Bizarrely, some of the most unpredictable musicians on the planet have all attempted to channel their inner-festive spirit. Whether it be Salvador Dalí’s surreal Christmas cards or The Cramps’ very own Lux Interior creating holiday playlists, Christmas is a time for unusual celebration.
With this in mind, Michael Zilkha and Michel Esteban, the founders of New York-based record label ZE Records, dreamed up the idea of creating one of the most sordid Christmas records of all time. “Christmas albums are a tradition as old as rock and roll itself but I have always thought that principles of Christmas: family, the tree, gifts, peace in the world, etc. were slightly contradictory to a certain vision of Rock and Roll,” Esteban once said of the record.
He added: “I found it hard to imagine John Cale and Lou Reed sitting around a Christmas tree exchanging gifts with Nico and tucking into a turkey dinner, the same goes for the members of The Stooges or MC5… Only the painter Guy Peellaert could have imagined such a scene. And yet my teenage heroes all took part in the Christmas song tradition: Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Elvis. Berry Gordy got the whole Tamla Motown group at it, even James Brown, who wins the prize for the kitschiest sleeve, got in on the action.
“All of them made an album of Christmas songs, some better than others. In 1981 and 1982 ZE Records published its own Christmas album under the supervision of Michael Zilkha. All the American artists on ZE answered the call and came up with a Christmas track.”
ZE Records, drawing on artists from their roster, included the likes of The Waitresses, August Darnell, Material, Cristina and, more bizarrely iconic synth-punk duo Alan Vega and Martin Rev of Suicide fame. Released on white and black vinyl in 1981, the album was described as “the first-ever alternative Christmas album” and featured two tracks from Suicide.
Remembering the record, Chris Butler, a founding member and songwriter of The Waitresses, once said: “A Christmas album? On a hipster label? With a bunch of junkies on it? Eurotrash? Come on. Never happened… OK, they were not all junkies and Eurotrash. But they were extreme individuals.”
Listen to ‘Hey Lord’ and ‘No More Christmas Blues’, below.