#5: Father Christmas by The Kinks (1977)
The Kinks are one of my all-time favorite bands. Probably in my top 5. And this song, told from the perspective of a gang of poor English youth who beat up Santa when he makes them annoyed by no t giving them money—is classic Kinks. Their songs are marked by a sense of humor, tied in with social justice and rebellion, and are always full of great hooks and solid rock-and-roll music.
“Give all the toys to the little rich boys,” the kids shout.
Although Father Christmas was released as a single, it was also added as a bonus song to The Kinks best, least known record: Misfits.
Hit the tag below labeled, “G.O.A.T.: Greatest of All Christmas Tunes” to see more of my top 20 original Christmas songs!
Further listening: One of these days I’ll do a Kinks top 10. Stay tuned. As for another straight up rock and roll Xmas song worth adding to your playlist if you like this one? Marah’s, “A Christmas Kind of Town.” Or try the progrock of Greg Lake’s, “I Believe in Father Christmas.”
#4: Christmas in Hollis by Run DMC (1987)
It’s probably the only song from the AIDS benefit album A Very Special Christmas that anyone still remembers. It’s also on the soundtrack of my favorite Christmas movie—Die Hard! “Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”
Produced by Rick Rubin, the song only ever hit #78 on the charts—but it’s #1 in my heart. Or #2 at least. It’s my second-favorite Christmas tune.
The song is pretty funny and the vocals are clear and tight—it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Run DMC single. And it’s timeless, still being used in movies and ad campaigns to this day.
#3: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love (1963)
Phil Spector’s album “A Christmas Gift For You” is fantastic. Probably all the songs on it could be called GOATs. But this song resonates in particular for me. On it, Darlene Love does her best Ronnie Spector impression—Phil actually replaced his lover with another woman when he didn’t like Ronnie’s vocals on it. Phil Spector cowrote the song, which has since become a holiday staple and is recognized as one of the best rock Christmas songs of all time.
It seems to be about a woman asking for her man to return, but it always makes me think of a woman whose military husband is stationed overseas.
Further listening: This Christmas by Danny Hathaway, off the same album.
Covers: Joey Ramone!
#2: Happy Xmas (War Is Over)- John Lennon & Yoko Ono (1971)
“And so this is Christmas…” Perhaps more than any other song on this list, LennOno’s song feels the most like a traditional Christmas song, even if it busts tradition in the head, splits its skull, and lets brains slide on the carpet. I mean, how do you combine season’s greetings with protest? How do you sing about a hopeful time of year, the end of war, and the threat of a new one coming in the future?
You be John Lennon, a musical genius.
Lennon was one of the few protest rock and rollers of the 1970s who really felt like the actions of one person could make a difference, in the tradition of Gandhi and MLK—by the time the 1960s were ending, the world was becoming increasingly cynical and people were mattering less than principles, money more than ideals.
And in a way, Christmas had become the same: Presents and status mattering more than a spirit of giving and a celebration of God’s gifts to mankind. And incidentally, Lennon was an athiest. Yet he released one of the kindest and most hopeful original Christmas songs of all time…
Interesting bit of trivia: Both Ono and May Pang, a former lover of John Lennon, appear in the credits.
Further listening: It’s John Lennon. If you haven’t heard of him, google him. If you’re looking for songs of his in a similar vein, go for Give Peace A Chance and Imagine. And if you’re looking for another Beatle Christmas tune, check out Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime. It’s the exact opposite of a protest song, but it’s still nifty.
Lots of renowned performers, modern and classic. Here’s a few…
#1: Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl (1987)
Well, we’ve come to Christmas, and to the end of our list—and our last present to unwrap is the Pogues’ infamous classic.
Fairytale of New York appeared on the band’s biggest, best record, If I Should Fall from Grace with God, an indie album published on the band’s own label. Written by Pogues cofounders Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan, the song was supposedly inspired by a bet. Elvis Costello, who was one of the few people with enough patience to produce a band renowned for horrendous alcoholism (and cancelled shows/tours as a result), bet Shane that he couldn’t write a Christmas song.
The band took a theatrical approach, creating a song that told a story of a couple having a conversation about the collapse of their relationship at Christmastime, complete with the kind of salty language you’d expect during a hostile breakup. It opens with the line, “It’s Christmas eve, in the drunk tank…” as the male narrator laments his condition, but he then goes on to call his old lady a “slut on junk.” Then, his girlfriend breaks in to call him a “cheap lousy faggot,” singing, “Merry Christmas, you arse, thank God it’s our last.” The rage is almost chilling. The language led to a censored version being played on BBC radio.
Cait O’Riordan had been the first choice to sing the song, but she quit the band (she was sleeping with Costello) in 1986 and producer Steve Lillywhite invited his wife to sing the female part. MacCool had already had a minor hit, “They Don’t Know,” in 1979 (covered by Tracy Ullman in the 1980s) and in the early 1980s came out with a really great record—including the underrated and forgotten hit, “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis.”
Naturally, she nailed the vocal. Like few other rock singles (songs by Meatloaf and Queen come to mind), the song really feels like a complete Broadway show—it tells a full story, and by the time you’re at the end, you’ve taken a side and you’re right there with the couple.
I love this song. It’s easily my personal favorite Christmas song of all time!
Further listening: There’s really no other Christmas song like this one, and none that comes close to it in my estimation. So go to the opposite direction and try South Park’s Christmas in Hell.