Have An Oddly Jolly Christmas: A Quirky Holiday Playlist

Dec 23, 2014
Originally published on December 24, 2014 6:27 am

Searching for Christmas music you've never heard before? Well, Mitchell Kezin is a collector of what he calls "Christmas orphans," those Christmas songs hardly played and mostly unknown. After being a closet collector of Christmas music for years, now he's directed a documentary about obsessive crate-diggers who specialize in rare Christmas music.

You can hear Kezin talk about his film, Jingle Bell Rocks!, with Morning Edition's David Greene by clicking the audio link above. And below, you can listen to a fun mix by Bill Adler, one of the collectors featured in the movie. It includes tunes by folks you may know, like Ray Charles and Betty Carter singing "Baby It's Cold Outside," as well as delightful unknown gems like "I Want You for Christmas" by Mae Questel, in which the singer (and vocal artist for cartoons like Betty Boop and Olive Oyl) asks Santa to bring her man home for the holidays — hoping that, "By jiminy, he'll come down the chimney with a bag full of you!"

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Hit it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE CHRISTMAS")

BING CROSBY: (Singing) I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.

GREENE: I'm guessing you are familiar with this holiday classic. But have you ever heard this?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACK DOOR SANTA")

CLARENCE CARTER: (Singing) They call me back door Santa. I make my runs about the break of day.

GREENE: We actually can't play much more of this song, because it's not made for radio. But it is one song that is featured in a new documentary, out this holiday season, called "Jingle Bell Rocks!" Director Mitchell Kezin delves into the world of little-known Christmas music, most of it from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, when, he says, you wouldn't start hearing Christmas music on the radio until December. Imagine that.

MITCHELL KEZIN: There was really a window of about two, three weeks when any Christmas song could be played and catch on. Or some generous DJ in the south would play the song once on his station, and if nobody phoned in, then that would be it.

GREENE: Kezin has a name for these unknown songs.

KEZIN: Christmas orphans. They had no home. They had nowhere to reside. They had no one championing them.

GREENE: Enter the rare Christmas music collectors. Mitchell Kezin is one of them.

KEZIN: Every time I go to a record fair or a flea market or anywhere I'm traveling, I'd almost always come up with something.

GREENE: Like this song from Bob Dorough and Miles Davis, called "Blue Xmas."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUE XMAS")

BOB DOROUGH: (Singing) Blue Xmas. When you're blue at Christmas time you sing right through all the waste, all the sham, all the haste and plain, old bad taste.

KEZIN: That was the song that started it for me. What I loved about it was its irreverence. And so, when I heard that, I thought, gosh, there must be more of these. And, sure enough, there are. There are hundreds of them, thousands of them.

GREENE: He hopes to, one day, set up a database of these rarities, like this song from 1964...

KEZIN: ...By Hank Thompson, it's called "Gonna Wrap My Heart In Ribbons."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GONNA WRAP MY HEART IN RIBBONS")

HANK THOMPSON: (Singing) The reindeer will be prancing when they make delivery. Gonna wrap my heart in ribbons and hang it on your Christmas tree.

GREENE: Now, Mitchell Kezin's top holiday pick is from Canadian musician Stompin' Tom Connors.

KEZIN: The song that I love is called "Down On Christmas," about everything that goes wrong for this guy on Christmas Eve.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN ON CHRISTMAS")

TOM CONNORS: (Singing) Well, here I am, down on Christmas, after being up all year. Broke my hip, cocked the grip, and my good wife disappeared.

GREENE: Well, I hope your holiday turns out better than his. If you want to hear a mix of holiday songs from one of the collectors in "Jingle Bell Rocks," you can visit npr.org/music Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.