Looking for a quick Christmas playlist — a short but sweet rockin' holiday playlist? Or just a few suggestions on what holiday songs to add to an existing playlist. Well, there are quite a few good rock and roll Christmas tunes, but the Goldmine staff went through their record collections and agreed on five songs by rock artists who were the best at packing the most emotional holiday wallop. Agree or disagree, here are our picks:
5. "Run Rudolph Run" by Chuck Berry (and Keith Richards)
A double shot! Both the Chuck Berry and Keith Richards versions of the holiday song "Run Rudolph Run" should get mentioned here (however, many artists covered this popular Christmas song).
Written by Johnny Marks/Marvin Brodie and recorded by Chuck Berry in 1958, "Run Rudolph Run" was originally paired with "Merry Christmas Baby" on Berry's 45 single on Chess. It's a classic rock and roller and it peaked at No. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100. Later, Chess released it on the Collectables label ("Back To Back Hit Series," shown above).
Richards' version of the song is performed in a more raw rock and roll style. But you wouldn't expect anything less from The Rolling Stones guitar legend. It's certainly a personal tribute to Chuck Berry with the signature Keef sound all over it. It's a rock gem, for sure. Originally released, with Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" as the B-side, in December 1978 in the U.S. (and February 1979 in the U.K.), the song was recently reissued as a Record Store Day record from Mindless/BMG on 12-inch vinyl for superior sound quality (it also includes a third song, a collaboration with Toots & The Maytals on "Pressure Drop"), and it is still readily available (even on red and black splatter vinyl).
4. "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
In November 1985, Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band made "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" into a rocker and included it as a B-side to the single "My Hometown" (from the Born in the U.S.A. album). Springsteen and E Street have an exceptional gift for making any song they perform sound like a huge rock and roll party, where everyone is sharing the same vibe, and it's very evident in this holiday song. If The Boss is performing during the holiday season, it's almost a given this will be on his set list. It's become that much of a perennial Christmas classic.
3. "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love
"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," as sung by Darlene Love, is off one of the best Christmas compilations of all time: A Christmas Gift From You (By Phil Spector) on the Philles Records label in 1963. In fact, never mind the holiday season, many critics rate this among the best pop compilation albums ever released. In 1972, the album was reissued on Apple Records and retitled Phil Spector's Christmas Album.
The single of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" was released in December of 1963 with "Harry And Milt Meet Hal B." on its B-side. Amazingly, the song did not chart the year of its release. Eventually, it became a Christmas classic and received the respect it rightly deserved,
Decades later. U2 brought the song to further holiday relevance — and the U2 version has since became part of every serious contemporary holiday playlist. Some might say the version is just as good as the Spector/Love version, especially if you have a strong distaste for Spector and his heavy-handed production sound.
However, nobody since has surpassed Darlene Love's vocal delivery in "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." It's the strength and emotional high of her vocals that made the song a classic in the first place.
2. "2000 Miles" by The Pretenders
The song "2000 Miles" was the last track on The Pretenders Learning to Crawl album, released in January 1984. As the album's second single, released for the holiday season in 1983, "2000 Miles" eventually took on a life of its own. In the U.K., the single cracked the Top 20, with drummer Martin Chambers' composition "Fast Or Slow (The Law's the Law)" on the flip side.
Oddly enough, it was released in the U.S. as only a B-side to the band's then current hit "Middle of the Road" (on both a 7-inch single and 12-inch remix). Regardless, the song has gone down as one of rock and roll's best heartfelt Christmas songs, even though Chrissie Hynde had initially written it for the group's original guitarist, James Honeyman-Scott, who passed away the year prior to its release.
1. "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon/Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band
Released in December 1971 in the U.S. by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band, backed by the Harlem Community Choir, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" doubled as a protest song against the Vietnam War, It was effective. Lennon even stated: "Now I understand what you have to do: Put your political message across with a little honey."
Since then "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" has become sort of a Christmas standard, a number one top holiday hit (by media polls) in the U.K.
The single's release in the U.K. came a year later but it was worth the wait — the initial release was pressed on green vinyl (shown above). The song is usually prominent on any Lennon playlist and it is included on the popular Lennon compilation, Gimme Some Truth.
Well the following songs aren't rock and roll, but they include rock luminaries and are... well, classics to add to the above Top 5 list.
"The Little Drummer Boy (Peace On Earth)" by Bing Crosby & David Bowie
The original 45 single was released in the U.S. in 1982. On side B is David Bowie's "Fantastic Voyage." In 2010, Collector's Choice released the 45 on red vinyl with a different picture sleeve, and Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald singing Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" on the flip side.
But the song was recorded in 1977 at Elstree Studios in London for the TV special Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas. It's the TV special that gives the better listening experience (it's available on YouTube, view below). The small talk between Bowie and Bing before their crooning is priceless.
"Do They Know it's Christmas" by Band Aid
Yes, this 1984 holiday song's a bit over the top, but these celebrity charity sing-alongs are supposed to be that way ... and, hey, it's darn good, and it was for a good cause. Best parts? The entire ensemble does an outstanding job, but it's Bono's brief vocal bit that always seems to stand out and give it an accentuated flavor. View the video below the see all your favorite '80s rock stars sing.
The 45 became the best-selling single in the U.K. at that time. The B-side of the 45 has "Feed The World" on both the U.K. and U.S. versions.