Rock stars pick their favourite Christmas songs of all time
When it comes to Christmas music, rock stars are no different from the rest of us. Some holiday tunes have them smiling and singing, raising their glasses of Yuletide cheer, while others have them simply staring out the window, lost in quiet nostalgia.
On the other hand, there are those certain dreaded Christmas ditties that have them gripping their ears in agony, yelling, "Turn it off! Turn it OFF!"
See? They're just like the rest of us.
MusicRadar asked 11 greats to name their favourite Christmas song of all time. Surprisingly, many of their choices are surprisingly traditional. But that just underscores the sheer magic of Christmas: no matter who you are, on the 25th of December, you get to be a child again.
Joe Satriani - Silent Night
"I have great memories of walking the snowy streets of Long Island singing Christmas carols with my friends on many a Christmas eve. The song that always got to me musically was Silent Night. It's so elegantly simple and beautiful, and it has a special power that brings performers together in a kind of spiritual concentration.
“Jeff Campitelli, Stuart Hamm and I recorded a version a few years back that captured some of that magic in instrumental form for a Merry Axemas CD. I just wish we could have made the improvisation section twice as long!"
Listen: Silent Night
Alex Lifeson: The Little Drummer Boy - The Harry Simeone Chorale
“I always liked The Little Drummer Boy because of the tonality of the song. There was always something very plaintive about it. It wasn’t one of those “up,” joyous Christmas songs, which tend to get a little overdone. Actually, I did a version of it a while ago that came out nice.
“On the other hand, I do like upbeat Christmas songs, so I’d say my second pick would be Joy To The World – not anybody’s version, in particular; I just like the song itself. It’s spirited and very “Ho, ho, ho!” [laughs]
Listen: The Little Drummer Boy - The Harry Simone Chorale
Will Lee: The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
“By far, the one Xmas song that holds up for me is Nat King Cole's version of The Christmas Song. In the right hands (or voice, in this case), a great song becomes timeless, and that's one version I can hang with, year after year.
“Not to be a grinch, but the one song that I find the most annoying is I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - not even The Jackson Five could make it sound hip!”
Listen: The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
Billy Corgan: Merry Christmas, Baby - Charles Brown
“I love the version by Charles Brown. He’s got that lyric “I’m all lit up like a Christmas tree” – that line alone practically makes this my favorite Christmas song.
“To me, a truly great Christmas song should have a bit of a dark edge to it. Merry Christmas, Baby has sensuality, it’s fun, and it's kind of sly. It’s definitely not typical.
“Songs like Frosty The Snowman are creepy. Think about it: It’s about a snowman that comes to life. That's really creepy. Can you imagine coming home and having to call your parents? ‘Uh, Dad…This snowman outside is talking to me. He’s got a carrot for a nose, some button eyes, and he’s walking all around.’ Your dad would be like, ‘Yeah, right.’
Just as an aside, there was always something fascinating to me about Christmas songs. By and large, there were recorded during the summer months. All these studio people in California had to come in from the hot sun and make believe it was Christmas.”
Listen: Merry Christmas, Baby - Charles Brown
Steve Vai: Christmas Time Is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio
“I would have to say that my favorite Xmas song is Christmas Time Is Here from the Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi, and my favorite performance of it is the one that I did with my band that appears on the Merry Xmas CD.
“It’s not that I think it's the best performance of this song, but it was such a wonderful experience recording it with the Ultra Zone band, which consisted of Mike Keneally, Mike Mangini and Phillip Bynoe. There was a lot of love in that band, and I have a very special memory of being together and laying it down.”
Listen: Christmas Time Is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio
Joe Bonamassa: White Christmas - Bing Crosby
“White Christmas, it just has to be White Christmas. And you can’t get a better version of the song than Bing Crosby's. He owns it from top to bottom.
“There’s certain songs that are iconic, and White Christmas is like a monument. If you played it to me on a beach in the Bahamas in July, I’d suddenly want to be sitting by the fire on a snowy day while drinking a glass of eggnog.
“When you think about it, there’s not that many great Christmas songs. But White Christmas’ melody is so good, you could put other lyrics to it and it’d still be a classic.”
Listen: White Christmas - Bing Crosby
Paul Gilbert: Another Lonely Christmas - Prince
“I have to admit that most of the traditional Christmas songs make me frown and wince at this point. The chorus in The Little Drummer Boy that goes "A rum pa pum pum" is like sonic Chinese water torture to me. And the rest of those tunes just make me feel like a vast conspiracy of mall owners are trying to persuade me to shop, shop, shop.
“I do like some of the jazz modulations in The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire), but the performances are often too schmaltzy to bear. Somehow, I do like Little Saint Nick by The Beach Boys (who can resist Brian Wilson's innocent falsetto? Certainly not me).
“But today, I'm going to choose Another Lonely Christmas by Prince. When he sings, "Darling, darling...You should have been THERE" and "You are the only one I CARE for," I believe him. The performance sounds like he probably played all the instruments himself, which makes the atmosphere that much more lonely. If I could go to the mall and hear Prince singing "Last night…I had another lonely Christmas"…oh, how I would shop.”
Listen: Another Lonely Christmas - Prince
Jon Petrucci: O Holy Night - Jon Anderson
“My favorite Christmas song is O Holy Night as sung by Jon Anderson. For me, listening to this song immediately evokes the spirit of Christmas. Being a huge Yes fan, it's so amazing hearing Jon's interpretation.”
Listen: O Holy Night - Jon Anderson
Steve Morse: Christmas Secrets - Enya
“Let me sort of recuse myself, since I'm very happy with some of the Christmas recordings I've been a part of, but I'll leave those aside in the spirit of not self promoting. Enya's Christmas Secrets is one of my favorites, because it is just so beautifully done, in her typical fashion.
“Sometimes people encounter sadness and loss during the Christmas season, and this is a great song to listen to while struggling with the loss of someone important in your life. Right afterwards, listen to Jinglebell Rock, any version, to hear the happy side of the holidays.”
Listen: Christmas Secrets - Enya
Zakk Wylde: I'll Be Home For Christmas - Sarah McLachlan
“There’s a bunch of Christmas songs I like, things like O Little Town Of Bethlehem and White Christmas. That Little Drummer Boy thing that Bing Crosby did with David Bowie? That was pretty cool, putting those guys together.
“But if I had to pick one favorite, it would be Sarah McLachlan’s version of I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Her voice is incredible; she’s one of the finest singers out there. What she does on this song is beyond extraordinary. The whole Christmas album [Wintersong] she did is great. You’ve gotta have this one in the house.”
Listen: I'll Be Home For Christmas - Sarah McLachlan
Glenn Tipton: White Christmas - Bing Crosby
“I have to say, I’m not that much of a Christmas song guy. But I am something of a romantic at heart, so it’s hard for me to ignore something like White Christmas. You put that song on, you look out the window – particularly if it's snowing outside – it’s hard not to feel a warm glow.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in a heavy metal band or whatever, a song like White Christmas always gets you feeling a little emotional. There’s been hundreds of versions over the years, I’m sure, but nobody can top Bing Crosby. It’s his signature song, and he really put the right spirit into it.”