The holiday concept album is a tricky and often terrible thing. Many artists at the dawn of their retirement will turn a couple of festive tricks, putting a strange spin on carols that symbolize cozy, good cheer. The results are often bizarre and embarrassing, hammering another nail in the coffin of a recording career. Novelty recordings are usually no less weird, making family-friendly standards raunchy or rip-roaringly bad in cheap and silly ways. In a few cases, though, an unusual take on holiday tunes is just what we need to reinvigorate our spirit and help us appreciate the classics once more. We’ve uncovered ten truly weird holiday albums that should get you in the mood for this season’s celebrations — or at least make you shake your head and laugh. Check them out past the break, and leave your personal favorites below.
Best known for his colorful, drug addicted past, Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland didn’t let his reputation prevent him from becoming possessed by the Christmas spirit and Frank Sinatra when he released a holiday album this year. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year‘s Bowie and Bing influence seems obvious, but the 10-track album doesn’t come close to matching the surreally awesome late ’70s collaboration. Weiland takes a crooner’s approach to the work and threw in a bit of reggae for good (?) measure. Whether you see the album as a lazy, embarrassing caricature or a brave, entertaining homage, there’s no denying that it’s a strange chapter in the former Velvet Revolver member’s career.
Philadelphia artist Doctor Octoroc remixed an album of Christmas songs, arranging them in old school videogame style. It’s an entertaining blend of the Nintendo classics and holiday melodies, both of which are instantly recognizable. “Carol of the Belmonts” was named after Castelvania‘s vampire hunting family out for Dracula’s blood. If that doesn’t say festive, we don’t know what does.
Most Star Wars fans wince when you mention the exceptionally bad Star Wars Holiday Special released in 1978. RSO’s Star Wars Christmas Album is a close second in embarrassing Lucas cash ins that should have never been created. C-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca all make appearances — but the most surprising element of the bizarre project is the vocal addition of a young Bon Jovi. It was his first recording and one even the goofy Jersey rocker might want to forget.
It’s hard to completely dismiss Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart since the singer-songwriter donated all royalties to the Feeding America charity, but that doesn’t mean the output is any less weird or actually enjoyable. Imagining the famously cranky (and Jewish) Dylan baking Christmas cookies with a twinkle in his eye is amusing. Still, the garbled, craggy holiday standards on the unexpected 2009 album do their best to deliver good cheer — while sometimes completely unnerving you.
How can anyone listen to Billy Idol’s Happy Holidays without wondering what a version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” would have sounded like to the tune of “White Wedding?” The singer shelves his radio-friendly punk sneer, putting a retro spin on the usual holiday playlist. It’s (we think) intentionally ridiculous — particularly once you see Billy grinning and swaying against the flurries of a snow machine with his shift half open — but at least he’s having fun with it. Note the “Cradle of Love” riff in this version of “Jingle Bell Rock.”
If you’re looking for a 2001-inspired Christmas, look no further than Eban Schletter’s Cosmic Christmas, which fuses electronic arrangements, space exotica, and all the theremin you could ever hope for. Schletter, who is best known for his TV compositions on everything from SpongeBob to Tenacious D, offers a glimpse at what a synthtastic holiday would feel like with this unusual concept album.
Twisted Sister were a long way from their glam metal days and the ’80s rock anthems that put them on the map when they created a A Twisted Christmas in 2006. The band gave the holidays a metal makeover, and most people responded with, “We’re not gonna take it.” Middle-aged headbangers too tired to lift a middle finger might take this one for a spin in secret.
Afroman performs a rousing rendition of your favorite Christmas tunes, including “Violent Night,” “O Chronic Tree,” and “Afroman is Coming to Town.” Need we say more?
Based on the popular EC Comics’ horror series from the 1950s, Tales From the Crypt‘s twisted terror tales aired on HBO in the ’80s and ’90s, and became the inspiration for several campy big screen productions. Its cheeseball host, the Crypt Keeper — a bag of bones known for his cackle — led the Yuletide chorus on a 1994 holiday album. In predictable fashion, Have Yourself a Scary little Christmas morbidly parodied traditional tunes hoping to market to all the boils and ghouls. The novelty recording is one of many 1990’s TV marketing ploys (most of which included bad rap songs — and yes, the Crypt Keeper wasn’t exempt from this) that are a weird waste of space in your music library.
The funkadelic Bootsy Collins has been freaking us out a little lately with his surreal Old Navy commercial hawking a new line of boots for the clothing company. Add to that Christmas Is 4 Ever featuring the vocal contributions of people like Snoop Dogg, Charlie Daniels, and strangely enough … guitarist Buckethead. Listen if you want a far-out diversion from the James Brown holiday album.