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Alternative History

The 10 Best Christmas Rock Songs

Pogues & Kirsty MacColl - "Fairytale of New York"

Christmas rock songs are as much a part of a band’s contract nowadays as the requirement only to drink soda water after the show. There are plenty to choose from; any novelty they may have once had is gone, but, remarkably, a small minority of them are amazingly good.

Listeners just need to dig deep enough beyond the inevitable Christmas jingles that started ringing from every mall at the beginning of September and the heavy metal hacks writing tunes about Santa riding a mean bike.

And while doing a convincing cover of a classic is no small thing, today, we’re honouring original compositions only.

This is why today I am looking after our collective good cheer, shining a light on some obvious classics and some forgotten gems, and helping you with a list of the very best Christmas rock songs.

The Vandals – “Oi! To The World”

Punk-rockers are usually pretty apprehensive about all of the capitalist show of strength that is Christmas across most of the world.

Still, punk-rockers need their fun too. The Vandals released a whole album of holiday-themed music in 1996.

“Oi! To The World” is the most noteworthy of the songs on the album. It’s brash, obvious, a good deal of fun and has been adopted as a punk Christmas anthem since bassist Joe Escalante came up with it. The fact that No Doubt covered the song only helped boost its popularity.

Ramones – “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”

Ramones always wrote retro-tinged songs that were fun, old-fashioned, and easily hummable. Eventually, it only made sense that they would try their hands at a Christmas tune.

“Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” makes sense. It’s what you’d expect from the punk-rock pioneers, even if it is not quite one of the band’s best. It was released in 1989 on “Brain Drain,” just as the NYC quartet was approaching its self-imposed retirement.

And, while the lyrics may tell the story of lovers negotiating peace in the household, many fans would’ve assumed the song could’ve just as well been about the warring Ramones, particularly given Joey and Johnny Ramones’ difficult relationships.

blink-182 – “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas”

Before writing fart and dick joke songs became a chore for blink-182, they could do it in their sleep. At their best, it was hard to deny that the band’s jokey pop-punk was massively infectious.

Most punk bands take a stab at a holiday single, but blink-182 produced one of the best ones with this 1997 release. The lyrics paint Mark Hoppus as a Grinch ready to snap and attack carrollers with a baseball bat.

The San Diego trio would soon enter an experimental, emo phase but got their best jokes out of their systems before embarking on it.

Queen – “Thank God it’s Christmas”

Queen was a monumental group capable of mixing the sophistication of classical music with the power of rock. They were always on a roll to be heard by as many people in the world as possible, too.

“Thank God it’s Christmas” allows Freddie Mercury to indulge his most sentimental, crowd-pleasing side. It was released in 1984, and was a moderate success at the time, but it became a heavily played holiday tune around the winter holidays in modern times.

AC/DC – “Mistress for Christmas”

Yes, I agree. Adding “Mistress for Christmas” to our list feels a lot like scraping the barrel. But writing great, original Christmas rock songs was never easy. Listen to a Beatle do it? Ever heard George Harrison‘s “Ding Dong”? Things can get messy awfully fast.

But you can always depend on AC/DC for a good time, which is, essentially, what Christmas time means for adults. “Mistress for Christmas” won’t ever get on any AC/DC compilation albums, but after a few eggnogs, you’ll be jamming to this for sure.

Flaming Lips – ‘A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn’t So)’ 

Flaming Lips are hippies with great work ethic. They’re psychedelic musicians capable of writing as many songs about as many topics as anyone might desire. Sure, they can write a Christmas tune.

It was released originally in 2003 and it was a plea for peace, love and mercy. It’s a nobler sentiment than what most artists will peddle around the holidays.

Pretenders – “2000 Miles”

Bands often produce Christmas songs in the same way that your relatives write holiday greeting cards – quickly and without thinking much about it.

Pretenders was a band with punk-rock DNA and was fronted by the frequently excellent Chrissie Hynde. Her singing on “2000 Miles” is great, and it works nicely alongside other, better tracks for a Christmas playlist.

Don’t get us wrong. Hynde has far too good taste to oversell it, once complaining about not being able to stand the lyrics to “2000 Miles.”

The Killers – “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”

There were plenty of reasons to be suspicious of The Killers back in the 2000s. The Las Vegas group was unapologetic about plans to take skinny jeans indie-rock to stadium stages across the world.

Christmas singles just seemed part of the course for a band looking to corner the rock singles market. But “Don’t Shoot Me Santa” was a spectacular success. It’s witty, humorous and a little bit sinister, just like many people predict the Finnish native, Santa Claus, to be.

Slade – “Merry Xmas Everybody”

Slade are the Rodney Dangerfield of rock n’ roll. Their singles were so tuneful that they could simply not be kept off the charts. They were copied left and right by bands who wanted to be them. And, despite it all, they are rarely if ever, given any love by music critics.

Still, if there’s one Slade song that will survive any all changes in fashion, it is “Merry Xmas Everybody.” It’s the holiday rock tune to judge all others by, and it has infiltrated the Christmas pop playlists for decades like a sly spy.

Released in 1973, “Merry Xmas Everybody” was a platinum-selling single. It’s still Slade’s biggest single. And, for once, glam-rock was invited into the homes of unsuspecting grown-ups.

And, as simple as Slade makes singing and playing songs sound, there have been few rock bands able to challenge “Merry Xmas Everybody” in any significant way. Have at it, Noddy Holder!

Pogues & Kirsty MacColl – “Fairytale of New York”

Shane MacGowan passed away in late November of 2023. It meant that for the first time since 1987, the world would celebrate “Fairytale of New York” Christmas and Shane’s birthday without the great songwriter.

Not just a tune meant to be played around the holidays, “Fairytale of New York” is one of the great pop compositions. It has a timeless quality, something MacGowan’s songwriting hinted at even at the start of his career as a punk rocker.

The fairytale is a back-and-front confrontation between two down-on-their-luck lovers, played by MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl. They talk about regrets and share the bitterness they carry with them.

The tone captures the true experience of the holidays for the majority of people in the world. And, against all the odds, once the chorus is sung, there is some hope injected back into the world.

Pogues & Kirsty MacColl - "Fairytale of New York"
About author

Eduard Banulescu is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications, including FootballCoin, Play2Earn, BeIN Crypto, Business2Community, NapoliSerieA, Extra Time Talk, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He has written a book about Nirvana, hosts a music podcasts, and writes weekly content about some of the best, new and old, alternative musicians. Eduard also runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website www.alt77.com. Mr. Banulescu is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.
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