While the singles initially followed a format pairing a cheeky cover of a Christmas tune with a ragtag cover of a non-Christmas song (by artists ranging from Mission of Burma to George Gershwin), the band ditched that format in the 1990s. Since then it’s been anything goes: In 1998 the group and Radiohead covered each other’s songs, and they’ve done similar recordings with Neil Young and Wilco — as well as releasing Christmas videos, DVDs and even CD ROMs.
This year, at they’ve recorded Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” from Phil Spector’s 1963 Christmas compilation, paired with an ethereal instrumental remix that combines three songs from their forthcoming LP Collapse Into Now . Michael Stipe didn’t take part, but bassist Mike Mills handles the lead vocal just fine. Bill Berry is back behind the drum kit, as he was for the flipside of last year’s “Santa Baby” single, a cover of Lenny Kaye’s “Crazy Like a Fox.” (Incidentally, U2 covered “Christmas,” with Darlene Love on backing vocals, for the Very Special Christmas album way back in 1987.)