It’s not just Santa Claus making lists and checking them twice. With Christmas coming, we’ll be ticking off the turkey, the tree, and all the trimmings, but what of the perfect music to provide the soundtrack for our festive fun? Most of us fall back on a solid Christmas hits collection regardless of our party’s persuasion, but what if we went one louder and gifted you the best Christmas rock songs ever? There are no traditional Christmas carols here. No “Little Drummer Boy,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” or “Silent Night.” This Christmas, enjoy some rock around the Christmas tree.
Chuck Berry: Run Rudolph Run
First released by Chess Records in time for Christmas 1958, this exuberant rocker – co-written by Johnny Marks of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” fame – is quintessential Chuck Berry. It’s since been covered by Sheryl Crow, Bryan Adams, Billy Idol, and many more.
Bobby Helms: Jingle Bell Rock
The epitome of the term “crossover hit,” Bobby Helms’ laidback, roots-flavored “Jingle Bell Rock,” from 1957, was originally a US country radio hit which also made it to No.6 on the mainstream Billboard Best Sellers chart. Currently ranked among the Top 10 Christmas/Holiday Digital Singles in the US, it remains an enduring Yuletide favorite.
Def Leppard: We All Need Christmas
Beautifully crafted acoustic rock ballad kissed with strings, and fueled by hope and optimism – and a final coda which goes up to 11. A seasonal classic-in-waiting wherein Joe Elliott and the boys raise a glass to “all that’s past – and to the future, long may it last!” ’Nuff said.
Weezer: We Wish You A Merry Christmas
As their recent Billboard Alternative Chart-topping take on Toto’s “Africa” proves, Weezer know a thing or three about cool cover versions. From 2008’s Christmas gift EP Christmas With Weezer, this short but sweet remake of a classic festive hymn is another belter.
John Lennon: Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
Part of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s peace efforts, the Christmas song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” has become a staple of holiday season playlists. Featuring the Harlem Community Choir, the song focused on the Vietnam War at the time of its initial release but remains sadly relevant and necessary decades later.
U2: Christmas (Baby Come Home Please)
Mariah Carey made a fantastic version, of course. But Bono and co’s emotional, widescreen take of Darlene Love’s cult classic from 1963 is just as affecting. Co-written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, and Phil Spector, the song was reputedly originally penned for Ronnie Spector.
Paul McCartney: Wonderful Christmastime
The Beatles’ Paul McCartney’s classic Christmas song isn’t exactly a rockin’ tune, but it’s worthy of inclusion nonetheless. The little ditty is based around a synthesizer line, and its lyrics have a wonderfully simple message: “We’re here tonight/And that’s enough.”
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Christmas All Over Again
A rousing, Tom Petty-penned anthem with a few tinges of Phil Spector thrown in for good measure, this was initially the lead cut from A&M’s star-studded 1992 A Very Special Christmas compilation, released in aid of the Special Olympics.
The Waitresses: Christmas Wrapping
The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” doesn’t start out like “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” but eventually it turns into a little bit of a love song. A late-night trek to a grocery store on Christmas Eve leads to singer Patty Donahue meeting the man she’s been chasing all year.
Little Steven: Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)
Do they know it’s Christmas? You wouldn’t expect the New York punk rock icons The Ramones to make a Christmas song. But with a killer riff and a plea for peace on Earth (or, at the very least, the apartment), this one is among the best Christmas rock songs ever. Case in point: The song’s sterling cinematic makeover in 2017 by Bruce Springsteen’s talented wingman.
Cocteau Twins: Frosty The Snowman
It may not immediately make sense, but the more you think about it, the more Cocteau Twins and hazy, Christmas music begins to seem like a perfect match. (Their take on “Winter Wonderland” is great as well.)
Bryan Adams: Merry Christmas
Canadian rock icon Bryan Adams recorded an enduring festive song, “Christmas Time,” in 1985. He delivered a second in 2011, in the shape of this yearningly soulful, sleigh-bell-enhanced rock ballad.
The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl: Fairytale of New York
This Christmas classic has become a lightning rod of controversy in recent years, but as Nick Cave wrote in 2020, “the idea that a word, or a line, in a song can simply be changed for another and not do it significant damage is a notion that can only be upheld by those that know nothing about the fragile nature of songwriting.”
Cheap Trick: Christmas Christmas
Legendary Illinois power-popsters Cheap Trick had Xmas all wrapped up with 2017’s Christmas Christmas. Driven by guitarist Rick Neilsen’s power chords, the album’s titular song is a seasonal sizzler which shows exactly why “Christmas Christmas” is so good they really should name it twice.
Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody
The iconic glam rock group didn’t want to release this record initially. Luckily, their manager had his way. It beat Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” to the top spot in the charts in 1973 and hasn’t looked back since. Reflecting on it in 2020, guitarist Dave Hill told Classic Rock that the “song lifted a nation. It took on a life of its own.”
Eric Clapton: White Christmas
The iconic guitarist’s new Happy Xmas album got off to a blistering start when it topped Billboard’s seasonal Holiday Albums Chart on release in October 2018. More than capable of warming the cockles is the record’s lead cut: an imperious, Chicago blues-style version of Bing Crosby’s enduring “White Christmas.”
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