Whether we like it or not, Christmas music is inescapable. Its unbelievable cheeriness and festive tunes have become a genre of their own, and every year they’ll pop out like clockwork to assist in delivering the seasonal fantasy. But it doesn’t have to always be jingle-jangly-madness; sometimes a great holiday song (or cover) will cut through all the mist and help to bring a little more rock and roll to our Christmas spirit.
From Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ to U2’s cover of ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’, here are 10 of our favourite rock Christmas hits of all time.
1. Bee Gees – ‘First Of May’ (1969)
While technically not a specific Christmas track, Bee Gees fans cite this 1969 hit as being pretty damn close. With its piano and orchestral arrangement and a slightly sombre overall tone, ‘First Of May’ paints the picture of Christmas while not necessarily intending to. Not to mention the lyrical reference of Christmas trees casually sprinkled in there. A great classical hit that offers some festive spirit without shoving it down your throat.
2. Neil Diamond – ‘You Make It Feel Like Christmas’ (1984)
Neil Diamond has provided plenty of Christmas tunes over the years (he has a whopping 4 Christmas albums) but this one is certainly one of our favourites. Off the 1984 album Primitive, which isn’t one of the four Christmas albums, the track keeps with Diamond’s traditional sound but explores the spirituality of the festive season and the connection to being in love.
3. Paul McCartney – ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ (1979)
It’s not hard to see why McCartney’s hit is one of the most popular when it comes to Christmas tunes. Although a simple melody, the track is definitely catchy and has just enough flair to not stop it from getting boring. ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ has been covered plenty of times and remains an important piece of pop culture, so we think it’s only right to include it on our list.
4. Queen – ‘Thank God It’s Christmas’ (1984)
A true classic, Queen’s Christmas spirit has lived on for years. Not many Christmas songs can be played (sanely) all year round, but this is definitely one of them. Against simple synthesisers and a very subtle sleigh bell, Mercury says goodbye to his “long, hard year” and welcomes Christmas. Seems like this might be the perfect track to end 2020!
5. Def Leppard – ‘We All Need Christmas’ (2018)
While not entirely rockin’, the recent Christmas track from Def Leppard has a lot to love about it. An acoustic ballad that features Joe Elliot’s familiar roar well, the track celebrates the past and future and just really brings a whole lot of warmth to the holidays. We’ll raise a glass to that.
6. The Killers – ‘Don’t Shoot Me Santa’ (2007)
Of course it would be Brandon Flowers who’d make a sinister Christmas song. ‘Don’t Shoot Me Santa’ follows the typical theme from the band with dark imagery and storytelling, the only thing different being it’s actually supposed to be a Christmas song. An easy-listening rock track that could easily be buried in a normal album, this track makes one wish that all Christmas music sounded like this.
7. Elton John – ‘Step Into Christmas’ (1973)
The pop-rock classic has been played hundreds of times throughout the years and yet we can never get sick of it. With Elton John’s pizzazz and Bernie Taupin’s iconic songwriting, the duo prove that their talent can even transcend into Christmas tunes.
8. James Brown – ‘Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto’ (1968)
No stranger to spreading the holiday cheer, James Brown has certainly played his hand at crafting a good Christmas tune. Over his lengthy career there were plenty, but this track in particular just has that extra oomph. With his trademark funk, Brown delivers a captivating and socially aware track that’s undeniably a hit every holiday.
9. U2 – ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ (1987)
The cover of Darlene Love’s 1963 classic was given a rock shake up when U2 covered it some twenty years later during a sound check in Scotland. Thankfully, it was recorded and ended up becoming one of the best versions of the song. Bono brings his larger-than-life energy and turns the holiday track into a stadium chanter, and you can even hear Love’s backing vocals amidst it all.
10. The Rolling Stones – ‘Winter’ (1973)
Similar to the Bee Gee’s ‘First Of May’, ‘Winter’ isn’t technically a Christmas song, but it holds enough imagery to feel like one. Following the traditional seasonal aesthetic of snow, winter and better days ahead, the soft ballad gives an extreme feeling of warmth whenever one listens to it; and it’s certainly one of our favourite holiday tunes.