My Favourite Pop Christmas Songs
1) “Winter Symphony” (Brian Wilson, “Christmas Album” (Extended Edition) by The Beach Boys).Brian Wilson was going through a rough period in the mid 70s, locked in his home, not daring to leave, battling the demons of drugs, mental illness and an abusive environment. However, in the 70s he sporadically wrote gems like this evocative Christmas song, particularly coming from a person who has never lived outside of California. This song remained unpublished and only available on bootlegs for many years. For me one of Brian Wilson’s masterpieces. We love you, Brian!
“Somewhere children outside, Screamin’ down a daredevil slide, Rosy-cheeked bundles of cold-weather clothes.”
2) “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (Band Aid single )
Bob Geldof ( Boomtown Rats ) and Midge Ure ( Ultravox ) composed one of the few Christmas songs that does not fall into empty clichés, and one of the catchiest choruses in pop history. Although the artists involved have done more damage to the ozone layer with their hairspray excess than the entire coal industry, this song is just perfect.
“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas / The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life.”
3) “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” (The Ramones, single )
The Ramones were not at their best artistic moment when they released this single, but they made a hymn.
“I loved you from the start/ ’cause Christmas is not the time for breaking each other’s hearts.”
4) “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (John Lennon, single ) + “Once Upon A Long Ago” (Paul McCartney, All The Best! )
The Beatles, together and separately, made several Christmas songs. Together, “Christmas Time Is Here Again”, is not among their best. It is a simple and fun song, but nothing else. George Harrison made the terrible “Ding Dong Ding Dong” and Ringo Starr recorded several pop carols with mixed results (“I Wanna Be Santa Claus” being the best). But it was John Lennon with “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” the one that recorded the best Beatles’ Christmas song. Paul McCartney made many, with Wings and solo (which comes to being the same thing). My favourite is not his biggest holiday hit “Wonderful Christmastime”, but the darker and more pessimistic “Once Upon A Long Ago”.
“So this is Xmas, And what have you done, Another year over and a new one just begun.”
“Playing guitars on an empty stage, counting the bars of an iron cage, Tell me darling, what can it mean? Once upon a long ago, children searched for treasure.”
Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift For You” is the best pop Christmas album in history, no doubt for me. A genius at the top of his game. He might have been a tyrant and a murderer, but he was an amazing producer and composer. As any good dictator, he gathered in a single album all the bands and artists he worked with, and note after note, instrument after instrument, created an album that is still as exciting today as it must have been in its day. A friend gave it to me as a present and I thought “how tacky, an album of Christmas carols by 60s pop stars”. How wrong I was. I appreciate it now as one of the best musical gifts ever.
“In the meadow we can build a snowman / Then pretend that he is Parson Brown / He’ll say, “Are you married?” we’ll say “No man, But you can do the job when you’re in town!”.
6) “Mistress for Christmas” (AC/DC “Razor’s Edge”)
If you don’t like AC/DC you will hate this song. Loud. Sexist. Politically incorrect. But if you do not like AC/DC you are the enemy, LOL. This song was recorded during their weakest artistic period, but concentrates all the best of the group. A killer riff murderer, a rowdy and politically incorrect lyric and a thundering beat.
“I like female form in minimum dress, Money to spend with a capital “S”, Get a date with the woman in red”
7) “Santa’s Got An Airplane” (Beach Boys “Christmas Album, Christmas ’77 and extended edition”)
When Brian Wilson, composer of all their hits, fell into depression and mental illness, the Beach Boys disappeared from the music world as a relevant act. During the mid 70’s, Mike Love came up with the bright idea of recycling part of their flop disastrous albums, Landlocked, which was rejected by the record company, and MIU, best forgotten as it contains the worst songs in the band’s history, and change the lyrics to Christmas songs. Unfortunately this 1977 Christmas album was also rejected and was not published until many years later. From this record you can save this wonderful song, combining crazy hippy messages, drug references and nods to Christmas. Essential.
“He skydives down to the chimney with Ease / Parachutes a package to the whole family / It’s Santa’s Air Special delivery to under your tree.”
8) “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (Bruce Springsteen, live single 1978)
How great is the Boss?. Taken from one of his concerts in 1978, when the E Street Band was in the prime of its strengths, this fun version of the classic Christmas song concentrates in a few minutes all the reasons why Springsteen and his group were the best live experience in Rock between 1975 and 1985. May Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici rest in peace, they made us happy for decades. Today the band is still excellent, but these memories…
“He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake / He knows if you’ve been bad or good, So be good for goodness sake”.
9) ‘Father Christmas’ (The Kinks, single )
It is curious that this list of great Christmas songs includes many tracks created during periods of low creativity and slump in popular success for some of the bands. The holiday muse seems to appear when the gold records become plywood ones. This song is another example. The Kinks were in a period of popularity downturn but their albums and lyrics were still wonderful. Ray Davies delivers one of his best and most cynical lyrics, removing the clichés of syrupy Christmas spirit.
“Father Christmas, give us some money / Don’t mess around with those silly toys / We’ll beat you up if you do not hand it over / We want your bread so do not make us annoyed / Give all the toys to the little rich boys “.
10) “Christmas” (The Who’s “Tommy”)
Pete Townshend wrote the first successful rock opera (not the first chronologically, the Pretty Things own that honour) and within it we can find this little song about Christmas for the deaf and mute boy, Tommy, as sung by his family.
“And Tommy doesn’t know what day it is. He does not know who Jesus was or what praying is. How can he be saved? From the eternal grave.”
- Run Rudolph Run – Keith Richards or Lemmy Kilmister‘s version
- Sock It To Me Santa – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
- Christmas Is Going to The Dogs – Eels
- I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard
- Step Into Christmas – Elton John
- Star Of Bethlehem – Neil Young
- 2000 Miles – The Pretenders
- Merry Christmas, Baby – Elvis Presley
- Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade
- I Believe In Father Christmas – Greg Lake
- Thank God It’s Christmas – Queen
- Christmas All Over Again – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
- Let it Snow, Let It Snow, Let it Snow – Chicago
- Baby It’s Cold Outside – Brian Setzer Orchestra featuring Ann Margret
- Please Come For Christmas – The Eagles
- I Saw Mommy Kissin’ Santa Claus – The Ronettes
- Another Lonely Christmas – Prince
- Last Man at the Party – Jethro Tull or Another Christmas Song – Jethro Tull
- I Won’t Be Home For Christmas – Blink 182
- Xmas In February – Lou Reed
- One More Sleep – Leona Lewis (yes, really good)
- White Christmas – The Wildhearts
- Stop The Cavalry – Jona Lewie
- The Power Of Love – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
- We Wish You A Merry Christmas – Jeff Scott Soto.
- Hey, Santa Claus – Chesterfield Kings