In my day job listening to FM radio stations, 'tis the season for Christmas songs. It's the only time of year commercial stations get to play recordings from the '40s (this ain't Radio Dismuke), by artists such as Bing Crosby and Gene Autry. In this post, however, we'll look at the best rock era songs.
This is a list of my personal favorites, not a list that pretends to be objective by using record sales or number of spins as criteria. These are the songs I like best.
A lot of songs did not make the cut, especially novelty songs such as "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" by Gayla Peevey (recorded in 1953, so it's actually pre-rock). Anything by the Jackson Five is not making my list.
The songs on this list are mostly from the '50s and '60s. The Classic Rock era has failed dismally at Christmas songs. Bruce Springsteen has covered a few standards and the Eagles' "Please Come Home For Christmas" gets a lot of play because it sounds like a '50s song.
10. "Father Christmas" by the Kinks. The only hard rocker on this list. Ray Davies makes it work -- barely. (To be honest, it's only on the list because I couldn't find a 10th song that was better.)
9. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by U2. It works because it is retro.
8. "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley. Like most of the songs on this list, this recording sounds like a song the artist would do, but it happens to have a Christmas theme. That authenticity is the secret to a great Christmas song. Dig the sideburns and his lopsided grin in the video linked to here. He was the King -- for awhile.
7. "Run Rudolph Run" by Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry's lyrics are often clever:
Out of all the reindeers you know you're the mastermindRun, run Rudolph, Randalph ain't too far behind Run, run Rudolph, Santa's got to make it to town Santa make him hurry, tell him he can take the freeway down Run, run Rudolph cause I'm reelin' like a merry-go-round Said Santa to a boy child What have you been longing for?
All I want for Christmas is a Rock and Roll electric guitar
And then away went Rudolph a whizzing like a shooting star
6. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee. Great melody, great voice, upbeat fun.
5. "Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms. After 50 years, this and "My Special Angel" are the only songs by Bobby Helms that still get much airplay. It's a Christmas classic now.
4. "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon. This antiwar song will be unbearable to many readers. That's the John Lennon package deal: he's half genius and half moonbat. The songwriting is the real thing here.
Now, if you want a Christmas song that is truly bad, try Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." You listen to that treacle and wonder why John was the one who got shot.
(Okay, I'm sorry. I crossed the line with that last joke.)
3. "Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys. It's a first-rate Beach Boys song, and pop-rock does not get better than that.
2. "Sleigh Ride" by the Ronettes. This and the number one song have the Phil Spector "wall of sound" style. These songs are the pinnacle of melodic rock. If you want more Ronettes, check out this video of them performing the pop-rock classic, "Be My Baby."
1. "Winter Wonderland" by Darlene Love. There are a lot of versions of this song, but this is the best. It's got beautiful voices singing a great melody to a driving rock beat. (Avoid the Eurythmics' cover, as they do my pet peeve: they slow the tempo down.)
UPDATE: Holy cow, I forgot about "2000 Miles" by the Pretenders. I didn't even realize it was a Christmas song, but it is. It's certainly better than "Father Christmas" by the Kinks.