This post contains spoilers for the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.
Even more than bringing beloved characters such as Rocket Raccoon and Peacemaker to the big screen, James Gunn is famous for soundtracks. The Awesome Mixes were highlights of both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and the arena rocker “Do You Want to Taste It” by Wigwam made Peacemaker a viral hit. So when Gunn announced that he was making a holiday special with the Guardians, expectations were high for the all-time greatest collection of Yuletide hits. And, boy, does the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special exceed expectations.
The special finds Peter Quill feeling down because he’s stationed on Knowhere with a bunch of non-Terrans at Christmastime. While no one else on the team really knows or understands Christmas, not even new member Cosmo the Spacedog (voiced by Maria Bakalova), they all pitch in to create the Yuletide spirit. That’s especially true of Drax and Mantis, who travel to Earth to bring Quill the perfect present: his hero Kevin Bacon. Holiday hijinks ensue, but the real triumph of the special is its awesome mix of unlikely Christmas songs.
Which Classic Christmas Songs Are on the Guardians Holiday Special Soundtrack?
The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special begins just as you’d expect from a James Gunn project, with an off-kilter track from decades past. We hear the bittersweet strains of “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, a rough but moving ballad about an argument between a couple in the throes of addiction. While it might be quite a bit heavier than Gunn can get for a Marvel show, “Fairytale of New York” does set the tone for Peter Quill’s loneliness during the holiday season.
If sad songs aren’t your idea of Yuletide fun, Gunn does include many peppier numbers. The Fountains of Wayne bring some alternative rock energy with the appropriately deployed “I Want an Alien for Christmas” and Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas adds his cover of the Saturday Night Live novelty song “Christmas Treat.” Brooklyn duo Little Jackie breaks up the rock and roll with their soulful entry “Mrs. Claus,” and the Waitresses’ disaffected vocals drive their classic “Christmas Wrapping.”
In short, the soundtrack is exactly what you’d expect if you asked your cooler older sibling to make a playlist for your Christmas party. It’s a pleasing mix of familiar tracks and deep cuts, effectively balancing downbeat numbers with upbeat songs to make for a good party.
The Old 97’s as the Cool Alien Band!
Early in the special, a quartet of aliens stops Peter Quill to announce that they’ve been practicing the Earth instruments he brought. To prove it, they launch into a rocking tune called “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime Is Here).” Of course, Quill is shocked that this ragtag group knows how to play so well, but fans of James Gunn’s work aren’t surprised. Underneath the alien makeup are Texans Rhett Miller, Murry Hammond, Ken Bethea, and Philip Peeples, collectively known as the Old 97’s.
The Old 97’s have been making music since 1992, and have scored hits with their songs “Timebomb,” “Murder (or a Heart Attack),” and “Question.” More importantly, they’re veterans of James Gunn soundtracks. Over the forboding closing moments of his debut feature Slither, which featured alien worms who take over the minds of their victims, the band’s blistering “New Kid” starts to play, suggesting a terrifying apocalypse for the movie’s heroes after the credits roll.
Gunn uses the band to a far less foreboding effect for the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. The first track is an original written for the show, in which the Old 97’s alien counterparts try to make sense of this strange holiday. The song sets the stage for the 45 minutes that follow, which feature wacky cosmic Marvel characters but don’t skimp on the nostalgia and sentiment.
But the real standout is when Kevin Bacon, of the duo the Bacon Brothers, takes his guitar and joins the band to perform “Here it is Christmastime.” Fans may recognize the song as the lead single from the Old 97’s 2018 record Love the Holidays. But with Bacon on lead vocals, combined with Gunn’s dynamic camera work, the song gets an updated charge, making it the perfect capper for the special’s Marvel Christmas fun.
What Are the Best Songs on the Holiday Special Soundtrack
Really, there’s not a single dud in the bunch. Even if individual entries, such as the aforementioned bummer “Fairytale of New York” or Low’s “Just Like Christmas,” bring you down too much, there are plenty of upbeat tracks to lift your spirits, including “Dead By X-Mas” by 80s punks Hanoi Rocks or the power pop bop “Is This Christmas.” Billy Corgan’s vocals on the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Christmastime” may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s hard to believe anyone wouldn’t smile at “Christmas Treat” or “I Want an Alien for Christmas.”
But of course, the two Old 97’s songs stand out above the rest, and not just because they’re original to the special. They open and close the special, perfectly capturing its irreverent but ultimately celebratory approach to Christmastime. Between the two, I give a slight edge to “Here It Is Christmastime” over “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime Is Here).” The latter is definitely a good time, but the former allows viewers to take in the special’s fantastic production design and makeup (something sorely lacking from most recent MCU entries) while also intercutting scenes of the characters swapping presents.
With the Kevin Bacon and alien/Old 97’s duet “Here It Is Christmastime,” Marvel closes out its uneven fourth phase on a high note, celebrating the ups and downs of what came before while reserving hope for a brighter future.