River of Rock gets in the Christmas spirit by curating a list of select, original songs with rock and Christmas elements. In full disclosure, we did borrow some from The Twelve Songs of Christmas list, originally published in 2011 by our affiliate Big Blue Bullfrog and author J.D. Cook. However, we did put enough of an original bend on this list to call it our own.
#9. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon
Although conceived solely as a protest song against the Vietnam War in 1971, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” has since become a Christmas standard. The song was produced by Phil Spector, whom John Lennon was working with exclusively in those days, and was deliberately produced as a pop/commercial way to exploit Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “War Is Over” campaign which the couple had been waging since 1969. Musically, all the elements work very well together with an acoustic/folk core complemented by fine bass guitar, sleigh bell chimes, and an excellent backing chorus.
Listen to “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”:
#8. “Don’t Shoot Me Santa Claus” by The Killers
The newest song on our countdown, “Don’t Shot Me Santa Claus”, works best as a dark but comedic mini-opera in conjunction with its music video in 2007. Although the lyrical plot is a bit thick, the emotion-filled vocals make you feel both the desperation and absurdity, while the interesting musical changes make it catchy throughout. For this year’s Christmas season, The Killers made a quasi-sequel to this song with, “Dirt Sledding”.
Listen to “Don’t Shoot Me Santa Claus”:
#7. “Thank God It’s Christmas” by Queen
Co-written by Freddie Mercury and drummer Roger Taylor, Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas” went all but unnoticed for several years after its production in 1984. The song has a smooth musical groove built on synthesized piano and holiday bells and Earthy guitars, which makes for a nice canvas for Mercury’s desperate and dynamic vocals.
Listen to “Thank God It’s Christmas”:
#6. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid
The original corny, star-studded benefit song is actually the best ever done. Filled mainly with British pop artists from the eighties, Band Aid was the brainchild of Boomtown Rats front man Bob Geldof, who co-wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” with Midge Ure in order to raise funds for relief of the Ethiopian famine. The song’s success lit the fuse which culminated in the the worldwide benefit concert Live Aid, during the summer of 1985.
Listen to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”:
#5. “Christmas” by The Who
This song was written to fulfill the plot of The Who’s Tommy rock opera rather than as a recurring, stand-alone Christmas song. As such, the song itself focuses as much on the protagonist’s soul as the actual Christmas morning scene. Still, the exquisite production and excited backing vocal chants capture the excitement of children on Christmas morning “waking up hours before the winter sun’s ignited”, to the incredible musical dynamics of this group at their peak.
Listen to “Christmas”:
#4. “Father Christmas” by The Kinks
This punked-out criminal ode was released by The Kinks in 1977 and tells of a department store Santa who is mugged by a gang who prefers money instead of toys. While far away from the Christmas spirit, the song is a musical powerhouse as this group, then well into their second decade on the rock scene, shows the newcomer “punks” who really invented the genre as guitars and drums crash with the impact of a meteor and Ray Davies perfectly narrates the point of view of the young hoodlums.
Listen to “Father Christmas”:
#3. “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg
The first of our Top 3 bittersweet anthems, comes from the late great Dan Fogelberg. “Same Old Lang Syne” gives a perfect first person narrative of a chance meeting of two long-ago romantic interests and how each one’s priorities have changed from their idealistic youth to their pragmatic middle age (as symbolized when “the snow turned into rain”). Fogelberg actually borrowed heavily from popular standards, as the vocal melody replicates Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and the closing saxophone solo plays the original “Auld Lang Syne”.
Listen to “Same Old Lang Syne”:
#2. “Another Christmas Song” by Jethro Tull
Perhaps the least known song on this countdown, Jethro Tull’s 1989 classic “Another Christmas Song” was written as a sequel to their own “A Christmas Song” two decades earlier. This moderate rock waltz features a main flute riff by Ian Anderson (of course!) with an excellent chorus of subtle guitars in the background. But the true treasure here is the message of reconciliation as an (obviously flawed and regretful) old man “calls his children home” to him for Christmas, with the listener left unknowing if his call is answered.
Listen to “Another Christmas Song”:
#1. “I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake
Greg Lake had achieved great group success with King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer when he decided to make his first solo recording. Never intended to be an annual Christmas classic, the song was written in protest of the commercialization of the Holiday as the story takes a beautifully nuanced look of ones Christmas experience through the ages from “eyes” to “excited eyes” to “seeing through the disguise”. The song is a masterpiece of musical arrangement, with Lake’s finger-picked acoustic ballad complemented by ever-increasing orchestration and choral arrangements and each verse being more intense than the last to elicit all kinds of emotions, from magic and wonder to disappointment and then back to hope and joy.
Listen to “I Believe In Father Christmas”:
“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders
“Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
“Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee
“Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney
With this subjective list we’ve doubtlessly left out scores of artists who may have deserved consideration for this list. Please give us your comments below and tell us where you agree and disagree. Merry Christmas, everyone!
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