The best rock and roll Christmas songs can be gifts in themselves. After all, how many times can one listen to a pack of dogs barking Jingle Bells or even the great Burl Ives crooning Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? And enough with the Fa-La-La-La-La’s. Luckily, rock is a genre whose songs encompass all aspects of the holiday. There’s the merriment, good cheer, hope, peace, goodwill towards fellow man, heartbreak, spirtiuality, and class warfare. Before this holiday was co-opted by riot-inducing consumerism and Martha Stewart holiday perfection, Christmas was fun. These songs will make it so again.
A Merry Jingle by The Greedies (aka The Greedy Bastards)
A Merry Jingle is a 1978 punked-out mash up of Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. And it’s preformed by a legendary band: Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, along with Phil Lynott, Brian Downy, and Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy. This is the musical equivalent of a snow-cooled six pack delivered by a Victoria Secret model clad in a Santa’s Helper mini-dress. (While the Greedies’ version is veritably unavailable, the Backstreet Girls worthy cover of the song is available here on Amazon.)
Run Rudolph Run by Chuck Berry
This is likely the first rock ‘n roll Christmas song, released by Berry in 1958. It’s old school Chuck Berry, a holiday Sweet Little Sixteen that has Rudolph “whizzing like a saber jet” and Chuck “reelin’ like a merry-go-round.” A fitting tribute to a great reindeer.
The Grinch by Mojo Nixon and the Toadliquors
Mojo Nixon’s cover of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” isn’t one for the kids. He lets the low-down, present-swiping creature have it in a Bad Santa, no-holds-barred, swear-filled rampage. What else would one expect from the great Mojo, protector of virtue and wholesome Christian values?
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus by John Mellancamp
This is straight-ahead holiday roots rocking where a real good time is being had by all. You’ve got to love the accordion that gives the song a real jump. Mellancamp’s cover songs never disappoint and just like Santa, he delivers here.
Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses
This is no-doubt the greatest of the new wave Christmas songs. The 1981 song tells a story that is relevant today. The over-worked, harried (sound familiar?) singer misses connection with a potential beau all year, only to have that Christmas magic work things out because of forgotten cranberry sauce. A bouncy pace and excellent horns give this suburban rap a sweet bite.
Sleigh Ride by The Ventures
Instrumental greats The Ventures give their surf treatment to Sleigh Ride, and it is a beautiful thing. No sappy lyrics. No over-emoting singer. Just wave after wave of holiday surf.
Happy Christmas (War is Over) by John Lennon
John Lennon doesn’t go intellectual here. There is nothing to decipher. Gratitude, hope, and good will are up front and unabashed. All Christmas music should have as much heart and as little pretension.
Little Saint Nick by The Beach Boys
Nothing says Christmas like the sun-drenched harmonies of the Beach Boys. They give Santa’s sleigh the Little Duece Coupe/Shut Down car song treatment. Christmas soars with the high notes of the vocals.
2000 Miles by The Pretenders
Chrissie Hynde’s voice has been described as snarky, sultry, smoky, and sexy. But on this heartfelt song of longing, it’s simply pretty. Heartache and hope never sounded so beautiful.
All I Want For Christmas Is A Rock n Roll Guitar by The Stompers
Boston club-goers will recognize this tilt by The Stompers. Sal Baglio and the band plead for the one present that will make life complete. And they do it in the all-out style that the band was known for. They just don’t want the guitar, they need it.
Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley
The King puts his stamp on Christmas with several songs, but none have the depth of this one. In an unplugged segment of his ’68 Comeback Special, Elvis lets his voice carry the song. Elvis could do it all–and here he shows how it’s done:
Father Christmas by The Kinks
Leave it to Ray Davies to bring a dose of economic reality to Christmas with typical Kinks crunch. Davies points out that not everyone’s holiday is egg nog, over-sized Teddy Bears, and carols by the fire. His character, a department store Santa, is accosted by a gang of kids. As usual, Davies’ lyrics are humorous and poignant as the kids tell him:
Father Christmas, give us some money
We got no time for your silly toys
Well beat you up if you dont hand it over
Give all the toys to the little rich boys
Have yourself a merry merry christmas
Have yourself a good time
But remember the kids who got nothin
While youre drinkin down your wine
It’s a Christmas message for us all.