Music of the Month: December

A look at our top holiday songs for the month of December.

Cali+and+Brianna+compile+a+list+of+their+top+songs+each+month+and+go+in+depth+with+them.

Peyton Cook

Cali and Brianna compile a list of their top songs each month and go in depth with them.

Cali Rowe and Brianna Nusom

Tis’ the season! For this month, we decided to write about holiday songs consisting of covers and original tracks from some of our favorite artists. We hope everyone has joyous and safe holidays! Enjoy the final edition of “MOTM” for this semester!

 

 

 

Want to see what else we’re listening to? Check out our Spotify accounts! Cali: Footos | The Fresh Fighter Brianna: Benusom ”

Cali’s picks:

 

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” by My Chemical Romance, “Christmastime in the 909” (2004)

A cover that drastically differs from Mariah Carey’s original, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is a track that should easily become a staple in any rock fan’s Christmas playlist. Like the original, the dynamic composition begins with soft vocals and a piano section. However, this lighthearted rhythm quickly transitions into the fast-paced and thrashing verse segment after a few quick cymbal hits. Throughout the composition, Ray Toro and Frank Iero’s guitars perfectly coincide together, but this can especially be heard in the verses that are riddled with Gerard Way’s beautifully disorganized vocals. Each chorus features greatly hooky guitar riffs, percussive drumming, and the harmonious background vocals that accompany Way. The second verse differs from the first verse as it includes a more pulsating guitar riff, a second soloing guitar, and lower-pitched vocals. After the second chorus, the band plays a rollicking rendition of the classic bridge, adding many tempo changes along the way. The bridge transitions right into the muted third verse that gradually crescendos into a loud pinch harmonic and the final rocking chorus. The outro consists of Way’s sporadic wails, a symphony of shredding guitars, and a slow fade out into silence.

 

“Hating You For Christmas” by Everclear, “So Much for the Afterglow” (1997)

An unorthodox and unconventional holiday song, “Hating You For Christmas” is a hidden track from Everclear’s epochal “So Much for the Afterglow.” The song describes the bitterness and heartache associated with resurfacing memories of exes during the holiday season. Playing after the thirty seconds of silence that follows the last listed track (“Like A California King”), the sharp number begins with cheerful indistinct chatter and sleigh bells that gradually fade into a rolling drum beat. When this rhythm section peaks in volume, the first verse begins with edged power chords and aggressive vocals that epitomize the subject matter of the tune. Throughout the song, there is a subtle string section that accompanies the vocals and many instrumental breaks. The verses and choruses hold much of the same structure until the bridge that is filled with feedback, prominent drum beats, and a reprisal of the string instruments. Following the bridge that contains much built up angst and energy, the band returns to one final chorus that eventually slows into a ritardando with delayed chords, a louder string piece, and the sarcastic last line; “Thanks for the Christmas card.” The ditty doesn’t truly end until the fitting sound of sleigh bells, a guitar playing “Jingle Bells,” and a quiet chamber chorus singing a small portion of “Silent Night” is heard. With a relatable theme and catchy refrains, this original track provides a lively dynamic that only heightens the holiday mood.

 

“Carol of the Bells” by August Burns Red, “August Burns Red Presents: Sleddin’ Hill, A Holiday Album” (2012)

A heavy take on a dated classic, “Carol of the Bells” is an exhibition of great metal musicianship and melodic adaptability. The composition begins with sleigh bells and the sound of dissonant church bells that loudly ring throughout. Once the bells finish their tune, the crunching guitars and sweet double bass begin to overpower the listener’s ears in a warped Christmas symphony. Completely instrumental, guitarists JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler, along with drummer Matt Greiner, truly shine throughout the impressive track, showing their musical prowess. Throughout the composition, there are a multitude of picking techniques used by the two dueling guitars that include distorted palm muting and stirring tremolo picking. The astounding number also features many raucous, yet fitting sprinklings of double bass that blend nicely with the random church bells that return from the intro. Towards the middle of the song, a churning metal riff takes precedence and following a sharp glissando, the track’s tempo and energy reach an overall peak before spiraling back into the normal song structure. The epic track ends with a driving drum roll and a final guitar chord before fizzling out into echoey feedback and the sound of sleigh bells.  

 

“Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)” by Shinedown, “Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)” (2006)

 Originally composed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, “Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)” is a captivating cover that amplifies the heaviness of the song while maintaining many similarities to the original. The ditty begins with a soft guitar riff and Brent Smith’s soothing vocals. After Smith coos the second “And so this is Christmas,” a few guitar mutes can be heard before Jason Todd carries into a louder verse section that includes a muffled guitar riff. The choruses of the song are emotional, just like the original, but are greatly supported by Smith’s ethereal and impressive vocals. In the dynamic second verse, the other band members sing background vocals in a calm manner until Todd plays a series of complex chords that bring a higher energy as the band continues into the second chorus. In the latter half of the song, Smith breaks into many stunning falsettos and extensive notes that exhibit his talent as a vocalist. The anthemic song ends with the line “War is over now” before fading away into silence. With a hearty alternate take that still encapsulates the pacifistic message of the original, this tune should garner more attention as one of the greatest covers of “Happy X-Mas,” as well as an outstanding rock holiday song.

 

“O Holy Night” by Weezer, “Christmas with Weezer” (2008)

With the origins of the song dating back to 1847 and covered by the likes of Mariah Carey, Josh Groban, Carrie Underwood, and Celine Dion, “O Holy Night” is one of the most renowned and well-known Christmas songs of all time. In this song, Weezer puts their signature alternative rock spin that brings both an overwhelming youthful energy and great sense of holiday cheer to the listener. The composition begins with a smooth guitar part and Rivers Cuomo’s blissful singing. This appeasing intro section is taken over by Brian Bell’s upbeat power chords that perfectly accompany Cuomo’s voice and guitar. Each chorus and pre-chorus are much louder and more powerful than the soothing verses that heighten the Christmas spirit contained within the number. Following the second chorus, Cuomo breaks into a moving guitar solo that is richly filled with feeling. After this riveting solo, the band carries on to the final chorus where Cuomo showcases his vast vocal range by hitting multiple high notes. The expressive number ends  with a faint reprisal of the intro riff before being enveloped by silence. One of the staples from Weezer’s lesser-known Christmas EP, “O Holy Night” should become a classic to Weezer and alternative rock fans alike.

 

Honorable Mentions

 

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Pretenders, “A Very Special Christmas” (1987)

One of the most famous Christmas songs, Pretenders successfully take on this soft ballad with rhythmic guitars, snappy percussion, and Chrissie Hynde’s amazing voice. The mesmerizing song is tied completely together with a mellow guitar solo. Hynde’s voice throughout the composition is very subdued, which contrasts some of her harsher punk singing in previous works. The song is part of the talent-filled “A Very Special Christmas” compilation album that served as a benefit to the Special Olympics.

 

“Please Come Home For Christmas” by The Eagles, “Please Come Home For Christmas” (1978)

A melancholic cover of the classic Charles Brown song, “Please Come Home For Christmas” starts with a few hits of piano keys before the blissfully sorrowful number begins. The verses contain things associated with holiday happiness and Christmas cheer, only to state how much the narrator misses doing all of these joyous things since his significant other left him. Timothy B. Schmit’s vocals beautifully blend with the staccato guitar chords of the verses. Nearing the end of the song, Don Felder begins a feeling-filled guitar solo that drifts into the last refrain, a series of smooth chords, and the return of the intro piano to close the track off. This moving song continued the emotional trend of stories of feeling heartbreak on Christmas that was started by Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” 

 

“Is This Christmas?” by The Wombats, “A Guide to Love, Loss & Desperation” (2007)

Beginning with natural harmonics and an excerpt from the classic holiday poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”), “Is This Christmas?” is a rocking Christmas song that describes how modern holiday celebrations have demeaned the holiday into almost a chore. The tune is extremely catchy through the offbeat guitar riffs and raw vocals courtesy of Matthew Murphy. Throughout the ditty, the English band incorporates a 2000s garage rock style of playing as well as many percussion instruments and sleigh bells in order to create a unique holiday track.

 

Brianna’s picks:

 

“Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “A Very Special Christmas 2” (1992)

As the opening track on the second album in the series to promote the Special Olympics, “Christmas All Over Again” is only among a few of the original tracks ― the rest being recorded as a cover or written and composed by someone else. “A Very Special Christmas 2” also features many big-time artists such Boys II Men, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Cyndi Lauper, and Jon Bon Jovi. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers include a slew of additional instruments  and accomplished musicians, adding to the holiday flair of the track with a harpsichord, multiple layered guitars, a harp, a marimba, percussions, saxophones, and synthesizer effects. Although this is not a classic holiday song, “Christmas All Over Again” may as well be with its distinctive Xmas-esque composition. The song introduces something new to the holiday genre instead of artists continuing to reproduce and alter classic (but recycled) material from previous artists. Keeping his iconic northern Florida drawl for the track, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers add originality to the vast holiday favorites and “cookie cutter” covers within the jolly genre. Years later, the track does become a classic. Just recently, “Christmas All Over Again” broke 40 million streams on Spotify, making it the most streamed track on “A Very Special Christmas 2” and was also covered recently by the Goo Dolls for their Christmas album in 2020; the track remains relevant through time. 

 

“Christmas Treat” by Julian Casablancas, “Phrazes For The Young” (2009)

Synonymous with its repeating chorus “I Wish It Was Christmas Today,” “Christmas Treat” is featured as a bonus track on Julian Casablancas’ debut solo album. “Christmas Treat” is his rendition of the Saturday Night Live skit “I Wish It Was Christmas Today,” where SNL performers Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, Chris Kattan, and Tracy Morgan join on stage to perform a spirit-lifting song. More commonly known for his time in American rock band The Stokes and his side project the Voidz, Casablancas keeps his droning vocals for the verses and edgy tone for the chorus of “Christmas Treat.” It’s easy to compare the two in reference to composition. Even by keeping the lyrics and similar structure, the SNL skit consists of more playful and lighthearted vibes due to the environment created onset, while Casablancas’ “Christmas Treat” flips the tune on its head by taking the moody atmosphere in his solo work and injecting it into his parody; turning into a feeling of absolute longing. 

 

“Thank God It’s Christmas” by Queen, “The Works (Deluxe Remastered Version)” (1984)

As the last track included on the remastered 2011 version of Queen’s album “The Works,” “Thank God It’s Christmas” was not originally included on any Queen album ― only appearing as the B-side of “A Winter’s Tale” in 1995 and later Queen’s “Greatest Hits III” (1999). “Thank God It’s Christmas” was written by Queen’s guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, with both contributing to the track with their respective instruments, but also on the synthesizers that become more apparent during the choruses. Taylor also intermixes sleigh bells between each verse. This slow, melodic, and powerful track proudly lays out the feelings that the holiday season evokes on its celebrants. Legendary and iconic musician Freddie Mercury gives yet another staggering vocals with his undeniable range and control with falsettos. 

 

“Run Rudolph Run” by Foo Fighters, “Run Rudolph Run” (2020)

Keeping the essence of Chuck Berry, the original writer of the track, Foo Fighters take a slightly rockified spin on the Christmas classic. The track includes amazing vocals and instrument performances from each member. Through the vocal tone, listeners (especially the avid-rock audience) are prominently able to recognize the vocals of the “nicest guy in rock n’ roll,” Dave Grohl. The late Taylor Hawkins continues the bar he set in his drum performances. Specifically for the holiday track, Hawkins increases the energy and establishes an undeniable force throughout the duration of the song. Additionally, Grohl, Pat Smear, and Chris Shiflett provide phenomenal guitar work between the layered riffs and Shiflett’s take on the guitar solo ― which proved to be just as intricate as his streamlined work in Foo Fighters, solo work, and other projects that he has been apart of. The slightly thunderous, but not overbearing, track creates a new stylistic version of Berry’s original. Foo Fighters’ “Run Rudolph Run” is all in all a rocking performance for their Amazon Holiday Plays performance

 

“Merry Christmas Baby” by Elvis Presely, “Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas” (1971)

Also known by many as his mononym Elvis, “Merry Christmas Baby” is the longest and most popular track on his second Christmas album; released about 15 years following his first holiday record “Elvis’ Christmas Album” (1957). The blues rendition of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers includes intermittent vocalise from the King of rock and roll, advanced piano playing from David Briggs, rockabilly styles with Charlie McCoy on the harmonica, syncopated drumming from Jerry Carrigan. Eddie Hinton provides an interesting contrast with his suppressed overdubbed guitar. As the 10th track on the album, “Merry Christmas Baby” adds a louder-than-life instrumental break where  each instrument simultaneously competes to stand among the rest. All the while, the session musicians create a phenomenal interlude to the track. 

 

Honorable Mentions:

 

“Christmas With the Devil” by Spinal Tap, “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984)

Opening with the dry guitar riff of Nigel Tufnel, the fictional English heavy metal band mocks the Christmas genre and holiday spirit with the dark and grimy narration highlighted in the track. It became a trend and new style for bands, especially among the hardcore and metal genres, to parody the seasonal genre. “Christmas With the Devil” is no exception. At one point, the song breaks into a drum solo with verse and chorus layered along with staggering guitar work by Tufnel. This leads into the amazing outro, interrupted briefly with a recitative from the fictitious band. 

 

“Back Door Santa” by Jet, “Back Door Santa” (2003)

Jet opens the track much like the way they do with any one of their original songs; Chris Cester enters with the drums, Mark Wilson joins the counterpart with his bass, leading to the guitar entrances from Nic Cester and Cameron Muncey. Jet’s “Back Door Santa” doesn’t stray too far from the original. Keeping some of the funk elements and tones from Clarence Carter’s original, “Back Door Santa” is a raunchy take on the staple Christmas figure, Santa Claus. The single released as a “Holiday Exclusive” with their debut studio album “Get Born,” Jet creates a rock rendition of Carter’s funk version to fit with the genre on Jet’s first album. Nic Cester’s vocal tone also makes Jet’s version more distinct through his Australian accent. 

 

“Santa God” by Pearl Jam, “Santa God” (2019)

Pearl Jam’s single “Santa God” is an original track by the influential grunge and rock group that hooked melomaniacs to the Seattle grunge movement. The bright guitar and piano highly contrast their established studio work of raucous guitars and abrasive drumming. Instead, Pearl Jam discusses simpler times – when adults were kids who had deep admiration toward Santa, as well as looking forward to the gift-receiving holiday. Through straightforward lyricism and well-executed harmonies from all voice participants, the band reminds listeners of the comfort in our elementary days with the underlying reality of growing up and maturing away from the innocent magic brought on by the holidays.