The 25-song playlist below avoids the same old retreads. Or it aims to find satisfying new spins on them, with songs that are not merely quirky and are often, though not always, merry.
All of the noteworthy Christmas music this year can’t be mentioned there’s too much of it. There are pop singles by Kelly Clarkson, Bon Jovi, and Grace Potter that didn’t make the cut (Potter’s B-side “Naughty Naughty Children (Better Start Acting Nice)” is especially of note).
It also pained me to not include anything from Kate Bush’s wintry mix “50 Words for Snow,” especially its evocative opener, “Snowflake.” But at 9 minutes, 48 seconds, it was too long for this playlist, which is designed to fit on a CD.
(Go to my “In the Mix” blog, www.philly.com/inthemix, for videos from some of the tunes here, and for a link to a version of this Christmas playlist on the music streaming service Spotify.)
1. “It’s Christmas,” The Polyphonic Spree. If ever an indie band was designed to make Christmas music, it’s the Polyphonic Spree, Tim DeLaughter’s symphonic rock choral group, which comes on like the cast of “Godspell” on ecstasy, spreading the joy.
2. “All I Want for Christmas Is You (Super Festive!),” Justin Bieber & Mariah Carey. Not sure which is creepier: The 17-year-old Bieber ogling a pantless Santa-suited Carey in the Macy’s ad “All I Want” video, or the shameless Nintendo product placement. The song, from Bieber’s “Under the Mistletoe,” sure is catchy, though.
3. “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball,” The Killers. For six years running, the Killers have put out a Christmas single, with proceeds going to Bono’s product (Red) campaign to raise money to fight AIDS in Africa. This campy horse opera, with alien invasion in the video, is among Brandon Flowers’ and the boys’ best.
4. “Jingle Bells,” Michael Buble featuring the Puppini Sisters. In the Buble vs. Bieber Canadian Christmas album battle, the classy-if-colorless crooner is tops, with his perfectly pleasant collection sitting at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. On this uptempo swinger, the Puppini Sisters provide the pep.
5. “All I Want Is Megan Fox for Christmas,” LeBon LeBon. Frankly hilarious and pretty much irresistible pop-funk vamp from the Philadelphia duo of David Cope and Demian Mason, about the singular wish of a guy who spends his time “thinking about ‘Jennifer’s Body,’ with my candy cane in hand.”
6. “Christmas Cookies,” G. Love. Boppin’ blues from Garrett Dutton, one of his two cuts from “This Warm December, A Brushfire Holiday, Vol. 2,” which features worthy selections from Money Mark, Neil Halstead and Zee Avi.
7. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” She & Him. Brenda Lee remake that’s one of too few standout cuts from Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s too lightweight “A Very She & Him Christmas.”
8. “If We Make It Through December,” Joey + Rory. Merle Haggard’s well-timed hardscrabble Christmas classic, from wife-and-husband team’s “A Farmhouse Christmas.” Bonus: Hag himself shows up on the last verse.
9. “When the Bells Start Ringing,” My Morning Jacket (feat. The Head & the Heart). Top-shelf original lonesome Xmas tune from My Morning Jacket, with Jim James’ ethereal voice backed up nicely by steel guitar and harmonies from Seattleans The Head & the Heart. From a six-song MMJ iTunes session.
10. “Christmas Time This Year,” Ry Cooder. Wicked black humor and Flaco Jimenez on accordion in a surprisingly jaunty number in support of wounded troops returning. From the guitarist’s superb “Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down.”
11. “Winter Wonderland,” John Zorn. Counterintuitively accessible and downright charming Christmas music from the downtown New York, noise-loving avant-garde saxophonist and composer. With an all-star band including Marc Ribot on guitar. From “A Dreamer’s Christmas.”
12. “Frosty the Snowman,” Marcus Roberts Trio. Jazz pianist makes the snowman swing. From the uniformly excellent “Celebrating Christmas.”
13. “I Love the Winter Weather,” Tony Bennett. Saloon singer sees winter chill as an excuse to cozy up to his paramour. From the newly packaged “The Classic Christmas Album.”
14. “White Christmas,” Lady Gaga. The Mother Monster does a sharp and respectful take on Crosby classic, and can’t stop herself from writing a new verse, because if anybody can improve on Irving Berlin, it’s got to be Gaga, right?
15. “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” Hurricane Bells. Short and sweet hushed take on Chipmunks staple, from Longwave leader Steve Schiltz.
16. “You Never Come Home for Christmas,” Caitlin Rose and Keegan DeWitt. Bummed-out, tellingly detailed lament from rising alt-country-folk songwriter Rose, with help from her Nashville neighbor DeWitt.
17. “Christmas Eve for Two,” Summer Fiction. Local songsmith Bill Ricchini puts his understated melodic approach to use in pursuit of meeting under the mistletoe.
18. “Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant,” Diamond Rugs. Supergroup of sorts featuring members of Deer Tick and Los Lobos gives voice to those who don’t celebrate the Christmas holiday, or simply have been kicked out of the house. “How’s the turkey, how’s the ham? / I can’t finish my moo goo gai pan.”
19. “Run Run Rudolph,” Bishon Prushankin. A 16-year-old junior at Wissahickon High School in Ambler, Pa., Prushankin’s getting airplay on satellite radio’s “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” for tearing it up on her version of Chuck Berry’s rock-fueled ode to the antlered quadruped.
20. “Santa Stole My Lady,” Fitz & the Tantrums. L.A. retro-soul bandleader wakes up to empty bed, blames it on sneaky St. Nick.
21. “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Lyle Lovett. Texas troubadour turns attention to the holidays on new “Songs for the Season” iTunes EP. This frisky standard is a delicious duet with Kat Edmonson.
22. “Carol of the Bells,” Mark O’Connor. Classical country-folk fiddler turns Ukrainian folk melody into haunting mountain music. From “Christmas in Appalachia.”
23. “O Holy Night,” Rhiannon Giddens & Jason Sypher. Giddens, of Grammy-winning folkies Carolina Chocolate Drops, delivers a stately, gorgeous version of this 19th-century celebration of grace.
24. “Faces,” Annie Fredrickson. Singer for Philadelphia shoegaze band A Sunny Day in Glasgow, church-organ atmospherics, and hazy vocals conjure a sense of mystery and wonder.
25. “Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler,” See You Next Year. Let’s take a pass on “Auld Lang Syne,” shall we? This strummy track from “This Is Christmas,” maybe the most consistently high-quality collection of new Xmas tunes, by London songwriter Emmy the Great and Ash singer Tim Wheeler, looks hopefully ahead to 2012.
(c)2011 The Philadelphia Inquirer