Joan Jett and The Blackhearts Bad Reputation Nation

December 2012 News

Page updated on December 31, 2012
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Top 5 rock 'n' roll Christmas songs

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Tis the season for the radio to be filled with all sorts of holiday hits: traditional classics, modern renditions of old standards, and new originals fighting for their place in the Christmas song canon. To help you put together the perfect holiday party setlist, we asked Jacqueline Warwick, Dal musicologist and author of Girl Groups, Girl Culture: Popular Music and Identity in the 1960s, to share some of her favourite Christmas songs from the rock 'n' roll era.

Like most people, I suspect, I find the Christmas songs I cherish most are those that stir up memories of past Christmases, since this holiday more than any other centres around nostalgia. The best songs, though, are the ones that capture that sentiment while also sounding vibrant and hopeful!

1. The Crystals -- "Santa Claus is Coming to Town": Naturally my list begins (and ends, actually) with Phil Spector's 1963 Christmas album, which manages to produce new listening pleasures for me every year. The Crystals' take on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is a near-perfect evocation of childlike excitement about Christmas, and is definitely my favourite version of the song. It's a thrilling example of Spector's famous "wall of sound" production values, and the harmonies and changes to the melody introduced here have become standard in many other versions, the Jackson 5 (1970) and Bruce Springsteen (1975) among them.

2. JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS -- "The Little Drummer Boy": JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS' 1981 treatment of "The Little Drummer Boy" is another brilliant youthful performance: Jett is probably the only singer I know who manages to sneer sweetly! I love the brash edginess, and the way Jett rolls her "Rs". This is also, oddly, one of the few versions of this song to include a drum solo.

3. The Pretenders -- "2000 Miles": The Pretenders "2000 Miles" (1983) is bittersweet, the perfect soundtrack for reflecting on those we miss at Christmastime. The twinkling guitar tone and shimmering production suggest the sparkle of snowflakes in the air, and Chrissie Hynde's aching voice is enjoyably melancholy, equal parts wistful and joyful.

4. Feist -- "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming": The 16th century hymn "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" might be my favourite traditional Christmas carol, but its shifting metre and odd phrase lengths make it difficult to fit with a rock'n'roll groove. In my opinion, Feist's 2005 treatment does the best job at retaining the song's mood of quiet wonder in a contemporary -- but not cynical -- setting.

-- 5. Darlene Love -- "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)": And of course I conclude with Darlene Love's magnificent "Baby Please Come Home," introduced on Spector's 1963 A Christmas Gift to You album. Love's triumphant career, from exploited session singer to rock 'n' roll star, is one we can celebrate, and her masterful vocal performance, together with the grand orchestration, makes the song irresistible. It's no wonder that she has been asked to perform it on David Letterman's Christmas show every year since 1986! Last year's 25th anniversary performance is glorious.

JOAN JETT IS Rock 'n' Roll

In 1984, we were one of those families who didn't have cable. We had an old wooden television -- just one for the whole family -- with an antenna, no remote control and a handful of basic channels. My brother and I had heard of this thing called MTV, but far be it from us to know what it actually was. We had pieced together that it was some sort of radio-on-television, but that was about as much as we understood. Instead of watching music videos, my parents thought it was healthier for us at such young ages -- I was four and my brother was seven -- to listen to the music and should we want visuals to accompany the songs, we would make the videos ourselves.

As you can imagine, filming music videos became a regular weekend activity for us. We each had our respective songs to enact; for my brother, it was "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll," the great Bob Seger classic, and mine was, "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," JOAN JETT's transformative rock anthem. Something happened to me when those first chords powered through the speakers and the drums shook the stereo. It was a basic sound -- no frills or musical overindulgence. It was pure rock 'n' roll and it allowed me to leap off of couches for our VHS home camera, while I played the meanest air guitar in my neighborhood.

When I told this story to a friend of mine recently, she reflected on how significant it was that there was a female guitarist for me to play along with -- that I must have chosen to film this song in a subconscious solidarity of sorts. I hardly thought so, but who knows? I'd feel a bit more comfortable saying that at 4 years-old, I didn't do anything out of solidarity -- I didn't even know what that meant; I acted, instead, on pure emotional instinct. What drew me to JOAN JETT, and to "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," was simply the music -- the beat, the chorus, the way it sparked something in me that made me want to throw my tiny fists in the air, the way that it jumpstarted my adrenaline, and the way that it shook shyness from my core and ignited an instantaneous fire that shot through my veins.


One editor's 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot

Online Arts & Entertainment Editor Michael Norman was a pop music critic for The Plain Dealer from 1992 to 1999. He covered, among other things, the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1995 and is a member of the voting committee. The five artists that made his ballot:

Deep Purple: "Heavy metal wouldn't have existed without them," Norman said.

Rush: "Geddy Lee's voice would be a deal-breaker for me, but Neil Peart is one of the best musicians ever. Rush pushed prog-rock into areas no one else could."

N.W.A.: "Pioneers of the California hip-hop sound. Like them or hate them, the group's influence on hip-hop is inarguable."

Public Enemy: "One of the best examples of how rap can be social and political commentary."

JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS: "My guilty-pleasure pick. Rocked harder than many men in the hall with a great ability to blend pop sensibilities with a rock attitude."

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