Right off the bat, my earliest Christmas memories were linked to pop music and rock ‘n’ roll, whether from the corny network holiday specials starring the Top 40 acts of the early-’70s, or the vinyl Ray Conniff records my dad played (the church choir-like sounds of Ray Conniff Singers doing “Here We Come A-Caroling” and “O Tannenbaum” echo in my head as I type). I remember seeing footage of Bing Crosby and David Bowie doing “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Peace on Earth” as a duet in 1977 and thinking to myself how weird it looked, despite not knowing either.
On the radio, I remember John Lennon’s bouncy “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” with the killer guitar sound, and Gene Autry’s welcoming “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” — sung by the late, great Thurl Ravenscoft (best known as the voice of “Tony the Tiger”) — from Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas was a longtime childhood favorite, as was anything Christmas-y by The Chipmunks, The Kinks, Billy Squire, Vince Guaraldi Trio, and Bruce Springsteen.
Like most of my peers, I grew increasingly sick of any sort of Christmas music, thanks largely to cable TV, commercial radio, and department store PAs.
Only recently have I considered the best and worst of Christmas and holiday tunes. Most of what I hear coming out of the speakers is garbage. After very little soul searching, however, my vote for the very best Christmas rock tune of all time swiftly goes to “Christmas with the Devil” by Spinal Tap, a hilariously boneheaded heavy metal anthem celebrating the evil side of the yuletime.
Spinal Tap performed “Christmas with the Devil” during an episode of Saturday Night Live in May 1984 after being interviewed by actor Barry Bostwick, during which guitarist Nigel Tufnel explains that “the original Christmas” was a devil running around with his tail in his hand, going up to folks and saying, “It’s Christmas … better stay away from here … poke-poke,” after which he’d stab them with the “fork on the end of his tail.” Bassist Smalls added, “We’re not advocating Satanism. Man’s relationship with the Supreme Evil One is a very private affair. The song is just a depiction, imagining what’s happening with Satan this time of year.” For sure.
Written by Tufnel, “Christmas with the Devil” reportedly was “inspired by a dream he had.” Officially, a version of “Christmas with the Devil” was released in 1984 as a 7″ single, backed with “Christmas with the Devil (Scratch Mix)” on Enigma Records (or, keeping with the film’s story line, Polymer Records). As the song faded out, a message announced: “This is Spinal Tap, wishing you and yours the most joyous of holiday seasons. God bless us everyone.” The band recorded a new version of the song as a bonus track for their brilliant 1992 comeback album Break Like the Wind.
“The elves are dressed in leather and the angels are in chains / the sugar plums are rancid and the stockings are in flames / There’s a demon in my belly and a gremlin in my brain / There’s someone up the chimney hole and Satan is his name,” went the first verse. Saying its lyrics “promoted evil,” NBC refused to allow Tap to perform the song during a 1992 reunion special, despite the fact that they performed it on the network’s own Saturday Night Live in ’84. Go figure.
Bah. Humbug. Merry Christmas. Rock and roll.
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