Best Christmas Rock Songs: An Essential Seasonal Playlist

From Def Leppard to Chuck Berry, U2, Tom Petty, Weezer and Eric Clapton, the best Christmas rock songs are satisfyingly turkey-free.

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It’s not just Santa Claus making lists and checking them twice. With Christmas coming, we’ll be ticking off the turkey, the tree, and all the trimmings, but what of the perfect music to provide the soundtrack for our festive fun? Most of us fall back on a solid Christmas hits collection regardless of our party’s persuasion, but what if we went one louder and gifted you the best Christmas rock songs ever? There’s no traditional Christmas carols here. No “Little Drummer Boy,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” or “Silent Night.” No Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself A Merry Christmas” or Nat King Cole going on about chestnuts roasting over an open fire. This Christmas, enjoy some rock around the Christmas tree.

Listen to the best Christmas rock songs on Spotify, and scroll down for our list of the best Christmas rock songs.

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Chuck Berry: Run Rudolph Run

First released by Chess Records in time for Christmas 1958, this exuberant rocker – co-written by Johnny Marks of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” fame – is quintessential Chuck Berry. It’s since been covered by Sheryl Crow, Bryan Adams, Billy Idol and many more. – Tim Peacock

Bobby Helms: Jingle Bell Rock

The epitome of the term “crossover hit,” Bobby Helms’ laidback, roots-flavored “Jingle Bell Rock,” from 1957, was originally a US country radio hit which also made it to No.6 on the mainstream Billboard Best Sellers chart. Currently ranked among the Top 10 Christmas/Holiday Digital Singles in the US, it remains an enduring Christmas favorite for open-minded rock fans. – Tim Peacock

Def Leppard: We All Need Christmas

Beautifully crafted acoustic rock ballad kissed with strings, and fueled by hope and optimism – and a final coda which goes up to 11. A seasonal classic-in-waiting wherein Joe Elliott and the boys raise a glass to “all that’s past – and to the future, long may it last!” ’Nuff said. – Tim Peacock

Weezer: We Wish You A Merry Christmas

As their recent Billboard Alternative Chart-topping take on Toto’s “Africa” proves, Weezer know a thing or three about cool cover versions. From 2008’s Christmas gift EP Christmas With Weezer, this short but sweet rock remake of a classic festive hymn is another belter. – Tim Peacock

John Lennon: Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

Part of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s peace efforts, the Christmas song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” has become a staple of holiday season playlists. Featuring the Harlem Community Choir, the song focused on the Vietnam War at the time of its initial release, but remains sadly relevant and necessary decades later. – Sam Armstrong

U2: Christmas (Baby Come Home Please)

Mariah Carey made a fantastic version, of course. But Bono and co’s emotional, widescreen take of Darlene Love’s cult classic from 1963 is just as affecting. Co-written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, and Phil Spector, the song was reputedly originally penned for Ronnie Spector. – Tim Peacock

Paul McCartney: Wonderful Christmastime

The Beatles’ Paul McCartney’s classic Christmas song isn’t exactly a rock tune, but it’s worthy of inclusion nonetheless. The little ditty is based around a synthesizer line, and its lyrics have a wonderfully simple message: “We’re here tonight/And that’s enough.” – Sam Armstrong

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Christmas All Over Again

A rousing, Tom Petty-penned anthem with a few tinges of Phil Spector thrown in for good measure, this was initially the lead cut from A&M’s star-studded 1992 A Very Special Christmas compilation, released in aid of the Special Olympics. – Tim Peacock

The Waitresses: Christmas Wrapping

The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” doesn’t start out like “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” but eventually it turns into a little bit of a rock ‘n’ roll love song. A late-night trek to a grocery store on Christmas Eve leads to singer Patty Donahue meeting the man she’s been chasing all year. – Sam Armstrong

Little Steven: Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)

Do they know it’s Christmas? You wouldn’t expect the New York punk rock icons The Ramones to make a Christmas song. But with a killer riff and a plea for peace on Earth (or, at the very least, the apartment), this one is among the best Christmas rock songs ever. Case in point: The song’s sterling cinematic makeover in 2017 by Bruce Springsteen’s talented wingman. – Tim Peacock

Cocteau Twins: Frosty The Snowman

It may not immediately make sense, but the more you think about it, the more Cocteau Twins and hazy, Christmas music begins to seem like a perfect match. (Their take on “Winter Wonderland” is great as well.) – Sam Armstrong

Bryan Adams: Merry Christmas

Canadian rock icon Bryan Adams recorded an enduring festive song, “Christmas Time,” in 1985. He delivered a second in 2011, in the shape of this yearningly soulful, sleigh-bell-enhanced rock ballad. – Tim Peacock

The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl: Fairytale of New York

This Christmas classic has become a lightning rod of controversy in recent years, but as Nick Cave wrote in 2020, “the idea that a word, or a line, in a song can simply be changed for another and not do it significant damage is a notion that can only be upheld by those that know nothing about the fragile nature of songwriting.” – Sam Armstrong

Cheap Trick: Christmas Christmas

Legendary Illinois power-popsters Cheap Trick had Xmas all wrapped up with 2017’s Christmas Christmas. Driven by guitarist Rick Neilsen’s power chords, the album’s titular song is a seasonal sizzler which shows exactly why “Christmas Christmas” is so good they really should name it twice. – Tim Peacock

Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody

The iconic glam rock group didn’t want to release this record initially. Luckily, their manager had his way. It beat Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” to the top spot in the charts in 1973 and hasn’t looked back since. Reflecting on it in 2020, guitarist Dave Hill told Classic Rock that the “song lifted a nation. It took on a life of its own.” – Sam Armstrong

Eric Clapton: White Christmas

The iconic guitarist’s new Happy Xmas album got off to a blistering start when it topped Billboard’s seasonal Holiday Albums Chart on release in October 2018. More than capable of warming the cockles is the record’s lead cut: an imperious, Chicago blues-style version of Bing Crosby’s enduring “White Christmas.” – Tim Peacock

Darlene Love: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” was first released on November 22, 1963 – the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. The song was co-written by Phil Spector for the album A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, and Love had happy memories of the recording sessions done for that record the previous summer. “Phil worked everybody so hard but there was a real Christmas party atmosphere in the studio, even though it was the height of summer, and a lot of great musicians were involved who went on to become famous in their own right, like Leon Russell.” In later years, Love sung “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” regularly on festive editions of The Late Show With David Letterman. In 1987, when U2 recorded a rock cover of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” they hired Love for the session, and she contributed backing vocals to their excellent version. – Martin Chilton

Wham!: Last Christmas

One of the best Christmas songs ever made. George Michael was just 21 when he wrote, produced, performed, and painstakingly played every single instrument on the Wham! hit “Last Christmas.” The song was composed by Michael in his childhood bedroom (“the room in which we had spent hours as kids recording pastiches of radio shows and jingles” his musical partner Andrew Ridgeley later recalled). The only people allowed into London’s Advision studios to cut the record were Michael, the engineer Chris Porter, and his two assistants. This heartstring-tugging song about lost love (sung by Michael and Ridgeley) proved to have a lasting appeal after its release on December 3, 1984. The memorable video for “Last Christmas” was filmed at Saas-Fee ski resort in Switzerland and featured backing singers Pepsi and Shirlie. – Martin Chilton

The Beach Boys: Little Saint Nick

Brian Wilson, founder of the Beach Boys, said he was out on a date in California when the idea for a Christmas song came into his head. He sat down and wrote the lyrics to “Little Saint Nick” – a song celebrating Santa Claus’s candy apple red bobsled – and then cut short his romantic night out to rush home and compose the music for the song (which was later also co-credited to Wilson’s cousin Mike Love). The song, which owes some of its structure to the band’s earlier hit “Little Deuce Coupé,” was released as a single in December 1963 and then included on the 1964 Capitol Records release The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album. Among the more unusual later cover versions of “Little Saint Nick” was one by John Denver and the Muppets. – Martin Chilton

Eartha Kitt: Santa Baby

In August 1953, songwriter Phil Springer was asked by music publishers at the Brill Building in New York to write a Christmas song for Eartha Kitt, the then-26-year-old Broadway star famed for her sexy stage persona. Springer joined forces with Joan Javits (who came up with the title) and penned “Santa Baby.” Springer, who used to write songs for Frank Sinatra, later recalled that he apologized for the light-hearted lyrics about a woman asking Santa for extravagant gifts, saying, “Gentlemen, this is not really the kind of music that I like to write. I hope it’s OK. It’s the best I could do.” The cheeky festive hit “Santa Baby” yielded a gold disc for Kitt in the US and since then the song has been covered by Madonna, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and Michael Bublé. – Martin Chilton

The Pretenders: 2000 Miles

Chrissie Hynde wrote “2000 Miles” as a heartfelt, stately tribute to her former bandmate and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, who died of an overdose in 1982. Set against a gorgeous carousel waltz of chiming guitars, Hynde’s sultry voice finds the perfect tone, suspended in seasonal remembrance between joy and sorrow, as she sings “2000 miles is very far through the snow, I’ll think of you, wherever you go.” The song reached No. 15 in the UK singles charts in December 1983. The music video for the song featured Hynde dressed up in a Salvation Army uniform with bells jangling and snow falling. In 2014, Hynde released a new version of “2000 Miles” on her solo album, Stockholm. “This version captures the mood of the Christmas season perfectly as it gets cold in Sweden, reindeer wander the streets freely and the snow was coming down,” Hynde said. There was also a lovely folk version released by Ireland’s Cara Dillon in 2018. – Martin Chilton

AC/DC: Mistress for Christmas

One of the funniest rock Christmas songs ever written? When AC/DC guitarists Malcolm Young and his younger brother Angus saw the tabloid headlines about businessman Donald Trump cheating on his wife Ivana with a beauty queen called Marla Maples (the daughter of an Elvis impersonator) they penned the song “Mistress For Christmas,” which appeared on their 1990 album The Razor’s Edge. Angus Young described the risqué lyrics (“I wanna ride on your reindeer honey/And ring the bells”) as a bit of “the ol’ fool-around” and told Guitar World that “I think the funniest song on Razor’s Edge is “Mistress For Christmas.” That song’s about Donald Trump. He was big news at the time, so we thought we’d have a bit of fun and humor with it.” – Martin Chilton

Queen: Thank God It’s Christmas

Queen’s standalone festive single “Thank God It’s Christmas” was released on November 27, 1984 and spent six weeks in the UK charts peaking at No. 21 (it was overshadowed by Band Aid’s supergroup charity triumph “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”). The bulk of the lyrics were written by drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May contributed the chorus that Freddie Mercury delivered in his own brilliant, inimitable style. “When it was almost finished, we presented it to Freddie, who loved it and did a beautiful vocal. I think it’s just the most understated vocal, and I love it, you know,” said May. Queen did not make a promotional video for the song at the time, but in 2019 the band released a touching music video which was animated and directed by Justin Moon. The concept for the video, which promotes the importance of protecting the welfare of all the creatures on earth, came directly from May and Taylor. – Martin Chilton

The Kinks: Father Christmas

One of the most unusual festive songs is “Father Christmas,” released as a single in November 1977 by The Kinks. The darkly witty song tells the story of a department store Santa who is attacked by a group of impoverished kids who demand that he gives them money instead of toys, telling him that he can donate his presents “to the little rich boys.” The track, which features Christmas bells, was written by Ray Davies, who dressed up as Father Christmas for the promotional video. Dave Davies, brother of Ray and the band’s guitarist, told ABC Radio that the song “was a lot of fun” to make when they cut it at Konk Studios, in Hornsey, London, adding that he loved its “aggression and bitterness.” Davies also said that one reason the song was so special to him was because of its guitar structure. “It was an opportunity to put interesting guitar parts in there…guitar riffs that sound great,” he explained. For anyone looking to have a rock-centric Christmas, this is a must-listen. – Martin Chilton

Elvis Presley: Blue Christmas

Elvis Presley loved the Ernest Tubb version of “Blue Christmas,” a 1948 song written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson. Presley issued his first version, with backing band The Jordanaires, on the 1957 release Elvis’ Christmas Album. In 2007, Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires revealed that Presley did not want to record “Blue Christmas” and recorded an over-the-top version that they thought would be rejected by the producers. “We thought that ‘oo-ooo-oooo’ was bad enough that they wouldn’t release it,” Stoker told The Chicago Sun Times about the signature backing vocals. In fact, Presley’s version became a Christmas classic, one beloved by Bruce Springsteen. Presley famously re-recorded “Blue Christmas” in 1968 during his “comeback concerts,” with Scotty Moore on guitar again. – Martin Chilton

Band Aid: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Solos by such stars as George Michael, Bono, Paul Young, and Boy George are the instantly recognizable highlights of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” one of the most momentous charity songs in the history of music. The track, recorded in London on November 25, 1984, and featuring an entire studio full of British pop stars, entered the UK chart at No.1 a few weeks later and stayed there for five weeks, well into January 1985. This Bob Geldof and Midge Ure composition, which sold 3.75 million copies in the UK alone, was written to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia. The song, which features the iconic lines “feed the world/let them know it’s Christmas time,” has been re-released several times and still makes the streaming charts every Christmas. “It was an amazing achievement,” said Ure. “When it came to recording it, we only had 24 hours to assign the artists their parts, record all the vocals, lay down Phil Collins’ drum track and mix the record.” – Martin Chilton

Brenda Lee: Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Brenda Lee described the song “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” as “a special, wonderful gift.” She was particularly pleased when her 1958 hit, recorded when she was just 13, gained a new lease of life in 1990 when it was featured in the film Home Alone. “That’s when it really took off with the youngsters,” Lee told Billboard. The original single, recorded for Decca Records, featured a cast of fine musicians, including drummer Buddy Harman and saxophonist Boots Randolph. A perfect addition to any Christmas playlist. – Martin Chilton

The Ronettes: Sleigh Ride

The Ronettes – who comprised lead singer Veronica Bennett, her elder sister Veronica and cousin Nedra Talley – were a girl group from Harlem, New York, who were picked to sing on Phil Spector’s 1963 compilation album A Christmas Gift For You. Among the three songs they cut for the album was the definitive version of the 1949 festive hit “Sleigh Ride.” The song, which started as an instrumental composed by Leroy Anderson, had lyrics added a year later by Mitchell Parish. It became the group’s second-highest chart hit in the US after “Be My Baby.” Their exuberant “Wall of Sound” version, which features the sound of a horse whinnying at the start and finish of the song and includes the backing lines “Ring-a-ling-a-ling, ding-dong-ding,” has become an essential Christmas track. It returned to the Billboard charts in 2020 when it was re-released. – Martin Chilton

Bob Seger: The Little Drummer Boy

The memorable opening lines of “The Little Drummer Boy” – “come, they told me/pa rum pum pum pum/A new born King to see/pa rum pum pum pum” – were written by former teacher Katherine K. Davis in 1941. “The Little Drummer Boy” was originally known as “Carol of the Drum.” There have been hundreds of versions over the years since, including by crooner Bing Crosby and jazz star Kenny Burrell, but one of the most heartfelt and affecting is by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullets, a track which heavily featured ex-Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer. Seger cut his version for the 1987 charity album A Very Special Christmas, a themed album featuring such stars as Sting, Bryan Adams, and Bon Jovi, and one that was released to raise money for the Special Olympics. – Martin Chilton

Looking for more? Discover the best Christmas songs of all time.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Markus

    December 3, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    ‘December Will Be Magic Again’, Kate Bush. Best Christmas song, imo.

  2. David

    December 5, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Huh? Not Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) By The Darkness?! Id there’s any track I can think of, apart from Slade’s Merry Xmas, this is the first track I would mention…

  3. David Chamberlin

    December 23, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    Sensational Alex Harvey Band–There’s No Lights on the Christmas Tree Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight

  4. Chris

    December 26, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    Christmas is the time to say I love you Billy Squire

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