It’s Christmas, but we all know you can only play a certain number of Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey before you go crazy. Fortunately, there are many rocking Christmas gems that tend to go unnoticed.
Many rock icons have tried their hand at Christmas staples, with mixed results. (Sometimes that is Better to leave things to Crosby and the other classic crooners, after all.) But from Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, the guitar gods have managed to liven up the otherwise straightforward proceedings, or at least give more personality to pieces. Meanwhile, other rockers have gotten, well, a little weird with things, whether it’s Peak Weird Al pissing, the Pretenders getting a New Wave, or Fall Out Boy ending any chance for romance. with mistletoe. All around, they prove that with the right imagination, you can inject a more rocky vibe into Christmas music – to hell with holiday playlists.
The perfect vacation playlist doesn’t have to be all about optimism or love-oriented. You need to make sure there are songs for everyone, including those of us who are just plain Grumpy throughout the holiday season. The perfect Christmas has its ups and downs, and a bit in between. With these 26 songs interspersed with all these well-known songs, you will enter the true the spirit of Christmas whether you love it or hate it.
“Rockin ‘Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee
The final version of this song is the copycat original. Brenda Lee doesn’t use “rockin ‘” here lightly: the rockabilly singer and her band seem set to embrace the end of the year with a sweaty dance and an Old Fashioned or Five.
“Santa Claus goes straight to the ghetto” by James Brown
Brown wasn’t lying when he called his vacation collection Awesome christmas. But even with his silky groove and horn beating, he brings a serious social conscience to the lyrics of this unusual track that make it more than just another winter buzz.
“Silent Night” by Johnny Cash
Cash was not afraid to dive into seasonality in his day, and his signature gritty vocals bring a gravity to “Silent Night” that far surpasses the song’s other endless iterations.
“Run Rudolph Run” by Chuck Berry
The rock’n’roll pioneer wasn’t kidding with his rendition of “Run Rudolph Run”. Rarely do Christmas carols make you want to shake your ass, but this is a timeless exception.
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen
There’s something about the boss’s humble Americana that’s just right for Christmas. He’s got a lovable dude who celebrates the bar energy in this live cut, with the distinctively loud E Street Band matching him every step of the way.
“Little Saint Nick” by the Beach Boys
If you’re lucky enough to enjoy Christmas in the California heat (well, depending on your take on seasonality), there’s no better backing track than The Beach Boys. Their “Little Saint Nick” is a joyous oceanfront bonfire celebration waiting to happen.
“Oi To the World” by the Vandals
If you think punk and Christmas don’t make sense together, good luck telling the Vandals. Their “Oi to the World” is both a trashy pub and genuinely uplifting. In other words, something for everyone.
“Christmas Again” by Tom Petty
Bless him, Petty has never been a snob about his particular omnivorous rock flavor. “Christmas All Over Again” has the power to pump up cranky toddlers, grandmothers and (maybe) even teens.
“A Willie Nice Christmas” by Kacey Musgraves
People who want a little more greenery to mellow this time of year need look no further than two classic cannabis fans. Kacey Musgraves joined her hero Willie Nelson for a charming Hawaiian-inspired ode to staying “higher than the angel on top of the tree.”
Bob Seger & the Last Heard’s “Sock It to Me Santa”
Everyone needs a little shake up after too many gingerbread cookies. Bob Seger more than effectively provides a thud to keep you awake.
“Preparing for Christmas Day” by Paul Simon
Newish Christmas music doesn’t get much better (or admirably stranger) than Paul Simon’s 2011 single So beautiful or so. He walks on relaxed atmospheres and spoken background voices which constitute a charming company while waiting for the turkey.
“O come, O come Emmanuel” by Sufjan Stevens
Stevens doesn’t fuss about being a Christian, which is probably why his charming Songs for Christmas seemed out of left field. But his baroque pop interpretation of a religious hymn has a pleasant shine of modern grace.
“I’ll be home for Christmas” by Bob Dylan
Dylan croaks fiery Christmas music is even weirder than expected, but not necessarily in a bad way. He resigned himself appropriately to this sad holiday detour.
“2,000 miles” by The Pretenders
What is that? A very romantic New Wave Christmas-themed track by beloved alternative rockers that plays just as easily on college radio in April as it does when you look out a snowy window? Yes. Really, a miracle.
“Pretty Paper” by Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson
Nelson’s original solo “Pretty Paper” was already awesome, but this new duet version matches it with the plaintive yet reaffirming, still divine Dolly. So, of course, it’s a winner.
“Frosty the Snowman” by The Ventures
The Ventures have completely abandoned the project of pious lyrics and platitudes with their Christmas instrumental set. “Frosty the Snowman” gets a delicious’ 60s rock verve, opening up to handclaps and a stickier than sugarcane surf-rock riff.
Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas”
Shaking the dust off the seasonal hokum, Elvis gives this unrequited love story a real heartbreak in his voice. Meanwhile, the swing sound has made celebrating a new generation a little differently.
“Christmas (baby please come home)” by Darlene Love
You could land on any song from Phil Spector’s 1963 classic A Christmas present for you album and be more than satisfied. The producer has achieved his goal of making a Christmas record that bills itself as his own timeless work, applying his rich “Wall of Sound” technique to mostly lay standards. The highlight, however, is Darlene Love’s rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home”), her intense voice making her passion for advocacy palpable.
“Yule Shoot Your Eye Out” by Fall Out Boy
The Christmas song to happily turn any emo heart into black, Fall Out Boy’s Christmas sneer is a deeply underrated one-off. If you got dumped while on vacation or just can’t be bothered, start her catchy, dismissive rant. “Merry Christmas / I don’t care”, indeed.
“Santa’s Night Gone Mad” by Weird Al Yankovic
If you want to see the optimism flow from your kids ‘faces, play them this clever’ 90s track about a drunk and out of balance Santa. (Actually, don’t do that.) Weird Al laughs at the serious intentions of pop music like no one else, which makes it ideal for this time of year.
“Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC
Add rap rock to your Christmas playlist. The song picks up on Christmas classics like “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells,” in case anyone says it’s just not Christmas enough.
“I will not be home for Christmas” by Blink-182
This one is an underrated single from Blink-182 if we’ve heard it before. Parodying “I’ll be home for Christmas”, it’s about a guy who loses him on Christmas Eve and decides to attack the singers. Play it for the scooge in your life.
“Don’t Shoot Santa Claus” from The Killers
Accompanied by an equally wild music video, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa” is a violent holiday-themed song about a kid who sure should be on the villain list, and Santa makes sure he doesn’t. will do nothing mean. ..never.
“Christmas with the Devil” by Spinal Tap
Maybe they are not one real band, but Spinal Tap’s “Christmas with the Devil” is as real as any other Christmas song. Seriously, if you play this for someone who doesn’t know any better, they’d think it was just a regular metal band singing about the holidays with Satan.
“Thank God it’s Christmas” by Queen
Not officially released on a Queen album until the ’90s, you’d be forgiven for not knowing this holiday single existed. But after listening, you’ll want to keep playing for years to come.
“Mistress for Christmas” by AC / DC
This sizzling Christmas song is about wanting a woman for Christmas. It’s not really family-friendly, but hey, who said Christmas was just for kids?
Paul Schrodt is a freelance writer and editor who also contributes to Esquire, GQ, Money, The Wall Street Journal, etc.
Milan Polk is an editorial assistant for Men’s Health, specializing in entertainment and lifestyle reporting, and has worked for Vulture and Chicago Tribune in New York Magazine.
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