The energy and aggression of rock music wouldn’t seem to be a good fit for the solemnity of Christmas songs, but as this list demonstrates, sometimes it turns out to be a winning combination. Some of these holiday rock songs are sincere, while some are irreverent. But whether it’s a band covering a classic or an artist expressing his own sentiments about the season, here are some songs that will make your yuletide very memorable.
With tongue slightly in cheek, U2 turn the ‘60s girl-group song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” into an arena-rock sing-along. Bono croons the lyrics about being stuck alone during the holidays while holding out hope that your special someone will be arriving soon. Their version was released in 1987 around the time that U2 were beginning their worldwide domination thanks to The Joshua Tree, and this song was a rare moment of lightheartedness from the very-serious-at-the-time rockers.
One of the giddiest salutes to holding onto your childhood holiday spirit well into adulthood, the Killers’ “A Great Big Sled” is pure happiness. “I wanna roll around like a kid in the snow,” proclaims singer Brandon Flowers, and the euphoric music never lets up behind him. Inspired by the success of this 2006 Christmas song, the band would make another yuletide tune the following year – which you’ll find later on this list.
The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the ‘90s’ most ethereal bands, so it makes sense that frontman Billy Corgan would be able to write a really pretty Christmas song. And also since his band always valued the importance of sincerity, their “Christmastime” is as heartwarming as one might expect. You can practically hear the snow falling as Corgan pulls out the flutes, bells and strings for this majestic song.
The Walkmen express a familiar sentiment in their holiday song: Why can’t we be happy and merry all year long like we are at Christmas? As its title suggests, “Christmas Party” finds frontman Hamilton Leithauser surrounded by loved ones in a festive mood, but he’s secretly lamenting that soon it’ll all be over and regular life will begin again. His solution to getting over his sadness? Drinking.
For a brief period in the mid-‘90s, Hootie & the Blowfish provided feel-good rock to the masses. Giving this Christmas perennial a typically laidback presentation, the band turn the tune into a cozy, back-porch ode to being close to those you love during the holidays. This band deserved a lot of the criticism they received during their career for being such lightweights, but they’re well equipped for a comforting song like this. Plus, singer Darius Rucker really does has some nice pipes.
Want a really inappropriate holiday song? Then try “Christmas in Hollywood” from this pack of snot-nosed rap-rockers. Underage drinking, petty crime, a pervert disguising himself as Santa – it’s just another day in the ‘hood with Hollywood Undead. You’ll either flip this song off in 10 seconds or laugh uncontrollably all the way through. But be warned: It’s definitely not safe for work.
How do you retain the spirit of a done-to-death Christmas tune while giving it a fresh take? Phantom Planet come up with a pretty good answer to that question with their version of “Winter Wonderland.” The Los Angeles indie-rock group add some groove to one of the season’s most tranquil tunes, and the result is a sprightly, sunny rendition of an old favorite.
Blink-182 once said that “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” was about the fact that Christmas was the one day of the year you had to be nice to the people you hate the rest of the time. Recorded during the time they were putting together the Dude Ranch album, this sarcastic, bratty pop-punk song captures the band as they were becoming more confident as songwriters. Of course, they still enjoyed thumbing their nose at polite society -- the song’s narrator hates everything about Christmas and ends up taking a baseball bat to some carolers. It doesn’t have a happy ending.
A B-side on the band’s “One Step Closer” single, “My December” is one of the sadder rock songs about the pronounced loneliness people can feel during the holidays. Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington laments that he has no one to share his December with as he sits in his big, empty house and the snow falls outside. The music matches his desolation – the skeletal drum beat and forlorn keyboards embody weariness in a way that’s hard to shake.
Covering John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” the Used’s Bert McCracken hooked up with the percussion group Street Drum Corps to deliver a faithful, rousing version of the seminal antiwar song. To pound the theme home, the video to this song presents a family in which a son is missing his father, a military man, whose whereabouts are unknown.