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Top 10 non-traditional Christmas songs

Classic rock holiday originals

By

Hey, I like to roast a chestnut or dash through the snow as much as the next person, but I also enjoy the non-traditional holiday music that opens a window into how artists (and their audiences) truly view the Christmas holiday season. These are a few of my favorite such things.

John Lennon - "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"

John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Harlem Community Choir - Happy Xmas (War is Over)
Capitol Records

Written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono as an anti-war protest song, "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" has been covered so many times by so many artists it has virtually become a Christmas holiday standard since its release in 1971. It is easily the best known non-traditional holiday song, as performed by Lennon, Ono and the Harlem Community Choir.

Listen to "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"

Jimi Hendrix - "Little Drummer Boy"

Jimi Hendrix Little Drummer Boy / Silent Night / Auld Lang Syne
Legacy Recordings

Jimi Hendrix was anything but traditional. His screeching electric version of "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock proved that. He would go on apply a similarly non-traditional touch to holiday songs. A Christmas 1969 jam that included "Little Drummer Boy," "Silent Night" and "Auld Lang Syne" was released as an EP titled Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Watch a live performance of "Little Drummer Boy"

Joni Mitchell - "River"

Joni Mitchell Blue
Warner Bros / WEA

Joni Mitchell never intended "River" to be a Christmas song. It's about the end of a love affair. But the story is set at Christmas time and Mitchell's vivid word picture has made it one of the most often covered songs found on other artists' holiday albums.

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

But it don't snow here
It stays pretty green
I'm going to make a lot of money
Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on

Listen to a 1970 live performance of "River"

From Blue CD, LP, MP3

Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Skynyrd Family"

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Skynyrd Family
Sanctuary Records Group

Given all that the Lynyrd Skynyrd "family" has endured over the years -- the 1977 plane crash that left six band members and crew dead, and the deaths in recent years of keyboardist Billy Powell and bassist Ean Evans -- "Skynyrd Family" has particular meaning. It is lively country rock in which the message of being with family for the holidays rings through.

Well this bus we ride we call our home
And it's what keeps us moving on
But eleven months on this road
I'm going home

Family's there trimming the tree
Cooking that turkey waiting on me
Just like Santa I'll be right on time

From Christmas Time Again CD, MP3, DVD

Emerson Lake & Palmer - "I Believe in Father Christmas"

Emerson Lake & Palmer Works Volume 2
Shout! Factory

Originally a Greg Lake solo single in 1975, "I Believe in Father Christmas" became an Emerson Lake & Palmer track two years later. In spite of what the title suggests, the song has a fairly dark theme about the contrast between our view of Christmas as children and as adults.

They said there'll be snow at Christmas,
They said there'll be peace on earth,
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the virgin's birth.
I remember one Christmas morning,
A winter's light and a distant choir,
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire.

Watch Greg Lake perform "I Believe in Father Christmas"

From ELP Works Volume 2 CD,LP,MP3

The Moody Blues - "The Spirit of Christmas"

The Moody Blues The Spirit of Christmas
Polydor Records

Most any of the Justin Hayward/John Lodge-penned holiday songs on The Moody Blues' 2003 Christmas album could easily be favorites, but the gentle delivery of Lodge's powerful lyrics makes "The Spirit of Christmas" stand out.

Where are the wise men when they're wanted?
Nowhere to be seen, like thieves in the night
The desert is drifting every closer
The world won't sleep well tonight

Where did the spirit of Christmas go?
Lost in the desert or covered in snow
Where did the spirit of Christmas go?
If you can find it, please let me know

Listen to "The Spirit of Christmas"

From December CD, MP3

Jethro Tull - "First Snow on Brooklyn"

Jethro Tull First Snow on Brooklyn
The Ian Anderson Group of Companies

Ian Anderson's lyrics create a sharply focused picture of a cold, snowy Christmas day, and the possibility of a lost romance rekindled. This quintessential Jethro Tull song is short on tinsel and pretty ribbons but long on realism.

Some things are best forgotten, some are better half-remembered
I just thought that I might be there on your, on your Christmas night
And the first snow on Brooklyn makes a lonely road to travel
Cold crunch steps that echo as the blizzard bites

Listen to "First Snow on Brooklyn"

From The Jethro Tull Christmas Album CD, MP3

Canned Heat - "Christmas Boogie"

Canned Heat Christmas Album
Fuel 2000

Like most Canned Heat music, "Christmas Boogie" is catchy, infectuous, and decidedly non-traditional.

Listen everybody to what I got to say
We're gonna celebrate Christmas, do it the Canned Heat way
So put some love in your heart and be of good cheer,
And boogie on down, gonna rock the New Year

Listen to "Christmas Boogie"

38 Special - "It's Christmas and I Miss You"

38 Special It's Christmas and I Miss You
Sanctuary Records

38 Special's bittersweet song about missing absent loved ones at Christmas time manages to be simultaneously sad and hopeful, and is considerably less raucous than typical 38 Special fare.

And I will hear you
When Christmas bells are ringing
I will touch you
Though we're far apart
And I will feel you
When I hear the voices singing
You're a shining star burning in my heart
And when the bells ring
I will hear you in the music
When the angels sing
It will be our song

Listen to "It's Christmas and I Miss You"

From Wild-Eyed Christmas Night CD,MP3

Carole King - "New Year's Day"

Carole King A Holiday Carole
Hear Music

Carole King calls A Holiday Carole "an homage to songwriters" but, sadly, none of the songs were written by her. The non-traditional highlight, co-written by King's daughter, Louise Goffin (the album's producer) and Guy Chambers, is "New Year's Day" which was intentionally created to sound like it was a Carole King song.

It's a time to remember your blessings
It's a time to remember your goals
All the people in your life
Be they new friends or old
And it could be the time of your life
Everything's gonna turn out alright
It'll be okay, in every way makin' it better
It's New Year's Day

From A Holiday Carole CD, MP3

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