I recently wrote about my least favorite Christmas songs, and lest some think me a Scrooge, a Grinch or any another fictional crab, let me quickly pronounce myself a lover of almost all things Christmas. I especially love Christmas music, including carols, mid-Century pop classics, 14-Century Benedictine chants, ballet soundtracks, oratorios and mellow jazz versions of “Let It Snow.”
I even like rock n’ roll Christmas songs. Rock musicians have been producing Christmas songs almost from the birth of Rock ‘n Roll itself, including Elvis (“Blue Christmas”) and Chuck Berry (“Run Rudolph Run”). Even Brenda Lee, not exactly a rock icon, came up with “Rock Around the Christmas Tree.”
With its exuberance and hard-driving energy, rock ‘n roll is better-suited for the Dionysian side of the Christmas festivities than many other music genres such as Country, which delivers Christmas offerings that are often mawkish. For me, a great Christmas rock ‘n roll song should make you happy, as in “damn right, screw all the whining and complaining, this is a great time of year.” And the best rock Christmas songs do exactly that.
With that in mind, here are six great rocking Christmas songs
6. Santa Claus is Coming to Town – Bruce Springsteen. In some ways this is the quintessential rock n’ roll Christmas song because it puts some major energy into a pretty mediocre tune. I would rank this higher except that I get the impression that great Bruce Springsteen feels like he’s slumming when he plays something so frivolous.
5. Sleigh Ride – The Ventures. The Ventures were a great surf band from the 1960s, who are probably best-known now for the theme song from “Hawaii 5-0”. The band consists of a drummer, three guitarists and no vocalists, so “Sleigh Ride,” which was so famously performed by the Boston Pop without vocals, is perfect for them.
4. Here Comes Santa Claus – Los Straightjackets. Los Straightjackets are the modern heirs of the drums/guitars/no vocalist tradition, albeit now with a rockabilly flavor. As you can tell from their name, the band’s calling card is humor, and the way they perform “Here Comes Santa Claus” always makes me smile.
3. Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses. It’s ironic. The Waitresses were a short-lived new wave group from the 1980s and their best-known song is a Christmas song, almost a novelty song. I’m sure they had hoped to go down in history for something edgier. The title “Christmas Wrapping” is a modest pun on “rapping,” which was just becoming popular when the song was produced in 1981. This is one of those songs that was little-appreciated when it came out, but came to fame gradually — and now it’s considered one of the best holiday songs of the past fifty years
2. Elf’s Lament — Bare Naked Ladies. This is the cleverest Christmas song ever. Considering the plight of the elf, this song describes the attempts of Santa’s helpers to unionize (“Toiling through the ages, making toys on garnished wages/There’s no union/We’re only through when we outdo the competition,” etc.) Ha ha.
1. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love. In 1986, Dave Letterman asked Darlene Love to sing this great Phil Spector-produced song and it was such a hit that he’s asked her to come back every year since. Watching Darlene Love on Dave Letterman has become – along with “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the Schweddy Balls skit on SNL – one of the great TV traditions, but this video shows the original performance from 27 years ago. Worth watching all the way through to the end of the video for nostalgia’s sake.