10 Very Philly Christmas Songs to Break Your Holiday Tune Rut
On Christmas Eve, WPRB DJ Jon Solomon will kick off his 27th annual 25-Hour Holiday Radio Show, well known around town for his collection of off-beat tunes with a punk and indie twist. You can listen at 103.3 FM starting 5 pm on December 24th all the way to 6 pm on Christmas Day.
In the spirit of the season — and because we’re a little sick of listening to all the familiar tunes already — we asked him to share some of his favorite holiday songs from Philly artists. He sent us some doozies — from something by The Dead Milkmen to an oh-so-Philly-style version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (eat your heart out, Tina Fey). Give them a listen below and share them with friends for the ultimate Very Philly Christmas.
“What Forgiveness Will Allow”
Cynthia G. Mason & Grey Reverend
A song about the ambivalence and dread of the oncoming holiday season. A story like the following is the reason I keep doing my marathon annually: According to a press release, the singer, Cynthia G. Mason, began listening to my annual holiday show on 103.3 WPRB at the same time she began working on a cookie recipe that involved crushing candy canes. She listened faithfully throughout the years as the recipe improved. “And while some ambivalence [about the holidays] lingers today, the complete dread has somewhat abated — tempered by the ingestion of disgusting amounts of peppermint cookies, the realization that everyone has holiday issues, and the satisfaction of listening to punk rock songs about Santa while dodging drunk drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike.”
“If the Elves Were United”
The Missile Toads
The “hardest working band in snow business” re-work a song originally by Sham 69. I’m 100 percent a sucker for classic punk songs turned holiday anthems.
“Twas the Night Before Christmas”
Tom Scharpling & Philly Boy Roy
An excerpt from an early-2000s episode of The Best Show that’s become one of the most-requested pieces I play. On multiple occasions over the years people have asked who “that woman is” that reads a Christmas story about Philadelphia. One year during the show a fellow DJ called in a panic, convinced WPRB was off the air and something entirely different was broadcasting in its place. Little did he know!
“For Christ’s Sake”
The Bigger Lovers
The best Christmas songs are the ones that are songs first, holiday-related second. A good example is the lovely, sad final track off The Bigger Lovers’ 2004 album, This Affair Never Happened ... And Here Are Eleven Songs About It. My friend Beth calls to request this track every year. I hold it until I hear from her.
“What We Do On Christmas”
Atom & His Package
I first heard Atom & His Package on WPRB, listening online from my apartment in Chicago, and promptly wrote him a letter asking him to record a Christmas song. This is what I got back. Apparently it steals liberally from a Neutral Milk Hotel song, but only one of these tunes mentions both former Eagle Reggie White and Billy Joel in the same stanza.
The Novenas are a band led by Amy Morrissey of Minor Street Recordings. It is one of a select collection of songs about my holiday tune marathon, something completely unexpected, flattering and amazing.
The Dead Milkmen
Remember when “The Dead Milkmen!” was the emphatic answer to “What’s the most popular band to come out of Philadelphia?” You could still make that case as recently as a decade ago. It was only recently that this track made it’s way to me, but it is from a 1984 cassette called Oh No! Someone Shot Sunshine!
As a bonus, enjoy Dan Stevens and Joe Jack Talcum’s rewriting of The Dead Milkmen’s best-known song as “Santa, Take Me Off That List.”
“Comin’ On Christmas”
The Classic Brown
Every year for the past 16 Christmases, the heroes at Arbor Records have had their friends record original holiday tunes for a new holiday play they put on pageant-style at a South Jersey gymnasium. Each collection is a free download and there’s so much terrific material here. Another area tradition I heartily endorse.
A-Sides & Sun Airway
I’m not sure if this was the last A-Sides song or the first Sun Airway song, but this original holiday gem marked the transition of one band to something different. Off a 2007 compilation.
“Little Drummer Boy”
This Philly foursome was terrific and eons ahead of their time — equal parts Klaus Nomi and early B-52s. Here they put a unique spin on an old chestnut.
“Christmas In the City (Ain’t Too Pretty)”
These local garage favorites put out an Xmas EP called “Holidaze” in 2013, but I can’t find it on-line so instead enjoy an equally infectious track of theirs off the compilation “One Chord Progression.”
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