By Brian Johanson
“Do you want to start a Christmas band?” Mark asked me. “Well, I hate Christmas music, Mark,” I said. “We don’t have to do any of that traditional stuff-I’ve got a bunch of great, weird, rockabilly songs we can do,” he said. “As long as we can name our band after Krampus,” I said.
That is how I came to be in a honky-tonk/rockabilly/erotic Christmast band called “The Krampus 3”. Each October I don my scant, red, and white Xmas vest and cowboy hat and start practicing a slew of weird and wild Christmas songs, with a list curated by our head Krampus, Mark Verschoor, Josh Long, and myself. In our first season, we played two amazing shows in Fort Collins, as I looked on in wonder- “People really like this?”
After our first successful season, I kept coming back to Christmas music. Some of the ones Mark had found were just too damn catchy I just kept listening to them. Then I started writing them. I have since come to a weird place where I have a bunch of odd, weird, dark Christmas songs stuck in my brain 12 months out of the year. Some of these songs I sing at my shows year-round, because they’re requested or I’m asked to play some of my favorite songs, and these are a part of that list. I’ve come up with a list of my top 10 favorite Xmas songs that are off the beaten path.
10) “It’s that time of year” from Anna and the Apocalypse
I just watched this musical for the first time this year, and this was the standout song to me- Though they fill the whole movie with energetic, original songs. This song is sexy, inappropriate, and seemingly innocent- The character sings it at a school Christmas pageant much to the Headmaster’s chagrin.
9) “Kinky for Christmas”- The Krampus 3
This was my first attempt at writing a Christmas song. I wanted it to either be super sad or super funny- I didn’t know I had it in me to write a super kinky one. I tried to think of the most taboo, dirty things I could think of, but say everything in a sweet way that didn’t violate any FCC restrictions. I played it for my wife after I wrote it and she said “You can never play this for ANYONE”. We still get requests for this one outside of Krampus season.
8) “The night Santa went Crazy”- Weird Al
I remember listening to this song back in the ’90s as a 10-year-old boy thinking it was the funniest thing I ever done heard. Upon listening today, it makes me cringe, as Santa goes on a killing spree in the North Pole. We know Weird Al for his family-friendly parodies and fun originals, but this one is a dark Xmas tale. That is also very catchy, as only a Weird Al song can be.
7) “Bad Kid”- JD McPherson
JD McPherson may have one of the best Christmas albums ever- “Socks”- You can play it anytime and it will get you dancing. Every song is clever and has a little bit of a retro feel, but “Bad Kid” always sticks out to me. The guitar work is amazing and the story of this bad kid who can’t catch a break is hilarious.
6) “To heck with ole Santa Claus”- Loretta Lynn
Classic Country musicians have always been able to put a funny twist on a song, and Loretta Lynn made one of the funniest Christmas songs from the ’60s with this song from her album “White Christmas Blues”. She plots about how she’s going to burn ole Santa when he comes down the chimney and how she’s going to hit him in the “ho ho ho” with a bunch of big snowballs. It’s fun, mischievous, and beautifully sung.
5) “I’m trimming my Christmas tree with teardrops”- Ernest Tubb
The sad sack Christmas Grinch award goes to Ernest Tubb. It was really hard to just pick one sad Tubb Xmas song. He’s got a ton of depressing ones that make you want to drink away the Xmas blues, but this one takes the fruitcake, as Tubb sings “I’m throwing my dreams into the fire/ and watching as they burn and disappear/I’m trimming my Christmas tree with teardrops/ they’ll be no merry Christmas this year”.
4) “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”- Tom Waits
Leave it to Tom Waits to write a dark, beautiful, sad, and sweet song with a little switcheroo at the end. I won’t spoil the ending, but listen as he paints a picture of a sex worker writing to her baby’s daddy, and try not to tear up.
3) “Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus?”- Augie Rios
I found this while looking for songs to add to our Krampus song list, and this has been a classic that my kids sing year-round. This was a novelty song recorded in 1958, which has had an odd life and resurgence in recent years- they featured it in Harold and Kumar’s 3D Christmas and Guster even did a cover. The original, sung by 12-year-old Augie Rios is the definitive banger.
2) “Santa Can’t Stay”–Dwight Yoakam
This song has it all- Driving guitar, rocking bass, and a song about a broken home. Dad is drunkenly stopping by to deliver a few presents, and mom has to ask “Santa” to leave. “He threw a present really hard/that almost hit mom’s new boyfriend Ray/and yelled ‘ho-ho-Lucky for you she’s here’/ and said ‘Santa can’t stay’”.
1) “Christmas in Prison”- John Prine
This is not only my favorite Christmas song, but it’s also one of my top 3 John Prine songs. Prine is always great about having a very beautiful, real, sad song but throwing at least one funny line in there. “It was Christmas in prison/the food was real good/we had turkey and pistols/carved out of wood”. This song covers the gamut of reflection, regret, love, loneliness, and loss. All on Christmas eve in prison.