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Holiday songs can be fun

December holiday music can be obnoxious. Especially when the canned music that scores your grocery and other shopping experiences starts flooding your ears sometime around Halloween, with many of those stores going for the low-hanging fruit of holiday music.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As much as I love and respect (because of its role in keeping soldiers’ spirits up during World War II) Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” as recorded by Bing Crosby, or Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” you can dig below the pop-music surface and find some real gems in the form of modern and original tunes in the holiday music category. Here are a few of them, in this listener’s opinion worthy of pushing “Jingle Bells” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to the side. Some of these tunes have very subtle references to that late December event, putting them into the holiday song category despite that perhaps not being the artist’s intent.

The Crags: ‘It Ain’t Funny’

Off their release “Long Shadow Day,” this Durango based psychedelic-surf and indie-rock quartet lets drummer John Ford take the vocals on a highway cut where the narrator of the tune is longing for many things, especially home.

The Handsome Family: ‘So Much Wine’

This cut that appears on their record “In The Air” is a tale of a couple whose relationship goes awry on Dec. 25. Melancholic and moody, this is textbook content from the Albuquerque-based duo.

Danny Barnes & Thee Old Codgers: ‘All Alone for Christmas’

From the release “Things I Done Wrong,” alt-bluegrass genius Danny Barnes references a burned-down jail, a broken relationship and killing time by riding aimlessly on public transportation on this lonely and quirky pop-song.

King Diamond: ‘No Presents for Christmas’

No list of alternative holiday tunes would be complete without the famed dark-metal vocalist going from scream to growl over charging guitar riffs.

Wesley Willis: ‘Merry Christmas’

The late schizophrenic street musician Wesley Willis knows that “December is a joy month” and he “likes this holiday a lot.” Rock over London, rock on Chicago.

Lawn Chair Kings: ‘Happy Holidays’

Nordstrom and company channel The Ramones in this one minute and thirteen second banger.

Kelly Hogan: ‘Blue Snowfall’

The most “seasonal” sounding cut in the aforementioned bunch, Hogan is sultry yet sad, all alone and waiting for someone. This lonely weeper appears on the Bloodshot Records compilation “13 Days of Xmas,” with other acts like Murder by Death, Jon Langford and The Yawpers contributing more irreverent holiday classics.

There are also full albums worthy of forever listening.

Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings: ‘It’s a Holiday Soul Party’

This record finds Jones takings liberties on the classics. She turns “White Christmas” into a funky charger and “Silent Night” into a horn-heavy groover, while “Funky Little Drummer Boy” is a familiar cut given a percussive kick in the rear. There’s also a smart cut in “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects” that adds some social class commentary.

Various Artists: ‘Verve Remixed Christmas’

Electronic music artists like Brazilian Girls or Wax Tailor are giving classics by the likes of Mel Torme, Count Basie and Nina Simone the remix treatment, doing so with respect and taste. With added beats and synthesizers, these cuts are turned into downbeat lounge groovers.

Robby Grant: ‘Put a Quarter in the Christmas Vending Machine’

Memphis, Tennessee-based musician Robby Grant, who records under the name Vending Machine, has the fabulous family tradition of writing and recording one or two original tunes every year with his family band, an annual event that began in 2004 and continues to this day. This online album is now up to 23 songs, featuring cuts like the psychedelic dreamer “Santa and the Mellow Double Guitar Solo” and the reggae-funky “Do the Christmas Cookie.” It’s a collection of indie-rock, lo-fi gems.

December holiday music can, in fact, be quite fun.

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.