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  1. Holiday Spirit, The dB's (East Side Digital, 1993)
    When Chris Stamey's 1985 EP, Christmas Time, was fleshed out in 1993 to full-album length, the dB's "Holiday Spirit" was added and became an immediate Generation-X yuletide anthem. "I've got that holiday spirit - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" Peter Holsapple screams over slashing guitars and a pounding, maniacal beat. In just one minute and twenty-six seconds, the band crams in three verses and three choruses of unrelenting sarcasm and sexual innuendo. Then, suddenly, it's over - efficient and brilliant, like Santa Claus himself. (The dB's also accompany Stamey on his great title song, "Christmas Time" - see below.) [read more] [back to list]

  2. All I Want For Christmas, Huey "Piano" Smith & Clowns (Ace, 1962)
    This is one song that needs no analysis. Huey and the Clowns (who were among the elite New Orleans R'n'B groups) sound simply like they're having a good time - a very good time - and all they want for Christmas, it turns out, "is a little bit of music." Each nearly interchangeable song on their album, 'Twas The Night Before Christmas, has the same infectious vibe, wherein Christmas is just another excuse for throwing a party. After release, the album quickly disappeared from record store shelves, fueling persistent rumors that the record was banned due to the blasphemously raucous way the Clowns approached the Holy Season. Not so - it was a bad distribution deal - but it's easy see how the rumors got started. [back to list]

  3. Christmas Is My Time Of Year, Christmas Spirit (White Whale, 1968)
    A true oddity in the annals of Christmas rock, this one-off project was recorded by an oddball assortment of California rockers, some already famous, others soon to be. Written by Turtles singer Howard Kaylan and producer Chip Douglas (Monkees, Lovin' Spoonful, Turtles), "Christmas Is My Time Of Year" is a sterling (if eccentric) example of folk rock, and it brims with the festive spirit of the holidays. Lending a hand were Turtle Mark Volman (who, with Kaylan, later performed with Frank Zappa as Flo & Eddie); Gram and Gene Parsons (both of whom were members of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers but were not related); Linda Ronstadt (then a Stone Poney but soon to become a country rock icon); Henry Diltz and Cyrus Faryar (who, with Douglas, were members of the Modern Folk Quartet); and the Bessie Griffin and the Gospel Pearls, whose cacophonous caroling nearly overwhelm the proceedings. Originally released by tiny White Whale Records (home to the Turtles and not much else), "Christmas Is My Time Of Year" has been reissued only once, on Rhino's long out-of-print Rockin' Christmas: The 60's. Monkees Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz, and Davy Jones released an inferior cover version in 1976. [back to list]

  4. Sleigh Bell Rock, Three Aces & A Joker (GRC, 1959)
    In my relatively vast collection, I can think of very few Christmas records that qualify as honest-to-God, dyed-in-the-wool rockabilly. Some of the biggest Christmas hits (including "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree") bear a strong influence of the frenetic, hiccupping country/rock hybrid, but they're just not the real thing (think early Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Burnette, et al.). Three Aces And A Joker, on the other hand, hit the rockabilly nail on the head with this primeval masterpiece. The Aces were an obscure trio from Salt Lake City whose best-known song, "Booze Party," must have made them pariahs in their teetotalling, Mormon-dominated hometown. "Sleigh Bell Rock" was the b-side to that tipsy tune, and while both songs are revered by the rockabilly faithful, the group remains unknown to the public-at-large. "Sleigh Bell Rock" has been reissued twice on Rhino's long out-of-print LP Rockin' Christmas: The 50's and on Buffalo Bop's CD Rockabilly Xmas. [back to list]

  5. Christmas Everyday, The Miracles (Motown, 1963)
    Smokey Robinson and his crew were the only Motown act to release two Christmas albums during the label's "Golden Decade" (1962-1971). The first record, Christmas With The Miracles, was a more rockin' affair, recorded before Smokey developed the ultra-smooth style that gave us "Ooh Baby Baby" and "Cruising." The album contained but one Robinson original, "Christmas Everyday." Beginning with the kind of drum crack that prompted John Lennon to query whether Motown's drummer "beat on a bloody tree," the Miracles spin a soulful metaphor similar to William Bell's "Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday": if the singer's girl would just acquiesce, everyday could be a special as Christmas. In his inimitable style, Smokey insists, "I wouldn't need a Christmas tree if you belonged to me." Not receiving satisfaction, he takes serious measures: "I wrote and told Santa Claus I needed you because it would be Christmas everyday." (The best of both Miracles Christmas records is compiled on Our Very Best Christmas.) [back to list]

  6. Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day, Brenda Lee (Decca, 1964)
    Pugnacious Brenda Lee wasn't even a teenager when she commenced her career as a rockabilly spitfire, and her style matured quickly as she became a seasoned pro by the ripe age of 14. That's when Lee recorded "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" (see above), but she didn't cut a full Christmas album till she was nearly twenty. That record, Merry Christmas From Brenda Lee (1964), consists largely of "adult pop" like her version of Brook Benton's "That Special Time Of Year" - good stuff, but relatively sedate. Two songs stick out like Christmas plums: the now classic "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and the newly recorded "Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day," a picture perfect piece of Brill Building froth in the girl group tradition. As in most great girl group songs, Brenda's entire world depends on the all-powerful boy; the trappings of Christmas offer her no solace so long as he's away. Over pounding drums and swirling strings, Lee paints a vivid picture of an isolated teenager, her self-esteem shriveling to nothing over lost puppy love. Politically correct? Nope. Powerful? Undeniably. (Look for Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree: The Decca Christmas Recordings.) [back to list]

  7. Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto, James Brown (King, 1968)
    Thanks to a couple of high-profile reissues (including Funky Christmas), James Browns' Christmas music has become widely accepted. When I first began collecting this stuff, copies of his original King Christmas LPs went for big bucks. Now, as much as I love his Yuletide jams, I'd have to say that they don't quite measure up to his best work - an admittedly high standard. What really sets them apart is their good humor and eccentricity (see my Hall Of Fame). "Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto" is, if anything, one of the most normal Christmas songs he recorded, and that makes it a natural choice for my Top 100. Over a cool, lazy funk, Brown gently pleads with ol' St. Nick to serve the needs of impoverished ghetto residents (though, interestingly, Brown emphasizes that he used to be one of them). "Jingle Bells," it ain't, but it's a fun example of the way the Godfather liked to insert positive messages into unlikely places. (Listen closely towards the end - Brown drops Hank Ballard's name for no apparent reason). [back to list]

  8. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Lou Rawls (Capitol, 1967)
    Smooth as Courvoisier and cool as ice, Lou Rawls is like a Christmas cocktail - sure to have you head spinning by the end of the party, and all the merrier for it. Rawls' Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! is fine throughout, but it's his swinging version of this modern classic that has always resonated with me. Judy Garland first recorded "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" back in 1944, and the song's hopeful outlook (during wartime, remember) struck an immediate chord with the public. Cats as formidable as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett have taken a shot at it, but, for me, it's Lou Rawls who forever defined the song. The riffing horns, the walking bass, and the emphatic drums combine in marvelous concert to support Lou's confident vocal, exuding just the right combination of swagger and familiarity. Rawls just flat nails it, and if a better of this song version exists, I haven't heard it. [back to list]

  9. Cool Yule, Rebel Pebbles (IRS, 1990)
    Barely a footnote in the grand scheme of things, the Rebel Pebbles earned a place in my heart with their contribution to IRS Records' Just In Time For Christmas. A veritable cream puff of a song, "Cool Yule" marries girl group goofiness to garage rock swagger, coming up with a sound I've rarely heard before or since. Their closest living relative, actually, might well be Josie & The Pussycats, but comparisons to the Go-Go's are reasonable, too. Anyway, the Pebbles were an all-girl band featuring vocalist Rachel Murray and former Pandoras guitarist Karen Blankfield, and, at least on this slim evidence, were wholesomely unashamed of all things girly. Everything from diamond and pearls to Bobby Darin (!) winds up on their hefty Christmas list, but they always return to their magnanimous wish for us all - have a cool Yule!

    Postcript. On the strength of this song alone, I hunted down the Pebbles' sole 1991 long-player, Girls Talk (they also released an e.p., Party Time, in 1990). Featuring the minor hit, "Dream Lover," the album is pleasant enough, but its polished professionalism robs it of the sexy, off-the-cuff charm that makes "Cool Yule" so irresistible. On closer inspection, the Rebel Pebbles' recordings resembled the solo Belinda Carlisle more than the early Go-Go's. Too bad.

    Feedback. I just stumbled onto your site and saw "Cool Yule" listed at #49 of your Top 100 Christmas songs. As the songwriter (with Robin Fox and Michael Gurley), I had to tell you that I couldn't have agreed with you more on your assessment of our Christmas single as opposed to our full-length LP. I have always maintained that "Cool Yule" was our best song, or at least our best recording. You were very accurate in saying that the over-production of our record made it way less charming than our Christmas song. It was recorded before the full-length record on a much smaller budget with Michael Gurley (my good friend and leader of the band Dada) producing. Thanks so much for mentioning it! Although I hear it occasionally over the holidays, it's great to know that someone else appreciates it as much as I do. - Rachel Murray (lead singer of the Rebel Pebbles) [back to list]

  10. Frosty The Snowman, Ronettes (Philles, 1963)
    Beginning with that irresistible"Be My Baby" backbeat and his ubiquitous sleigh bells, Phil Spector's production of the Ronettes' "Frosty The Snowman" is a textbook example of his famed "Wall Of Sound." I must insist, however, that it is Ronnie Spector who's the star here. She carries on confidently amidst her (now ex-) husband's musical maelstrom, recounting the tired old tale of the Frosty as if she'd never heard it before - and as if there weren't about 150 other musicians vying for the spotlight. By the time she gets to her requisite "whoa oh oh" in the coda, we believe that a snowman really could come to life one day. (Included, along with several other Top 100 songs, on Phil Spector's essential A Christmas Gift For You.) [back to list]

  11. (Rockin') Winter Wonderland, Fabulous Thunderbirds (Austin, 1983)
    In 1983, the Fabulous Thunderbirds were between gigs. They'd come on like gangbusters for their first label, Chrysalis, waxing four hot platters of roots rock in just four years. Earning little more than critical praise, they were cut from from Chrysalis in 1982 and didn't release another album till 1986, when Epic's Tuff Enuff made them big-time rock stars. During their major label hiatus, they recorded two tracks for Austin Rhythm 'n' Blues Christmas, a collection of local artists on tiny Austin Records, a locally-distributed Texas imprint. One of the T-Birds' efforts was an hellacious instrumental rendition of "Winter Wonderland" - an old Christmas standard that never actually mentions Christmas. Thanks to the band's later success, Austin Rhythm 'n' Blues Christmas was reissued nationally by Epic, and the track was saved from obscurity. Powered by Kim Wilson's driving harp and Jimmie Vaughan's immaculate guitar (and anchored by added shouts of "Merry Christmas!" and "Feliz Navidad!"), "(Rockin') Winter Wonderland" sounds merrier and rocks harder than previously thought possible. [back to list]

  12. Little Drummer Boy, Joan Jett (Blackheart, 1981)
    Sexy, diminutive Joan Jett has long been a hero to lonely rocker nerds such as this writer. When bare bones, honest rock 'n' roll was all but lost (buried under layers of hair spray and cheesy synthesizers), Jett and her Blackhearts always kept rock true to the founding principles of the form - play loud, fast, and out-of-control. Their relatively faithful version of Harry Simeone's classic Christmas fable begins by simply adding electric guitars, raising the volume, and upping the attitude. Restrained and parsimonious till the final minute, the Blackhearts ultimately cut loose in a blaze of guitar pyrotechnics before stuttering to a crashing halt - spent, but full of cheer. Originally released as a 45, "Little Drummer Boy" was also included on initial pressings of Jett's I Love Rock 'n' Roll album (though not on subsequent pressings). Later, it was added back to the album as a bonus track on the CD reissue but is otherwise hard-to-find. [back to list]

  13. Presents For Christmas, Solomon Burke (Atlantic, 1966)
    The formidable Solomon Burke recorded a single called "Christmas Presents" very, very early in his career. Amazingly, it bears the unmistakable sound of soul music - four years before what many critics consider the first official soul song, the Drifters' "There Goes My Baby." Over a decade later, Burke revisited the theme (and inverted the title) with an entirely new composition, his magnanimous, eccentric "Presents For Christmas." Alternately testifying and exhorting, the Reverend Burke shouts out to "every man, woman, boy, and girl in the world," with special wishes for all the disc jockeys, policeman, and pretty girls (in that order). Solomon brags he's "fat enough to be the world's biggest Santa Claus," poignantly confiding his wish to give presents to everyone in the world "under one great big Christmas tree." Produced in 1966, "Presents For Christmas" was released on 45 by Atlantic in 1967, then on LP in 1968 on Burke's own King Solomon and Atco Records' monumental compilation, Soul Christmas. [back to list]

  14. Santa's Got A GTO, Ramonas (self-released, 1991)
    An all-girl rocker about Santa and a boss ride - what could be cooler? In a vengeful frenzy, San Francisco punks Ramonas warn that Santa Claus is coming to town in a souped-up Pontiac to defend their honor against a boy who broke their hearts: "You better not cry, you better not frown, Santa's gonna run you down!" Despite their assertion that "all I want for Christmas is to see you die," the group sounds positively gleeful as they chant "Ho Ho Ho! Ho Ho Ho! Santa's got a GTO!" dozens of times in a scant two minutes. According to the group's MySpace page - which also reveals that the Ramonas are "the first all-female Ramones tribute band in the world" - the song was first released as a tape for the band's fan club (in a very limited edition of 100). It earned a slice of immortality, though, when it served as the title track for the 1997 CD, Santa's Got A GTO: Rodney On The ROQ's Fav X-mas Songs, compiled by L.A. disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer. In the liner notes, Rodney says only that he's played it on KROQ for the last ten years, which makes me wonder if the song goes back even further.... [back to list]

  15. Hey Santa Claus, Moonglows (Chance, 1953)
    The hopped-up "Hey Santa Claus" provides ample evidence that the Moonglows (a group best-known for ballads like "Ten Commandments Of Love" and "Sincerely") could rock with the best of them. With spirited support from the group (led by Harvey Fuqua and which, in later years, included Marvin Gaye), singer Bobby Lester implores old Father Christmas to bring his baby back; in the meantime, however, the Lester and the boys seem happy just to be ballin' with the cats. When the sax solo - one of the finest honks ever recorded - launches suddenly after the second verse, this high-flying record goes into orbit. "Hey Santa Claus" was the flipside of the Moonglows' great ballad, "Just A Lonely Christmas," and both songs are included on Rockin' Little Christmas. [back to list]

  16. 2000 Miles, Pretenders (Sire, 1983)
    Chrissy Hynde's impressionistic, nearly ambient Christmas song is part of the Pretenders' last great album, Learning To Crawl, though it was first released as the b-side to the album's Top 20 lead single, "Middle Of The Road." Mixing religious and personal imagery, Hynde paints a perfect post-modern Christmas carol, one where the eternal hope of the season still means something in a world without saviors. Chiming and dreamy where the band was usually strident and aggressive, "2000 Miles" is a singular achievement, both within the Pretenders' catalogue and in the broader realm of Christmas rock. The song is also compiled on New Wave Xmas and Edge Of Christmas, and it was released on picture sleeve 45 in the U.K. with a non-LP b-side, "Fast Or Slow (The Law's The Law)." [back to list]

  17. 'Twas The Night Before Christmas, Snoop Dogg with Nate Dogg (KROQ, 1997)
    In 1996, Death Row Records (Suge Knight's infamous hip hop label) released Christmas On Death Row, an album of disappointingly tame rhythm & blues. The label's biggest star, rapper Snoop Dogg (together with sidekick Nate Dogg), headlined one of the album's high points, "Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto," a sequel of sorts to James Brown's more imperative original (see above). It's a great track, but the Dogg boys would reach the pinnacle of their holiday hijinks the following year with a ghetto-fabulous rewrite of Clement Moore's 1923 poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas." The adjectives "filthy, illicit, and uproarious" hardly do justice to this funky tale wherein a visit from St. Nicholas nets Snoop some gin and "chronic" (i.e. marijuana). A "fat, red pimp" from the "north side" comes to visit, packing a sack full powerful smoke. Santa, it seems, has been indulging in some weed himself and, before he leaves, he has cleaned out Snoop Dogg's ample stash of munchies. "Merry Christmas to all you motherfuckers," Santa exclaims, "and to all a good high." Though certainly not for the faint-of-heart, "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" is an unparalleled hoot. In Nate Dogg's own words, it "made a nigga laugh." The song was specially recorded for A Family Christmas... In Your Ass, one of many installments in a series of albums compiled by Kevin & Bean, the popular morning team for Los Angeles rock station KROQ. [back to list]

  18. Trim Your Tree, Jimmy Butler (Gem, 1954)
    Over the years, many, many songs have drawn a connection between sex and Christmas. None, however, make that connection more explicit than Jimmy Butler's extended double entendre, "Trim Your Tree" (featured on Savoy's Christmas Blues). A spirited jump blues, the song distinguishes itself mainly on lyrical content and Butler's lascivious, leering vocal. To say nothing of the many uses of the word "trim," Butler reveals hidden, dirty meanings in virtually every common Christmas image, climaxing with his pledge to "sprinkle my snow" upon his unsuspecting paramour's evergreen. Like similar songs from the mid-50's (the Midnighters' "Work With Me Annie" or the Dominos' "Sixty Minute Man"), "Trim Your Tree" sounds nearly quaint by modern standards, but it probably raised much more than eyebrows back in the day. [back to list]

  19. C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, Yobs (Safari, 1980)
    I'll refer you to my discussion of their Christmas Album for greater detail, but the Yobs were a pseudonym for the Boys, an early English punk band. Never a font of maturity and wisdom, the Boys reached new depths of puerile humor on "C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S," and the world was better for it. In my extensive collection of music, I can think of no song more filthy, more disgusting, or more perfect in its utter depravity. One by one, the singer ticks off the nine letters of Christmas, each character of the alphabet representing a body part, sexual act, or venereal disease that made a recent holiday romance particularly memorable and unpleasant. "Christmas comes but once a year," our hapless adventurer concludes with relief, noting wryly, "It makes me fucking sick!" The band caps the sordid affair with a perverted chorus of "Ding Dong! Merrily On High," and, finally, all is calm (though hardly bright). [back to list]

  20. Santa & The Satellite (Parts 1 & 2), Buchanan & Goodman (Luniverse, 1957)
    With "Flying Saucer" in 1956, self-proclaimed "King Of The Novelty" Dickie Goodman launched a career that fitfully spanned four decades. It was, to my knowledge, the first-ever "break in" record, a form of humor in which an interviewer (portrayed here by Goodman and partner Bill Buchanan) plays straight man to snippets of recently popular songs. Buchanan & Goodman continued their space age theme - made all the more relevant by the Soviet launch of Sputnik - with this wonderfully bizarre holiday treat (Santa is kidnapped by Martians but escapes disguised as Elvis Presley). Later the same year, the duo would release "Santa & The Touchables," a Christmas-flavored sequel to their spoof of TV's The Untouchables, and Goodman would continue to produce break-in records under a variety of names until his death in 1989. "Santa & The Satellite," however, stands as his best record ever. (Most of Dickie Goodman's records have become sought-after collectibles. Hot Productions released two CD compilations, Greatest Fables Vol. 1 and Vol. 2; the first contains his Christmas sides, but both appear to have disappeared off the face of the earth... try eBay. Whatever the case, you'll have to hunt down original vinyl copies to hear the original, unexpurgated versions - i.e. versions with the original artists' recordings of the "answers" to Goodman's questions.) [back to list]

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