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The alternative sound of Christmas: 10 songs that definitely aren't 'Jingle Bells'

Yo La Tengo

Jesper Eklow

He's dreaming of a B-side Christmas. Vancouver-based filmmaker Mitchell Kezin is currently working on Jingle Bell Rocks!, a documentary feature on rare, offbeat Christmas songs, to be released next fall. For The Globe and Mail, he selects his top 10 yuletide favourites.

10. A Change at Christmas (Say It Isn't So) by The Flaming Lips (2003): "The lead singer Wayne Coyne of the Oklahoma psychedelic rockers questions the fleeting nature of the promise which the Christmas season embraces. In doing so, he's created one of the most romantic Christmas songs ever recorded."

9. Santa Claus Goes Modern by Yo La Tengo (2002): "One of the weirdest but best examples of the little-known genre known as the song poem. (See also: Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four?)"

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8. Santa Claus Is a Black Man by Akim and the Teddy Vann Production Company (1973): "Finally, someone dares acknowledge the truth! The Godfather of Soul James Brown knew this a long time ago, but he never came right out and said it. It took the much underappreciated Teddy Vann and his little daughter Akim to pronounce what we all knew to be true since Virginia asked her big question."

7. Gift X-Change by Calexico (2000): "From the California alt-country band, a beautiful, plaintive plea to a friend who's lost and alone on Christmas Day."

6. Down on Christmas by Stompin' Tom Connors (1970): "With his trademark twang, a national treasure sings one of the wittiest festive ditties ever written, from the album Merry Christmas Everybody."

5. There's a Star Above the Manger Tonight by Red Red Meat (1997): "A raw and haunting hybrid of hillbilly meets trip-hop meets punk rock. It's a secular tune, but it's so sublime it reaches the level of a majestic carol."

4. I Don't Intend to Spend Christmas Without You by Margo Guryan (1967): "Written and recorded as a demo for the French chanteuse Claudine Longet, Guryan's version surpasses in spades with its swingin' sixties vibe, double-time signature and lover's plea to not spend another Christmas alone."

3. Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas) by The Free Design (1968): "A late 1960s New York-based baroque-pop group, all members of the Dedrick Family. Chris Dedrick's music is so deep, and this tune is actually a kind of light-hearted yet still sincere song which asks us to simply tune out all the external nonsense that surrounds us during the holidays."

2. The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot by A Girl Called Eddie (2009): "Originally from the 1960 album The Magic Of Christmas With Children, this is one of the least known of Nat King Cole's Christmas oeuvre. It was the first song I recall feeling an emotional, visceral connection to as a piece of art. The more recent version, sung by singer-songwriter Erin Moran (aka A Girl Called Eddie), is a hypnotic and husky homage to those forgotten by the big man in the red suit each year."

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1. Blue Xmas (To Whom it May Concern) by Miles Davis and Bob Dorough (1962): "As sincere as it is caustic, this is a heartfelt ode to holiday hypocrisy by the bebop legend Davis and the Schoolhouse Rocks mastermind Bob Dorough (who wrote the tune, and is the vocalist behind this gem). When I first heard it in 1985, 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."

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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