Top 3 Classic Rocker Christmas Songs
– Once my head hit the pillow Thanksgiving night, I never dreamed there was a chance I wouldn’t wake up from my turkey hangover this year. But the overindulgence of tryptophan had me stirring the next morning to what I assumed were angels singing in the background. It was a festive sound, but then I realized there were no harps or even Victoria’s Secret models with wings. And since I long ago passed the requirement for Billy Joel’s “Only the good die young,” there was a better chance I had made a U-turn on the stairway to heaven and was heading in the opposite direction.
Then again if I wanted to declare Billy Joel my spiritual advisor and musical guru, this could be a joy ride where “sinners have much more fun.” And besides, maybe I could melt off a few pounds in the heat.
When my head cleared from the turkey fog, I realized I hadn’t gone to Rock’n Roll Heaven or hell. I had only slept through the official change in holiday seasons and the classic rock station on my clock radio had changed formats.
I must’a had too much to dream last night.
It’s officially Christmas Season and a simple sleigh ride through the radio dials brings that message home faster than if you were living next door to Clark Griswold. It’s the only time of the year when Burl Ives, U2, Mariah Carey, Willy Nelson and Perry Como can co-exist on one single airwave.
You wanna hear some Bruce? Okay, he’s in the mix. But instead of arriving in a pink Cadillac he’s riding with Santa Claus all the way to town. The Beach Boys are there too with Little Saint Nick sitting shotgun in their surf woody.
I don’t know when this conglomerate of standard, classic and modern holiday jams started, but guess it was a commandment from the higher ranks of Clear Channel or another radio god. I don’t have it in front of me, but somewhere there’s an office memo stating after the last bite of Thanksgiving turkey knocks everyone semi-unconscious…
Thou shalt not play nothing but Christmas music on thy classic rock radio station.
At least that’s what happened in my demographic and I’ve been living with it. I have to, since I padlocked my station of choice on my vintage boom box so the kids can never change it.
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Based on what I’d learned in required college math classes and unused since graduation (until now), we spend one-twelfth of the year listening to Christmas songs. Some are pretty good, while others remind us that life’s not all that bad when Christmas vacation is finally over and you voluntarily have to attend school assemblies if you want to hear children’s choirs.
In case you missed it, that was a well hidden reference to my personal music hangover caused by hearing the children’s dirge from A Charlie Brown Christmas over and over again on the radio without benefit of watching the animation on the tube. I just felt it might have been too hidden for some of you, so I tore off the gift wrapping and just said it.
As my kids would say, that’s real talk. As Charlie Brown disciples might say, get over it Mr. Grinch.
It may not sound like it, but The Classic Rocker is into the holiday spirit and hasn’t even thought about breaking off the dial padlock on the vintage boom box so I can listen to songs we hear during the other eleven-twelfths of the year. There are some definite favorites and hearing them slip-sliding over the airwaves is like welcoming an old friend home in time for the next family sanctioned holiday feeding frenzy.
Some Christmas songs are classic just because of the circumstances. For example, the pairing of David Bowie and Bing Crosby for Little Drummer Boy can still cause more second looks and confusion than trying to figure out how Charlie Brown’s pal Schroeder can outplay Billy Joel on a toy piano. And Keith Richards‘ holiday ode to Chuck Berry with Run Rudolph Run only shows that a rock star’s eggnog is more potent than what we can legally purchase in the grocery store.
I would say those two songs are worthy runners-up for the list I’m about to rock around your Christmas tree. And I’m also tempted to give a shout-out to Mariah Carey for All I Want For Christmas Is You, except that would be like inviting one of your kids to the office Christmas party. It ain’t gonna happen, but here’s a gold star for your effort anyway kid.
There are a few Christmas songs that pass the strict criteria I’m laying down to differentiate between what’s naughty and nice. Naughty means you’re only allowed out for one-twelfth of the year.
Well, the following songs are still not gonna be heard on my vintage boom box in June. But if by chance some deejay was just regaining consciousness six months after attending Keith Richards’ Christmas party and in his eggnog fog broadcast the wrong playlist, I could be sitting by the pool drenched in sunblock, sipping an umbrella drink and still reach over to turn up the volume.
The Top Three Classic Rock Christmas Songs
No. 3 – Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley.
“Ah’m’a havin’a ba-loo Christmas, without you…”
When you hear The King hittin’ the low notes to start this holiday cry fest, you forget all about the wobbly voiced sopranos that kept Snoopy voluntarily out of hearing range and in his doghouse. It brings images of a solo Santa in a sparkling jumpsuit aching for a Mrs. Claus to share a cup of eggnog with. Then again, in an effort to spread holiday cheer, I can also imagine this Santa packing a sack of car keys for a fleet of pink Cadillacs triple parked in the driveway of Graceland as gifts for The Memphis Mafia.
If I could dream…
This song was included on Elvis’ Christmas album that caused more explosions in 1957 than New Year’s Eve at The Griswold’s. It was only a year after his epic breakthrough that had little girls swooning and crying while their parents trembled and cried in horror at the image of a white guy with greasy hair and sideburns singing “race music” to their children. At that time you didn’t see Perry Como or Bing Crosby wearing tight slacks and shaking their hips in time to a stand-up bass, but Elvis broke a holiday sound barrier that year that has never snapped back into place.
It was a scandal and Elvis was scandalous. Ed Sullivan practiced television parental control by only allowing him to be shown from the waist up. Milton Berle tamed him for the entire family by making Elvis The Pelvis focus his singing on a top hat wearing hound dog. The gimmick worked, earning Uncle Miltie big television ratings instead of supermarket tabloid headlines.
So when this hellion of rock’n roll tackled Christmas as flamboyantly as he did rockin’ and rollin’ in the jailhouse, the moral majority said enough was enough. There were demands to ban his holiday music collection and send him back to where he came from, which was driving a truck and singing to his mama.
But that didn’t happen. Swooning teens pushed the album to number one and Blue Christmas has gone on to become a standard heard every year. In fact it’s used by the same swooning teens that are now the horrified grandparents of Lil Wayne fans as an example of the good’ol days of family holiday music.
Here’s Elvis performing Blue Christmas during his amazing Come Back television special in 1968…
No. 2 – Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John and Yoko
This one was another lump of coal for the Geritol Generation in 1971. It had only been a few years earlier that John and Yoko, better known as johnandyoko, rattled and rolled parental moral fibers by displaying their naked selves on the cover of their Two Virgins album. Even though it had been gift wrapped in brown paper by the censors, it probably had Hugh Hefner thinking about dress codes and gave a young Richard Simmons his idea for a career.
But if that wasn’t enough to earn Lennon a coveted spot on Richard Nixon’s naughty list, this song helped. After years of bed-ins, protests, marches and songs like I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama and Power To The People, Happy Christmas (War Is Over) still carries their message to more people than all their other “happenings” put together.
It’s become a standard Christmas song thanks to the johnandyoko original and more cover versions than names on Nixon’s vintage enemies list. And you know what? It’s actually a protest song with the same message johnandyoko were telling us since their public honeymoon bed-in at the Amsterdam Hilton.
War is over if you want it.
What they wanted was for us in 1971 was to end the war in Vietnam. Since this was a sugar plum fairy coated protest song, there’s a chance Nixon’s wife Pat might have thought it was Bing, Perry or Frank. I have visions of Tricky Dick reacting with an eggnog spit take the first time Pat had it piped through the White House sound system.
In an interview Lennon said he had learned the message of his song Imagine got through to more people because of the catchy melody and pop production. So instead of screaming, ranting and chanting to end the war, he said it with a catchy and now classic holiday melody and pop production.
It worked. The message still comes across loud and clear every holiday season.
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) is a beautiful song and a beautiful message. It also serves as a yearly reminder of how much we lost when John Lennon was taken away from us on a December evening in 1980. Our generation was never the same again. Happy Xmas johnandyoko.
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No. 1 – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love
What’s this song have in common with Happy Xmas (War Is Over)? Both were produced by that mad little Christmas elf himself, Ronnie’s ex-husband Phil Spector.
They say genius lives on the edge of madness. Then again, maybe I’m just quoting from memory the teacher’s comments on my fifth grade report card. But before Spector hit tabloid headline-worthy crazy, he made some damn good records.
One classic LP that hasn’t lost any holiday cheer over the last half century is A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector. The man behind the Wall of Sound filled two sides of vinyl with holiday pop rock from The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans and the Classic Rocker’s personal favorites, The Ronettes.
But the real favorite on this gift from Phil is Darlene Love’s powerful, rockin’ and soulful plea for her baby to please come home for Christmas. Every listen brings chills, whether you’re opening packages at The North Pole or South Beach. It’s that good and a standard that can’t be topped.
In case you missed it, “Sorry Bono” was a not so hidden reference to the U2 version which is good, but not Darlene Love worthy. And for those speed reading, it shouldn’t be confused with “Sonny Bono,” who was a go-fer for Spector during these sessions that employed his future meal ticket Cher as a background singer.
As fate would have it, this song and the album didn’t get the attention it deserved when released on November 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy’s trip to Dallas sucked the air out of any holiday cheer and Spector’s gift tanked in the sales department. The album didn’t hit the yearly holiday hit parade until it was re-released by Apple Records in 1972, which happened to be owned by johnandyoko and three other guys.
Just another common thread in the web of Christmas songs…
Darlene Love is still belting it out, but we lost a Christmas tradition in our house when David Letterman stepped down as host of The Late Show. Darlene’s annual rendition with Paul Shaffer and the band was must watch television for many years.
The tradition may be gone, but not forgotten. The video below is Darlene’s final appearance during Dave’s final season.
When the fake snow falls on the audience in The Ed Sullivan Theater we’ll go for the rock star eggnog and toast another season of holiday cheer. When the fog clears, it signals the start of summer and raises questions of why I’m waking up next to Keith Richards’ swimming pool wearing a Santa hat.
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