T

he holiday season brings with it audacious light displays, massive crowds of shoppers, and some truly horrible music. Christmas music dates back to the fourth century, when Roman hitmakers like Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan churned out chart-toppers like Corde natus ex Parentis. Most of what we know of as Christmas carols are pretty recent, coming from the post-Reformation centuries 16-18. Pop stars began recording Christmas songs in the 1940s, and rock 'n' roll Christmas songs began to appear in the late 1950s. The top-20 success of Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You in 1963 ensured that rock artists would continue to use the holiday season as an easy sales gimmick, and that tradition continues to this day.

More often than not, when rock 'n' rollers try to make Christmas music, the results are embarrassing at best. Check out Rod Stewart's recently released Merry Christmas, Baby if you doubt our word. But there are some gems to be found amid the heaps of holiday songs. We've compiled a list of some holiday rock that makes us jolly, and another list of songs we think belong in the fireplace with the yule log.


THE NICE (The Best)

lennon

Happy Xmas (War is Over) — John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Though it may be overplayed, John & Yoko's bittersweet Vietnam era Christmas song is still one of our faves. [Listen]

Father Christmas — The Kinks
Ray Davies' tale of a department store Santa getting beaten up by poor kids is not so much anti-Christmas as it is anti-poverty. Either way, it's a great little rocker. [Listen]

Run Rudolph Run — Chuck Berry
One of the first, and one of the best. That sums up both Chuck Berry and this Christmas rave-up. [Listen]

Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight) — The Ramones
Any excuse to  listen to the Ramones is a good one, and even though this isn't one of their best songs, it's nice to hear Joey and the boys sing about putting aside differences for the holidays. [Listen]

Fairytale of New York — The Pogues
There are drinking songs, and then there are Pogues songs. This song may not be the cheeriest holiday song ever—it's about an immigrant sleeping off a hangover in an NYC drunk tank—but it's still one of the best. [Listen]

slade

Don't Believe In Christmas — The Sonics
A great anti-Christmas song from the ultimate garage rock band, The Sonics. [Listen]

F*ck Christmas — Fear
If the cynicism of The Sonics isn't extreme enough for you, here is the ultimate anti-holiday song from hardcore punk rockers Fear. [Listen]

Merry Christmas Everybody — Slade
A great glam rock jam from the band that brought us "Cum On Feel The Noize," later covered by Quiet Riot. [Listen]

Snoopy's Christmas — The Royal Guardsmen
Possibly one of the best novelty songs of all time, The Royal Guardsmen's song about  Snoopy taking on the World War I flying ace will always remind us of the Christmases of our childhood. [Listen]

Christmas Song — Jethro Tull
Ian Anderson took a lesser known Christmas song, "Once In Royal David's City," and turned it into a song denouncing the commercialization of the season. The Tull went on to make a truly awful Christmas album, cleverly titled Christmas Album, in 2003. [Listen]

THE NAUGHTY (The Worst)

do they

Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town — Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen fans will wail and gnash their teeth over this song's inclusion on this list, but really, they're a bunch of sycophants who automatically love anything "The Boss" does. In reality, this is a truly terrible version of a terrible song. [Listen]

Do They Know It's Christmas? — Band Aid
This all-star one-off single was a massive hit in the '80s, and despite its noble goals (it raised money to help people hit by a famine in Ethiopia), it was, and remains, one of the worst songs ever. There's nothing like a heaping helping of guilt for the holidays, especially when it's dolled out by millionaire rock stars. The answer to the song's title is, of course, "No, they don't know, they're starving to death." [Listen]

Little Drummer Boy — David Bowie and Bing Crosby
This "meeting of the generations" moment was filmed for a Bing Crosby television special, and it survives as a testament to how far Bing's career had fallen by the 1970s. [Listen]

Christmas at Ground Zero — "Weird" Al Yankovic
"Weird" Al. Ground Zero. Are you frightened yet? Don't be, it came out in 1986, so it's not that Ground Zero, it's about nuclear war. Much funnier.  [Listen]

she and him

Wonderful Christmas Time — Paul McCartney
This jaunty number is a nice illustration why Paul was always known as "the cheesy Beatle." [Listen]

Little Saint Nick — The Beach Boys
Although it's fashionable nowadays to call Brian Wilson a genius and hail The Beach Boys as rock heroes, the fact remains that barbershop quartet vocals have always and will always suck major candy cane. [Listen]

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) — Bon Jovi
Unless you're a huge fan of bad hair music, stick with the original, sung by Darlene Love, from the classic Phil Spector Christmas album. [Listen]

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree — She & Him
Zooey Deschanel may be terrifically cute and a wonderful actress, but whoever told her she could sing needs to be sent to the North Pole for some hard labor. [Listen]

Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town — Frank Sinatra & Cyndi Lauper
In case you thought the Bruce Springsteen version of this song was as bad as it could get, try listening to a way-past-his-prime Frank team up with Cyndi Lauper. On second thought, you'll have a much merrier time if you don't. [Listen]