Sunday, December 23, 2007

There 'aint no Sanity Clause!: Christmas Rock Songs, Part 1

If you're a rock band, recording a Christmas song makes good sense. If it's any good, chances are it'll be played on the radio for years to come, ensuring your band royalties into your golden years. Here are some of the classic, and not-so-classic rock'n'roll Christmas songs. Click the links to watch videos for the songs.

First off though, let's get my least favorite 50s out of the way...

Eartha Kitt: "Santa Baby". Nothing says Christmas like a little mercenary cockteasing. This song is nowhere near as sexy or clever as anyone who covers it thinks it is. Yes, I love kitsch too, but this joke falls flat after the first few lines.

Now, the Christmas Rock Songs of the 50s and 60s and 70s.

Brenda Lee: "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree". I'm not fond of this Christmas song at all, well unless we understand "rockin" as a euphymism for screwing under the Christmas tree, in which case I'm very fond of it.

The Kinks: "Father Christmas". I love the Kinks anyway, and a song about poor kids beating up Santa and taking the rich kids' toys from him is right up my alley thematically. So, it's hard to beat Father Christmas.

Elvis Presley: "Blue Christmas". If you're spending Christmas on a hotel bed with a bottle of Jack Daniel's in one hand and a pistol in the other, you want to be listening to Elvis's Blue Christmas. Or Porky Pig's Blue Christmas. Either one really.

Chuck Berry: "Run, Rudolph, Run". You know, for someone who played such a large role in creating rock'n'roll music, Chuck Berry's songs all tend to sound alike. If you've never heard Run, Rudolph, Run, you can still probably guess its chord progression. And yet, it's still a good rock song about Christmas. So, there you go.

The Enchanters: "Mambo Santa Mambo". Santa goes to Mexico and learns to do the Mambo. Oh, and why the hell not? If they played Mambo Santa Mambo every year, we'd probably hear a lot less bitching about Mexican immigrants. Well, at least from elves...

The Beach Boys: "Little Saint Nick". Likely written during one of Brian Wilson's manic periods, this song is a fun take on Santa as a gearhead. The Beach Boys are a guilty pleasure of mine anyway, and I have to hear this one at least once each Christmas.

Wild Man Fischer: "I'm a Christmas Tree". Frank Zappa discovery Larry "Wild Man" Fischer sounds drunk and psychotic here, which pretty much fits in with many of our own holiday seasons. I can't find a clip of this one. Be grateful.

James Brown: "Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto". James Brown's Funky Christmas Record isn't particularly memorable, aside from Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto, a great soul take on Christmas equality.

Stevie Wonder: "Someday at Christmas". Sort of depressing for Christmas, this Stevie Wonder classic pleas for a future Christmastime in which men don't kill each other with bombs, oppress each other, or starve to death. Sorry, sucker- not this year!

John Lennon: "Happy Christmas (War is Over)". Basically the same message, delivered in that irritating sanctimoniousness that John and Yoko once specialized in. Happy Christmas is still a good song, in very small doses. More than that, and I start rooting for more war.

AKIM and Teddy Vann: "Santa Claus is a Black Man". I already know my bigoted relatives' punchline here: "That's why he only works one day a year!" But this classic soul power take on "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" is a lot more clever than any of my relatives. One of the all-time great Christmas rock songs, even with the child vocals!

The Jackson 5: "Up on the Rooftop". Listening to the Jackson 5 Christmas Album is like mainlining Christmas cheer anyway. But their take on Up on the Roof Top is more fun than any I've ever heard. Try not to think about what Michael Jackson might want to get this Christmas.

Darlene Love: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)". It's a bit strange listening to this album today, seeing as how Phil Spector is most likely grateful this year for having gotten away with murder. It's hard to deny though that Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is one of the great Christmas rock songs, if not the best ever. It's my favorite, for those who were wondering.
Merry Christmas, everyone!


Holly said...

Ironically, Eartha Kitt's Santa Baby is the ONE holiday song that I actually like. Really, just one, singular. I f'ing hate Christmas music. I even had to turn off my two favorite internet radio stations because they just couldn't stop.

Rufus said...

Ah, to each their own. I don't really know why I love Christmas pop songs so much- likely for the kitsch factor.

Holly said...

Enh. You probably like Christmas, too.

Rufus said...

It's very much alove/hate relationship. I love all of the kitsch surrounding the holiday, while not generally liking the stress of actually celebrating the holiday.

The Pagan Temple said...

I forgot all about that Kinks song, that's one of the great ones. Keith Richards did a sort of half way decent version of Run, Run, Rudolph, and probably forgot all about doing it by the next day.

That little Elvis scenario you mentioned would be all right, as long as an old Robert Goulet clip don't come on the tube. Every time he saw Goulet on tv he would shoot his set.

And damn, you know something? You're right, John really was a sanctimonious bastard, wasn't he?

Rufus said...

Well, a sanctimonious walrus anyway.

I like his music, and I like that John and Yoko made a film of drunk strangers' backsides. I'm actually one of the few people who likes much of Yoko's work. However, Claire and I were watching a documentary about John and Yoko in the 70s, and after listening to him talk for about half an hour, I started to sympathize with Mark David Chapman.