Indi’s alternative holiday playlist – 2014

Last year I put together a list of “alternative seasonal songs” – songs that are relevant to this time of year but not religious and not the same old crap you hear played non-stop through the entire season. It went off well, so it’s time again for Indi’s alternative holiday playlist.

Unfortunately, the original article from last year got lost during the reboot. Luckily I still had the actual list of songs. This year’s list is slightly different – there are some additions and some songs got dropped, and the total number of songs on the list rose from 42 to 50. Because the list grew, I didn’t write the little blurbs about each song like I did last year – the article would have gotten too big and unwieldy (it was already huge last year).

The criteria for making the list was mostly subjective, but there were some things in particular I was looking for:

Seasonal
Obviously a list of seasonal songs requires the songs to be seasonal, but I use a very loose definition of “seasonal”. “Seasonal” includes not just Christmas and solstice, but also Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and even generic mentions of winter, December, and the new year. Songs don’t necessarily need to be about the season, but the season should be relevant.
Not overplayed
The whole point of making a list of songs that aren’t overplayed on the radio and over the sound systems of stores is to select songs that aren’t overplayed. This can be trickier than it seems – depending on which stations you listen to, you might hear an entirely different selection of songs. It’s not always obvious whether a song can be considered overplayed or not, but I tried the best I could.
Different
It’s not simply a matter of choosing songs that aren’t in heavy rotation. I also excluded songs that sound like the songs that are in heavy rotation. Christmas music in particular is in a bit of a stylistic rut – as xkcd’s Randall Munroe noted a few years ago, Christmas stopped evolving sometime around 1959. Christmas songs now have a standard “sound” that artists often deliberately try to mimic – sometimes satirically but quite often seriously in order to get some quick cash from a Christmas hit. If a song sounded like all the other crap being played – even in parody – it wouldn’t make the list, regardless of how obscure it is.
Secular
This blog is Canadian Atheist, after all. Songs that focused too much on the Christian holiday are hardly going to be of much interest to atheists.
Canadian
This is the other half of the Canadian Atheist equation. Songs by Canadian artists got bonus points, but I also biased toward songs that express Canadian values well, and do a good job of representing a Canadian view of the season. (Which implies, for example, snow.)
Fun to listen to!
Perhaps even more important than all the other criteria, I wanted a list of songs that are interesting, either because they’re really good, or just memorable.

None of these criteria were set in stone – if a song did a really good job of meeting two or three points, I would give it a pass for missing one or two of the others.

Also, there were some other practical criteria affecting the choices. Obviously if I couldn’t find a good recording of the song, I couldn’t evaluate it. But also, if I couldn’t find a good version of the song to link to, it got dropped. For example, “23 décembre” by Beau Dommage was originally in position 49, but got swapped out at the last minute because someone has been busy sending cease-and-desists to get people to take down the song – I couldn’t find a good version.

As a side note, last year I took a lot of heat for not having many Canadian songs. It was a fair criticism, but frankly, I didn’t really expect to have many – more likely than not, any half-decent Canadian seasonal song is already getting good airplay on Canadian airwaves, so it wouldn’t make the cut (for example, that’s why there’s no Bryan Adams – he has a nice song, but you can hear it everywhere). This year the problem kinda solved itself; on a recommendation to give Sarah McLachlin a second look I did find an original song she did that wasn’t bad… but I also found her cover of “River”, which reminded me of the Joni Mitchel classic I’d totally forgotten about. Then I heard Dragonette’s 2012 track – which is probably now my new favourite Canadian holiday song of the 2010s – so, there’s a lot more Canadian content this year.

But ultimately, if you want to see more Canadian stuff – or more stuff from a particular genre – the way to fix that is to give me suggestions in the comments.

So, without further ado, here’s the list:

Got any questions about any of the songs? Or, even better, suggestions for stuff to add next year? Leave a note in the comments.

9 thoughts on “Indi’s alternative holiday playlist – 2014

  1. I as going to suggest Loreen McKennit’s A Midwinter Night’s Dream but most of the tracks are christian. I can however recommend the 8th track “Snow” which is secular, sung by a Canadian with the lyrics based on Snow by the Canadian poet Archibald Lampman and is about snow which cannot possibly be more Canadian.

    • Ooo, excellent suggestion.

      Yeah, for some strange reason, Canadian musicians get crazy religious when it comes to making Christmas albums. It’s why there’s no Enya on the list, and why there was no Sarah McLachlin last year. (Other than “Wintersong”, which is kinda meh, McLachlin’s cover of “River” is the only secular holiday song she’s ever done.)

      And of course if they’re not being religious, they’re just rehashing the same old tired standards. That’s why there’s no Anne Murray (despite seven Christmas albums), Michael Buble, Celine Dion, Diana Krall, etc.. Seriously, Canadian musicians suck at making holiday albums. We’ve got some of the best English-language songwriters in the world here, but our holiday showing is really pathetic.

  2. The Chiron Beta Prime song is one of my favourites!

  3. That’s a fun list. I think “2000 Miles” is actually my favourite of the bunch, but “The Christians and the Pagans” is growing on me.

    I don’t have too much to propose in the way of additions. “Christmas Day” by The Elders is nice, although Christmas is admittedly a bit incidental to the song:

    Greg Lake’s “I believe in Father Christmas” is satisfyingly sceptical:

    And for sheer silliness, you can’t beat “Six White Boomers”:

    • Sorry about accidentally embedding the “Six White Boomers” video – I still haven’t quite figured out how those YouTube links work.

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