When we talked to filmmaker Mitchell Kezin earlier this week about his latest film, the documentary look at Christmas music and the people who collect it, Jingle Bell Rocks (opening tomorrow at The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema), we saved what we already knew was going to be the hardest question for him to answer for last. We asked him to name a few go-to tracks that many people might not be familiar with that he would think are indispensable for a great holiday music playlist. Obviously a hard question to answer for a collector and fan of his nature, we gave him a few days to come up with his answer. Now we’re honoured to share with you a list of 12 alternative Christmas songs – some of which appear in his film and some of which are more exclusive to this list – to make your holidays a bit merrier and brighter!
“Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)” – Miles Davis & Bob Dorough
“As sincere as it is caustic, this heartfelt ode to holiday hypocrisy comes from bebop legend and Schoolhouse Rock mastermind Bob Dorough who wrote the tune and is the vocalist behind this 1962 Christmas gem. If I had to pick ONE Xmas song, this would be it. When I first heard this in 1985 (picked it up at a Salvation army thrift store), it was on the original Jingle Bell Jazz LP put out by Columbia in 1962, and I was astonished by the fact that Dorough had written a critique of Christmas WITHIN the confines of a Christmas song. That was a revelation to me and it began my Christmas music obsession. I figured, if this exists, there must be more like it out there !”
“The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot” – Nat King Cole (Also LOVE the cover version by A Girl Called Eddie) Nat’s version is from the LP: The Magic Of Christmas With Children
“One of the least known of Nat’s Xmas oeuvre is given a hypnotic & husky homage to those left behind by the big man each year. This was the FIRST song I recall feeling an emotional, visceral connection to as a piece of art.”
“Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas)” and “Shepherds & Wisemen” – The Free Design
“This late 60s New York based baroque pop group, all members of the Dedrick Family, recorded just ONE Side of a Nuclear US Navy recruitment LP [c. 1970]. Chris Dedrick’s music is so deep, and this tune is actually kind of light-hearted, yet still sincere; asking us to simply tune out all the external nonsense that surrounds us during the holidays and/or commands our attention, and to LISTEN closely to those who are there experiencing the holiday season most closely with us. (i.e. Husbands, wives, sons & daughters, brothers & sisters, on and on…down the family tree.)”
“I Don’t Intend To Spend Christmas Without You” – Margo Guryan
“Written and recorded as a demo for French chanteuse Claudine Longet, Margo’s version surpasses in spades with its swingin’ 60s vibe, double-time signature, blues feel, and lover’s plea to NOT spend another Christmas alone. We met Margo last week here in Los Angeles. She’s just the sweetest, most charming, and modest person you’ll meet. She left the music business after recording just ONE record, and we’re the unfortunate ones who won’t hear any more from her.”
“There’s a Star Above the Manger Tonight” – Red Red Meat
“A raw & haunting hybrid of hillbilly meets triphop meets punk rock. It’s a secular tune, but it’s so sublime that it reaches the level of a majestic carol. The flip side is a beauty, as well. A cover of ‘Welcome Christmas.’ I’m a fan of any band that can put such a remarkably original TWIST on a song from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas soundtrack. Next to Thurl Ravenscott, it’s the best version I’ve ever heard.”
“Down On Christmas” – Stompin’ Tom Connors
“With his trademark twang, our national treasure sings one of the wittiest festive ditties ever written!”
“Gift X-Change” – Calexico
“A beautiful, plaintive plea to a friend who’s lost and alone on Christmas Day.”
“Santa Claus Is A Black Man” – AKIM & The Teddy Vann Production Co.
“Finally, someone dares acknowledge the truth! The Godfather of Soul knew this a long time ago, but no one ever came right out and said it. It took the much under-appreciated Teddy Vann to pronounce what we all knew to be true since Virginia asked her BIG question: Is there really a Santa Claus?”
“Santa Claus Goes Modern” by Yo La Tengo & Rodd Rogers aka Rodd Keith (Song Poem Pioneer)
“I absolutely had to include a Christmas Song Poem. For those who don’t know what a song poem is (and trust me, I didn’t know about them until approx 10 years ago), they should check out the great little indie doc: Off The Charts: The American Song Poem Story and if you want to search the web, go to Phil Milstein, one of the foremost experts on Song Poems and manages the content of this site. One of the weirdest, but best examples of the little know genre known as the Song Poem. See “Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four?”
“A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn’t So)” – The Flaming Lips
“Oklahomaian lead singer Wayne Coyne questions the fleeting nature of the promise which the Christmas season embraces, and in doing so, he’s created one of the most romantic Christmas songs ever recorded.”
“Xmas Blues” – Big Tyme
“Collector Bill Adler (featured in my film) introduced me to this incredibly funny, but oh so heartbreaking track. A spoken word RAP in the form of a plea to his estranged girlfriend. Our poor, unemployed protoagonist tries EVERYTHING to convince his sweetheart to be with him again on Christmas Eve, but she isn’t home and her Mother will have none of it ! Hysterical & heartwrenching at once !
My FINAL song…a guilty pleasure: “Hurry Home For Christmas” by Robert Goulet
“Since you’ve been away Dear / No reindeer have come here…” Enough said ! Definitely so bad its good !!!