Not to disparage carolers and other gentle performers of traditional Christmas classics, but as there is a time for everything, there is also a time for holiday music with a rock ‘n’ roll twist. In contemporary times, of course, this also means that some of that “rockin'” music will also be rap or hip-hop.
Whatever the reason people have for choosing to update their holiday playlists, there are some options that some people have not considered because they simply did not know that certain groups had made Christmas or holiday songs. The short list to follow is not exhaustive, but it contains some suggestions to shakeup holiday music listening sessions during tree or home decorating, or an informal gathering of friends and family.
1. “Christmas In Hollis” by Run-DMC
Interested listeners can find this song on the “Very Special Christmas” recording. It was first released on cassette in 1987. The horn-infused motif that punctuates the rhymes and helps the song transition from one part to the next, is just one selling point. The verses depict culture and traditions in Queens from one black American perspective. Of course, this being Run-DMC, the fun doesn’t stop. Tight rhymes and good times might be just what Santa ordered.
2. “Thank God It’s Christmas” by Queen
As if people needed more reasons to love Freddie Mercury’s voice, here’s one. There is a sort of pageantry found in most Queen songs and that quality probably has little or nothing to do with the name of the band. But this song in particular, with its solemn lyrics about the darkness of the times (mid-1980s) and how Christmas lifts that awful feeling for “just one night.” The 1984 song can be found on the Queen album, “The Works,” and on various streaming services including Spotify.
3. “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms
The Bloomington, Indiana native who passed away in 1997, is always an integral part of Christmas soundtracks ever since “Jingle Bell Rock” was first recorded and released in 1957. It also appears on the 1970 album of the same name. The sound of the tune reminds listeners of the rock ‘n’ roll made popular by Elvis and others in the 1950s. The crackling guitar riff that weaves throughout the song is so distinctive that more than 60 years later, listeners who weren’t even born when the song was originally released can recognize it. Interested parties who would like to hear an update of the track, “Jingle Bell Rock” was also recorded by Hall & Oates, the cast of Glee and Hilary Duff, as well as a dozen or so other artists.
4. “Merry Christmas, Baby” by Otis Redding
Christmas with a side of soul never hurt anyone. And for a soul track with a touch of blues, Otis Redding’s romantic ode to Christmas is perfect. Redding shows off his vocal and narrative prowess and listeners get a Yuletide tune they won’t soon forget. Smooth and rhythmic, this 1967 classic has been covered by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (which appeared on the popular “A Very Special Christmas”), as well as Rod Stewart with Cee-Lo Green.
5. “Father Christmas” by The Kinks
From the 1978 album, “Misfits,” “Father Christmas” tells the unique story of a man who dresses up as Santa Claus, but probably won’t anymore because of a negative experience with some street-tough youths. The misbehaving young people demand money and only money, and further request that “Father Christmas” give their dad a job because he doesn’t have one, and “he has lots of mouths to feed.” There is a great deal of social commentary going on there, especially when the youth intones that Father Christmas can give the toys to “all the little rich boys.” That the kids are young enough to play with toys, but do not want them is sad. The backdrop for this is the raucous guitar sound that The Kinks are known for. However, as the lyrics indicate, this is more than just a rock song.
Bonus track: “Little Drummer Boy” by David Bowie and Bing Crosby
The video from 1977 that shows a slightly toned down Bowie dueting nicely with Bing Crosby also demonstrates the emotion that the two singers bring to the Christmas carol. The pace of the song reminds listeners of its religious roots and intentions. The theme of sacrifice and giving of a person’s specific abilities are ideas that should be remembered throughout the year. The drum motif, the harmonies and Bowie’s lower register are also on display in this song. This recording can be found on “A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982)” by David Bowie. Bob Seger has also recorded a stellar version of this song.
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by The Jackson 5; “I Want A Mistress For Christmas” by AC/DC; “Run, Run Rudolph” versions by Chuck Berry and Bryan Adams; and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee.