in a Metropolitan Deluxe somewhere this season.
"Pine Cones and Holly Berries" -- Hank Jones on Here's Love: Smooth. Very smooth.
"Auld Lang Syne" -- Brian Wilson on What I Really Want for Christmas: What I really want is for someone to explain what in the hell this song means. Does anyone understand a single word of this gibberish?