It’s presumably little surprise that I love Christmas songs. Not, like, all Christmas songs. Christmas songs with a backbeat. Christmas songs that rock.
You, Dear Reader, may recall that it all began in the passenger seat of my brother’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon, nog in the belly, weed on the brain (sorry, mom), WYSP on the radio, and mind-blowing luminarium along the culdesac streets.
In fact, it may well have been rocking’ Christmas music that got me through those years. Those experiences (Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” “A Very Special Christmas,” plus The Nadas’ annual Silent Night event) absolutely inspired my now-annual “A Holiday Benefit” series, plunging me even deeper into the season — with a backbeat.
Anyway, here are my favorites.
1- Do They Know It’s Christmas: This one started it all. I was blown away when Band Aid first appeared in the then-nascent MTV; dozens of pop luminaried (not of the pufter US-variety, natch) rocking out and rallying for a cause? Every afternoon, I raced home from junior high school to catch a glimpse. Twenty-years-later, the song inspired the entire “A Holiday Benefit” project.
2- Christmas (Please Come Home): Yes, Darlene Love’s Phil Spector-helmed original is classic. But for me, the longing in Bono’s voice is palpable in U2’s 1987 classic (recorded as the band barnstormed America). You can hear the distance. Plus, it rocks. (Honarable mention goes to Death Cab For Cutie and our own Charlotte Sometimes, both of whom have recorded rightous versions as well.)
3- Blue Christmas: Ernest Tubb wrote it, but Elvis made it huge. Still, it’s not so much The King’s affect to which I respond, or even The Jordinaires. It’s the sense that somehow Christmas is less without true love. And it’s the melancholy. (Jamie Leonhart and I released a version for “A Holiday Benefit, Vol II” that sounds pretty cool as well, though I think you can hear is grinning; not very bluesy.)
4- Happy Xmas (War Is Over): indicting (“And so this is Chrismas/And what have you done?”), moving (“Another year older/A new one just begun”), political (“War is over /If you want it”), and melodic in equal turn.
5- Merry Christmas Baby: I love Springsteen’s live version of this Otis Redding classic; you can actually hear him smiling. For me, this one captures not only the joy of the season (“Feelin’ good tonight”), but also the joy of the music of the season (“I got music on my radio”). Chris, Tony, Ryan and I fuzzed it up but good for last year’s “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3.”
6- Father Christmas: growingup, this one was in heavy rotation on WYSP. To this day, no one’s better skewered the whole holiday while capturing an era (post WWII Britain) with more piss and vinegar (with a spash of nog) than Ray Davies. A classic.
7- Christmas All Over Again: A little bit Byrds, a little bit Dylan, a whole lotta Southher Fried awesome. Kinda cynical (“Long distance relatives/Haven’t seen em in a long, long time/I kinda’ missed em/I just don’t wanna kiss ’em”), totally fun (“Christmas is a rockin’ time”) and sorta sexy (“Put your body next to mine”).
8-Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) & Give Me A Second Chance For Christmas: Two great, punkish songs about workin’ it out with your girl on the big day. Both great.
9- I Believe In Father Christmas: Ok, so there’s very little backbeat. And it’s a wee bit dark (“They said there’d be snow for Christmas/They said there’d be piece on earth”). But Greg Lake’s 70s ballad is stone beautiful (as is Bryan Dunn’s recent “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” version).
10- Last Christmas: It took my pal Chris Abad to give George Michael’s 80s pufter a proper ass whoopin’ with a healthy dose of The Smithereens with a dash of The Romantics.
Honorable Mentions: Christmas In Hollis (RunDMC), Silent Night (Simon & Garfunkle), Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Reliant K), Christmas Is A Time To Say I Love You (Billy Squire).