Christmas Songs – Alternatively


About this time each year, your kindly rock and roll Dentist slinks down to the basement and pulls out a carefully stashed stack o’ sleazoid Christmas music to amaze and delight the family (okay, they would say annoy the family – same thing).  Oh yeah, I do love Andy and Bing but my generation wanted more than cloying sweetness (good name for a punk band!) and the same old tired warhorses.  Alvin and his rockin’ Chipmunks or Brenda Lee are so overplayed that it becomes critical to find some alternative that jingles your bells.  Here for your perusal are 20 of my favorite songs that hit my record machine the day after the turkey and dressing hit my digestive system.  Many of these songs are available on multiple compact disc sources, but I will indicate where I have it in my collection.  If it’s on youtube, I will post a link which will have to be cut and pasted if you wanna check ’em out – oh and please feel free to comment about your faves. Ho Ho Ho

1.Dave Edmunds – Run Rudolph Run

 Dave Edmunds’ picture has to be in the encyclopedia as the definition of rock and roll music.  This 1982 single is one of the many covers of the classic Chuck Berry popularized rocker (written by Jewish songwriter Johnny Marks who also wrote “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas”.  It’s pure rockin’ jive over a chunka chunka monkey beat guitar riff that doesn’t break any new ground yet slides down your chimney nice and smooth.  It can be found on the Rock ‘N Roll Christmas Past CD among others.

2.Wizzard – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

 It is truly a crime how little success Roy Wood has had in the U.S. while over in the U.K. he has topped the charts as a solo act, with the Move and as the leader of Wizzard.  He and Jeff Lynne also started the Electric Light Orchestra before Wood went out on his own.  This song has become a rock and roll holiday standard across the Atlantic while a few discerning Americans worship at it’s tinsel.  The song is awash with the Spector wall-of-sound from the opening sound of a cash register to the charming children’s choir outro.  It has charted overseas 11 different times since its premier in 1973.  Look for it on many CDs including It’s Christmas.

3.Flash Cadillac – Christmas Party

 Colorado’s contribution to rock and roll lunacy were/are Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids who wanted you to know they were not an oldies band but a hard rockin’ outfit who could play “At The Hop” as well as their own compositions.  The heavy lifting in that area was mostly done by Sam “Flash” McFadin and Kris “Angelo” Moe who composed this homage to “Louie Louie” and “Papa Oom Mow Mow”.  While the band keeps on playing, these two are sadly now holding naked twist contests in rock and roll heaven.  Thankfully they left goodies like this artifact recorded live in Colorado Springs with orchestra and chorus for a 1996 CD release.  Get it while you can!

4.John & Yoko-The Plastic Ono Band – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

 Even with the “war is over” chant which has little to do with the season (and is often omitted in cover versions), this has become a Christmas standard since the Lennon’s recorded it in 1971 using a traditional English melody.  The Beatles recorded limited edition records to send to their fan club every year as a Christmas gift, but this was the first commercially available seasonal song by any of the Fabs.  Even if you don’t factor in the sadness to the end of John’s life, this song still has to choke up the most hardened scrooge while listening to the joyous shouts of the Harlem Community Choir and the Lennons through the fade out.  It is ubiquitous including being on The Christmas Compact Disc.

5.The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Colorado Christmas

 While it is doubtful that non-Coloradans would feel the choke in the throat every time this Steve Goodman song comes on the radio, this son of the Rockies always tears up when he hears it.  Jimmy Ibbotson’s pleasant drawl takes a bit to get to the chorus, but when it does the payoff is genuinely heartfelt.  The gold standard is the original 1985 single which is found on the Warner Brothers vinyl A Christmas Tradition.  For a compact disc recording you can get a remake version on the NGDB CD The Christmas Album from 2002 which sounds pretty much the same.

6.Gary Glitter – Another Rock And Roll Christmas

 Glitter fell from grace with his jailing for child abuse.  This curtailed the use at sporting events of his hit “Rock and Roll, Part 2” (also known as “The Hey Song”) and also took the luster off his other drum-heavy recordings mostly done by producer Mike Leander who also arranged the orchestra on “She’s Leaving Home” for the Beatles.  This 1984 release was a huge comeback in the U.K. for GG and still rocks along at a nice clip if you can see past the man.  It’s found in many places including The Christmas Compact Disc.

7.The Moody Blues – Don’t Need A Reindeer

 The 2003 album December is currently the most recent release of new material by the Moody Blues which is a pity as they remain one of the few classic 60s bands with all their members still living which would allow a reunion.  Come on guys, break down the walls between you, dust off the mellotron and do a last hurrah for your fans! (sigh)  At any rate, this is a classic Justin Hayward song that showed him still capable of writing and singing a catchy pop rock song (keep your ears open on the chorus for the cowbell!).

8.Foghat – All I Want For Christmas Is You

 Ah man, the late Lonesome Dave Peverett could rock up a storm.  While many know Foghat as a 70s metal band, this shows Dave’s love for 50s stompin’ rock and roll with slapback reverb.  Get the CD The Best of Foghat Vol. 2 and you have this song plus other harder ‘hat classics.

9.The Kinks – Father Christmas

 The ever acerbic Ray Davies rocks like mad while asking the title character for money instead of toys which he believes should only go to the little rich boys.  Proto-punk rock from 1977 by one of the most underappreciated 1960s British Invasion bands.  Get it on the compilation Come Dancing With The Kinks from Arista.

10.Greg Lake – I Believe In Father Christmas

 Certainly this was at the other end of the gentleness spectrum from the Kinks and managed to chart at #2 in the U.K. upon it’s release in 1975.  His band Emerson Lake & Palmer rerecorded it later, but this single version remains the definitive version of this Greg Lake/Pete Sinfield protest on the commercialism that has overtaken Christmas.  The instrumental bits are from Prokofiev’s composition Lieutenant Kije.  It can be found on many Christmas CDs including It’s Christmas.

11.Elton John – Step Into Christmas

 Here is another Christmas rock and roll song that has become somewhat of a standard.  Released as a non-LP single in 1973, this was another homage to the Phil Spector wall-of-sound productions of the 60s as it builds to a rocking and rousing climax.  John and Bernie Taupin concocted a light classic that wants you to “get together and watch the snow fall forever and ever.”  It’s found all over the place including Elton John’s Christmas Party.

12.Bob & Doug McKenzie – The Twelve Days Of Christmas

 Oh – take off you hosers!  SCTV was one of the greatest comedy shows of all-time and Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’ portrayal of Canadian dopes Bob & Doug McKenzie were a stand-alone success from that show.  Their 1981 album The Great White North included the surprise hit “Take Off” and this goofy take on the Christmas classic who we knew packed images of lords a-leaping and the like.  These guys, however want nothing to do with partridges in a pear tree – the boys would prefer a beer and the hilarity ensues.  Either get it or TAKE OFF!

13.Jon Anderson – The Holly & The Ivy

 Members of the prog rock group Yes have been prolific over the years.  Singer Jon Anderson’ s 1985 solo album 3 Ships is a sweet record awash in synths and choral vocals.  I like it alot, but many Yes fans see it as cloying.  By far my fave song on the record is his take on this traditional carol.

14.Darlene Love – All Alone On Christmas

 One of the great unknown 60s singers who sang on so many classic Phil Spector records (among others), Love finally got her due with this 1992 release and since has been feted as one of the greats.  Little Steven Van Zandt wrote it and got the E Street Band to play on it so you know it had to be great anyway.  The use in Home Alone 2 pushed it to the top.

15.Mike Oldfield – In Dulci Jubilo

 We all know the tune as “Good Christian Men Rejoice” and this is a joyous instrumental take on that song from the guy who did Tubular Bells.  This was a hit in the U.K. in 1975 and always seems to go well with trimming the Christmas tree in our household.  Nice use of recorders and while the electric guitars drive this along.  The Christmas Compact Disc.

16.The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – This Christmas Morning

 The 2nd entry from the Dirt Band in our list is by Bob Carpenter with a vocal assist from Poco’s Richie Furay.  For some reason this song really stood out to me from their 2002 Christmas Album with an agreeable reference to “Joy To The World” on the breaks.  It starts with an insistent mandolin strum and builds in to a joyous celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus and the need to spread the news.  It deserves more recognition.

17.The Smithereens – Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree

 Coming out of Jersey in the 80s, these guys have consistently been a great classic guitar based rock and roll band with a love for the kind of music I love (the Beatles, The Who, etc.).  These guys put out a spiffy Christmas album in 2007 which included a nicely rockin’ version of the Brenda Lee chestnut originally written by Johnny Marks.  Hearing the original for the thousandth time makes me want to burn my radio, but this take is worth the update.

18.The Albion Band – The Official Branle

 In the tradition of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, this Ashley Hutchings lead band add electric instrumentation to British traditional music most agreeably.  They put out the vinyl A Christmas Present in 1985 which has since come out on compact disc.  This song is known to us as “Ding Dong Merrily On High” and the version here is a mid-paced instrumental studio recording with electric guitar lead (be careful you don’t go for the live followup LP).

19.Hilary Duff – When The Snow Comes Down In Tinsel Town

 Oh my, I’m gonna lose all rock and roll cred here, but in 2002 teen idol Hilary Duff had here singing debut on the Santa Claus Lane seasonal release and it was reasonably pleasant with a mix of old faves and new originals.  It included this pop confection that actually would sound pretty cool if some rocker would stomp it up even more (though the instrumental break is pretty cool as is).  It’s not dance pop but a throwback to some sort of 70s rock hybrid.

20.Crazy Frog – Jingle Bells

This is just plain silly so decided to move it into my top list.  Have a great Christmas everyone!

Dopey Accordion-based Vinyl Winter Song Bonus Track:

Jimmy Jenson – Valkin’ In My Vinter Undervare

Minnesota spawned accordian cheese by the Swingin’ Swede (apparently he was of Norwegian extraction but hey who’s quibbling).  Sadly Mr. Jenson left our planet in 2015 for that great smorgasbord in the sky (hope he’s getting plenty of lutefisk).  Among other quality tunes, he left us this take-off on the 1934 classic “Winter Wonderland” with substitute lyrics of a decidedly satirical nature.  Instead of “a beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight – walkin’ in a winter wonderland” we get “I’m itchin’ up here, scratchin’ down dere – valkin’ in my vinter undervare.”  Truly a classic and guaranteed to make my kids scream uff da in terror every year when I pull out the old vinyl 45.  If you only watch one video, please let it be this one!