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The Best Christmas Rock Songs of All Time

There are plenty of bad Christmas songs, but queuing up a decent Christmas rock song around the holiday is an even tougher ask. That’s because artists in the genre tend to shy away from holiday material, no doubt believing it could tarnish their too-cool-for-school-as-well-as-sentimentality posture. But you can only play so much Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey, and there are more rocking gems out there, though they tend to ride under the radar.

Many rock icons have tried their hand at Christmastime staples, with mixed results. (Sometimes it is better to leave things to Crosby and the other classic crooners, after all.) But from Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, guitar gods have successfully livened up the otherwise straight-laced proceedings, or at least given the tunes more personality. Meanwhile, other rockers have just gotten, well, a little weird with things, whether it’s peak Weird Al taking the piss, the Pretenders getting new wave, or Fall Out Boy shutting down any chance of mistletoe romance. All around, they prove that with the right imagination, you can inject a harder-rocking spirit into Christmas music—mall holiday playlists be damned.

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee

The definitive version of this song is the imitable original. Brenda Lee doesn’t use “rockin’” here lightly: The rockabilly singer and her band sound ready to embrace the end of the year with sweaty dancing and an Old Fashioned or five.

“Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” by James Brown

Brown wasn’t fibbing when he called his holiday collection Funky Christmas. But even with its silky groove and horn stabs, he brings a serious social awareness in this standout track’s lyrics that make it more than another winter hum-along.

“Silent Night” by Johnny Cash

Cash wasn’t afraid of dipping into seasonality in his time, and his signature gravelly voice brings a gravitas to “Silent Night” that far outpaces other endless iterations of the tune.

“Run Rudolph Run” by Chuck Berry

The rock ‘n’ roll pioneer wasn’t messing around with his rendition of “Run Rudolph Run.” Rarely do Christmas songs make you want to shake your ass, but this is a timeless exception.

“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” by Bruce Springsteen

There’s something about the Boss’s humble Americana that just suits Christmas. He has an amiable dude-celebrating-at-the-dive bar energy in this live cut, with the typically boisterous E Street Band matching him every step of the way.

“Little Saint Nick” by The Beach Boys

If you happen to be fortunate enough to enjoy Christmas in warm California (well, depending on your view of seasonality), there’s no better backing track than the Beach Boys. Their “Little Saint Nick” is a joyous oceanside bonfire celebration waiting to happen.

“Oi To the World” by The Vandals

If you think punk and Christmas don’t make sense together, good luck telling that to the Vandals. Their “Oi to the World” is equal parts pub trashy and sincerely uplifting. In other words, something for everyone.

“Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty

Bless him, Petty never was snobby about his particular flavor of omnivorous rock. “Christmas All Over Again” has the power to pump up toddlers, grandmas, and (maybe) even moody teens.

“A Willie Nice Christmas” by Kacey Musgraves

Folks who want a little extra greenery to mellow out this time of year need look no further than two classic weed fans. Kacey Musgraves joined up with her hero Willie Nelson for a charming Hawaiian-inspired ode to staying “higher than the angel on the top of the tree.”

“Sock It to Me Santa” by Bob Seger & the Last Heard

Everyone needs a little jolt after too many gingerbread cookies. Bob Seger more than capably provides a wild thump to keep you awake.

“Getting Ready for Christmas Day” by Paul Simon

Newish Christmas music doesn’t get much better (or admirably stranger) than Paul Simon’s single from 2011’s So Beautiful or So What. It saunters along on laid-back atmospherics and spoken background voices that make for delightful company while waiting for the turkey.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Sufjan Stevens

Stevens doesn’t make a fuss about being Christian, which is probably why his lovely Songs for Christmas seemed out of left field. But his baroque-pop take on a religious hymn has a pleasant gloss of modern gracefulness.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Bob Dylan

Dylan croaking spirited Christmas music is even weirder than expected, but not necessarily in a bad way. He’s fittingly resigned on this mournful holiday detour.

“2,000 Miles” by The Pretenders

What’s that? A sweepingly romantic new wave Christmas-themed track by beloved alt rockers that works as easily on college radio in April as while you stare out a snow-battered window? Yes. Truly, a miracle.

“Pretty Paper” by Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson

Nelson’s original solo “Pretty Paper” was already great, but this new duet version matches him with the plaintive yet reaffirming, always divine Dolly. So, of course, it wins.

“Frosty the Snowman” by The Ventures

The Ventures ditched the entire project of pious, platitudinous lyrics completely with their instrumental Christmas set. “Frosty the Snowman” gets a delicious ‘60s rock verve, opening with handclaps and a surf-rock riff that’s stickier than candy cane.

“Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley

Shaking the dust off seasonal hokum, Elvis gives this unrequited love story real heartache in his voice. Meanwhile, the swinging sound made a new generation celebrate a little differently.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love

You could land on any song from Phil Spector’s classic 1963 A Christmas Gift For You album and be more than satisfied. The producer accomplished his goal of making a Christmas record that stands up as its own timeless work, applying his rich “Wall of Sound” technique to mostly secular standards. The highlight, however, is Darlene Love’s rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home,” her intense vocals making the passion of its plea palpable.

“Yule Shoot Your Eye Out” by Fall Out Boy

The Christmas song to turn any emo heart joyfully black, Fall Out Boy’s yuletide sneer is a deeply underrated one-off. If you’ve been dumped around the holidays or just can’t be bothered, crank up its catchy, dismissive rant. “Merry Christmas / I could care less,” indeed.

“The Night Santa Went Crazy” by Weird Al Yankovic

If you want to watch the optimism drain from your kids’ faces, play them this clever ‘90s Weird Al bit about a boozed-up, unhinged Santa. (Actually, don’t do that.) Weird Al takes the piss out of pop music’s earnest intentions like no one else, making him ideal for this time of year.

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