It was five long years ago than an off-the-cuff video of DMX improvising a decidedly DMX-y cover of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” during a radio visit went viral, so it’s sort of surprising it took this damn long to become an actual thing. But it has; the Ruff Ryders MC has released an official, authorized version of the holiday perennial, and it’s a welcome addition to the long tradition of holiday tracks that are absolutely bonkers.
DMX: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
Frankly, the best thing about the DMX “Rudolph” is that it’s an unthinkable mix that actually kinda-sorta weirdly works. The song isn’t just a Christmas favorite, but a playground standby, and the best DMX tracks often have exactly the kind of sing-songy quality that he keys in on here. Plus, pretty dope beat.
Eazy E: “Merry Muthaphuckkin’ Xmas”
Eazy’s 1992 EP, his first release following the break-up of N.W.A., is best remembered for this novelty single, which may be the only project in his entire career in which Dolemite was the most tasteful and restrained participant. Still, “Oh Eazy-E / Oh Eazy-E” does slide into “O Christmas tree” pretty snugly, and “a merry motherfuckin’ Christmas / and have a fucked-up New Year” is a good chant to have in the back of your head when encountering terrible relatives this season.
Run the Jewels: “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”
Frankly, the bizarre element here isn’t really the song – a fairly straight-forward RTJ banger with no real holiday overtones – but the video, which incongruently but entertainingly combines a black-and-white sorta-Christmas Carol street scene, a mall Santa photo shoot, a school picture day setting, and… cable access-style coverage of the 1980 winter games?
Akim & The Teddy Vann Production Company: “Santa Claus Is a Black Man”
The Jackson 5’s 1970 cover of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is a yearly stand-by on pop and R&B stations, but we’ve always preferred this 1973 answer record by producer/songwriter Vann, a charmingly homemade production – he wrote it for his daughter Akim, who sings lead – in which a little girl takes that tree-side observation one step further. It’s a blast to hear this kind of funky groove in a Christmas tune, and the record also has a strange post-history: it crossed over to modern (cult, at least) audiences thanks to its inclusion on the 2004 compilation A John Waters Christmas, but Vann claimed he didn’t give permission for its use (because he didn’t want it dismissed as a novelty record), and sued the filmmaker in 2008.
Clarence Carter: “Back Door Santa”
Yep, that’s what it’s called. And it’s a pretty good record, opening with the killer horn riff that Run DMC would reappropriate for their holiday classic “Christmas in Hollis.” But no, with lyrics like “I make all the little girls happy / while their boys are out to play” and “I ain’t like old Saint Nick / He don’t come but once a year,” it’s not exactly “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Tiny Tim: “Santa Claus Has Got the AIDS This Year”
No, we’re not making this one up either – this is really a song about jolly old Saint Nick bowing out of the holidays because he’s bed-ridden with AIDS, full of such whimsical Tim couplets like “He won’t be yelling out ‘Ho Ho Ho’ / But he’ll be screaming out ‘No No No’” and “Each season he is pull of pep and vim / But now the AIDS have got the best of him.” The song’s backstory is a bit of a mystery – and trust me, this is not an Internet wormhole you wanna go down – with some sources claiming Mr. Tim wrote and recorded it in 1980, before the adoption of the acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or that (whether it predates the acronym or not) that Tim was referring to the diet supplement Ayds, which was unsurprisingly not long for this world. But the most reliable source we’ve found is Roger Ebert, who pegs it origination to 1985 – which means this could be the single most tasteless Christmas song ever. And there is some tough competition for that title.
“Weird Al” Yankovic: “Christmas at Ground Zero”
We can be more precise about the unfortunate connotations of this one: “Weird Al” released this Spector-esque holiday tune-tapper on his 1986 album Polka Party!, back when “ground zero” was general terminology for the site of a nuclear blast, rather than the specific name for the area around the former World Trade Centers. But that does make it an awkward listen! Thankfully, it seems we’re perpetually on the verge of apocalypse these days, so cheerful lyrics like “What a crazy fluke / We’re gonna get nuked / On this jolly holiday” will seem a bit more resonant this year, eh?
The Kinks: “Father Christmas”
Most of the time, when rock acts do Christmas records, they just adapt a classic, or try their best to do something appropriately schmaltzy. So credit, I guess, to the Kinks, who made their Christmas song the story of a gang of poor kids who straight-up beat the shit out of a department store Santa, who in turn muses that he should perhaps get a machine gun “so I can scare all the kids on the street.” Happy holidays, everybody!