Pop music tackles tough subjects like war, racism and inequality. Music evolves with the times, helping frame our vision of the world. So why, when Christmas rolls around, are we still stuck roasting tired old chestnuts with Nat King Cole?
Are there any songs that embrace our modern, eclectic,conflicted, but still beloved Christmas celebration? Is there no music to inspire our slightly cranky, somewhat jaded, yet sincerely searching souls?
There is! But these scrappy slices of vinyl can be hard to find. Jingle Bell Rocks! will take you on a trippy, cinematic sleighride to unearth to unearth twelve of the most amazing Christmas songs ever recorded.
With titles like, “Green Chri$tma$,” “Santa Claus Was a Black Man” or “Merry Christmas Someone” these funny, sad, satirical, and scathing songs explore the flipside of the Yuletide: racial inequality, religious freedom, nuclear war, family angst, conspicuous consumption, or just the yearning sadness of being alone at the happiest time of the year.
Jingle Bell Rocks! follows Christmas music junkie Mitchell Kezin as he unveils twelve of his most cherished, alternative Christmas songs. Hitting the road to uncover the stories inside the grooves, Mitchell hangs with his holiday heroes — musicians, deejays, record execs, radio hosts, composers, critics and fellow collectors — who share his passion. NYC’s hip hop archivist & music writer Bill Adler, Chicago rock promoter Andy Cirzan and LA Water Works laborer Tim Sewell are three of the world’s legendary Christmas music fanatics who will open up their hearts and their astonishing collections.
We’ll feature exclusive conversations with the artists behind the music: from hiphop legend Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons of RUN DMC, to late 60s folk pop family The Free Design, from alt pop chanteuse Erin Moran of A Girl Called Eddy to “Schoolhouse Rock” creator & genuine hillbilly bebopper Bob Dorough, who wrote and sang the caustic “Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)” — a landmark collaboration with jazz giant Miles Davis.
Amid this merry mayhem, we’ll hear irreverent and insightful commentary from figures including L.A. DJ and musicologist Dr. Demento, and Canadian radio legend David Wisdom.
Through rollicking live performances, intimate interviews and a kaleidoscope of touching and kooky archive, we’ll journey deep into the Christmas cosmos, uncovering the remarkable stories behind twelve of the weirdest, wildest, most poignant Christmas songs you’ve never heard.
Equal parts social history, pop culture pilgrimage and revealing character study, Jingle Bell Rocks! follows this motley crew of merry misfits as they confront the Christmas music mainstream, reinventing the seasonal soundtrack for the 21st century.
I first fell in love with Christmas music at the age of five. It was December of 1968 and ― like many households around North America ― our family was listening to Nat ‘King’ Cole. But what captivated me wasn’t his “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” but the flipside, an obscure Yuletide melody called “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot”.
Its a sombre song, about a young boy, fatherless, and alone at Christmas time. And because of his circumstance, for some reason, Santa actually passes him by.
The notion that Santa could forget anyone, let alone a child like me, was terrifying. Between choruses, Cole’s rich baritone delivers several spoken word stanzas and it was hearing these ― for the very first time ― that made me feel he was right there in the room, speaking (and singing) directly to me.
This particular Christmas season coincided with the crumbling of my parents’ marriage and I became obsessed with the idea that, like Santa, Nat King Cole had some magical insight into my own life. that if I listened to the record hard enough, or long enough, I’d come to understand my predicament more clearly.
Not grasping the fact that Nat’s soliloquy was actually a pre-recorded track, I pestered my mother to play the record over and over again, day after day, hoping to find out how the boy’s story, and my own, would end.
Skip forward twenty years and the magical appeal of Christmas music became a full-fledged mania when, in a flea market, I discovered Miles Davis’s “Blue Xmas (To Whom it May Concern)” featuring caustic vocals by Bob Dorough ― who also wrote the tune.
This mid-’60s bebop classic put a decidedly unsentimental spin on the season. And the idea that someone would be critical of Christmas, especially in a song, was a revelation to me.
The funny thing is, for a long time, I hated Christmas music. It was either really cheesy, or it conjured up a holiday experience that was impossible to achieve.
It also seemed that the true spirit of Christmas was getting lost …
I was desperate to hear some music that was honest and real.
So when I stumbled on “Blue Xmas,” I was blown away. And I just knew there had to be more…so I started hunting…
As I began to uncover track after track of hip, heartfelt and irreverent music, I also found a community of musicians and fellow collectors who shared my passion.
Jingle Bell Rocks! is our story.