First off though, let's get my least favorite 50s Christmas rock song 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!