#10: 2000 Miles by The Pretenders (1983)
And so today we enter the top 10, and I can’t think of a better way to begin it than with one of the best rock bands of the 1980s. By the time 1983 rolled around, The Pretenders were pretty big. They’d had several hit singles, platinum albums and the time was right for them to get some coin with a seasonal tune. But rather than do an album of covers, which would have been the easy way to cash in, they created an original song that became a standard. The song doesn’t seem to be about Santa at first—“He’s gone, 2000 miles…Very far…” It seems to be about a long-distance relationship. But it’s these kinds of Christmas songs that really etch in a person’s memory. Covers of Rudolph are a dime a dozen, but this song is a classic.
The version above, by the way, is from their excellent acoustic album.
Further listening: It’s Christmas All Over by Tom Petty is another classic rock classic noel. And Ozzy Osbourne’s underrated ballad, “Mama I’m Coming Home,” is another long-distance-love-affair Holiday song.
#9: What’s This? by Danny Elfman (1993)
The soundtrack to The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t all about the Ho-Ho-Holiday—there’s Halloween there, too, and several instrumental passages that aren’t festive at all. But this song (as well as “Kidnap the Sandy Claws”) is one of my all-time favorites. It’s mixes the childlike wonder of Christmas with the fear and conflict of Tim Burton’s brilliant film.
Further listening: Kidnap the Sandy Claws, from the same album, and Korn’s cover version of it. Or try Stephen Colbert’s “Another Christmas Song” for another show-biz Xmas song.
Cover version: Fall Out Boy!
#8: Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto-James Brown (1968)
James Browns’ A Soulful Christmas is in my top five for Christmas albums, right under Charlie Brown and Phil Spector. And this, the first song on the album, is far and away the best of the lot.
Further listening: Merry Christmas Baby by Otis Redding, another wonderful, soulful tune.
Cover by Snooooooooooop…
#7: Christmas Time Is Here-Vince Guaraldi (1965)
More than half of the way-too-short soundtrack to the animated show, A Charlie Brown Christmas, is traditional Christmas songs. But there’s a couple originals, like Linus and Lucy and Skating and this song: Christmas Time Is Here. Written by Vince Guaraldi and sung by the choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, California, it’s a short, sweet, midtempo song about the season. A great tune from one of the all-time greatest albums (not just Christmas albums, ANY albums).
#6: Run Rudolph Run-Chuck Berry (1958)
No Christmas is complete without some classic rock, and it doesn’t get much more classic than Chuck Berry’s signature guitar riff on Run Rudolph Run. Berry didn’t write the song (it was by Johnny Marks (a Jew who also wrote “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”) and Marvin Brodie), but Berry’s version is the only one you really need to know. Yeah, it sounds almost the same as several other Berry hits, it’s so much fun to listen to!
Further listening: For another Christmas song that sounds an awful lot like a rock-and-roll band’s typical output, check out Little Saint Nick by The Beach Boys. Or check out the Chubbie Checker classic, Jingle Bell Rock.
Covers: Oh my God. Who HASN’T done this tune? I tried to pick a good range…
Next: The countdown ends with the top 5!