17 underrated and underplayed Christmas songs of the 1970s
Image: Wizzard - "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" / Harvest Records
Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" might be the most divisive Christmas song in existence. To some, the twee keyboard tune sounds like twinkling Tannenbaum lights; to others, it is the sound of cold shivers up and down the spine. But there is one thing about the 1979 single that we can all agree on — it gets a lot of airplay around the holidays.
No wonder, Paul is a Beatle, after all. Still, it got us thinking about less often heard holiday songs by other Beatles — which got us thinking further about other Xmas tracks that deserve more spins.
The 1970s is an overlooked decade in general when it comes to Christmas classics. Sure, you hear the McCartney, José Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad," the Jackson 5's "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," and, well, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" in every store, but there are dozens of deeper cuts. And they are gems.
It was fairly standard practice to stick a Christmas song on a regular album in the '70s. They were not merely relegated to Christmas albums. And the variety! The decade offered outlaw country Christmas cuts, funky Santa jams, glittering glam stompers, romantic ballads and so much more. Here are our favorites.
Roberta Flack - "25th of Last December"
No. 28 on Billboard Easy Listening
Not every Xmas tune needs to be merry and bright. In fact, melancholy and blue is a nice change of pace. Flack's mellow acoustic number is for those who appreciate the sentiment of Elvis' "Blue Christmas" but want a little more ice and soul.
Image: Atlantic Records
Kenny Loggins - "Celebrate Me Home"
No. 1 on Billboard Christmas Airplay
A track off his 1977 debut album, "Celebrate Me Home" is one of those Christmas songs that works year-round. A patient piano introduction leads to a choir-filled chorus. Listen to it to calm down in a bustling airport.
Image: Columbia Records
John Denver - "Christmas for Cowboys"
No. 58 on Billboard Hot 100
Here's one for those who eat up our Western shows like a tin of beans. Over a sparse acoustic guitar, Denver dreams of "blankets and reins" over "football and eggnog and Christmas parades."
Image: RCA Records
Kurtis Blow - "Christmas Rappin'"
No. 60 on Billboard R&B
When it comes to classic hip-hop Christmas jams, Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" gets all the attention. But this earlier, primitive rap boogie will light up any party. The Beastie Boys sampled it years later.
Image: Mercury Records
George Harrison - "Ding Dong, Ding Dong"
No. 36 on Billboard Hot 100
We shouldn't be surprised that George remains overshadowed by Paul's "Wonderful Christmastime" and John's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" when it comes to holiday classics. To be fair, this single off his underrated album Dark Horse is technically a New Year's anthem, but with its chiming bells and upbeat mood, it merits a spin every time the big ball drops at midnight.
Image: Apple Records
James Brown - "Hey America"
No. 105 on Billboard
This deeply funky number failed to crack the Hot 100, remaining in the "Bubbling Under" chart, but it deserved more love. A call for peace over a busy shuffle, "Hey America" will get your feet moving faster than Blitzen's.
Image: King Records
Greg Lake - "I Believe in Father Christmas"
No. 95 Billboard Hot 100
Those who love the primitve synthesizers on "Wonderful Christmastime," should dig this epic prog tune from the Emerson, Lake & Palmer bassist. It finishes like John Williams film score.
Image: Atlantic Records
Merle Haggard - "If We Make It Through December"
No. 1 on Billboard Hot Country Songs
Even the toughest of the tough get tender around Christmas.
Image: Capital Records
Jim Croce - "It Doesn't Have to Be That Way"
No. 64 on Billboard Hot 100
With its golden glow and mellow vibes, this Croce Christmas cut perfectly encapsulates the singer-songwriter movement of the era. With a voice shot through with nostalgia, the folkie weaves a wonderful tale.
Image: ABC Records
Elton John - "Step Into Christmas"
No. 17 on Billboard Christmas Singles
How could you not love a single that comes bundled with a B-side called ""Ho, Ho, Ho (Who'd Be a Turkey at Christmas)"? Considering how big it was in 1973, this giddy, galloping pop song hardly gets enough air on Black Fridays.
Image: DJM Records
Wizzard - "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday"
No. 4 on UK Singles Chart
We are now firmly in the glam portion of this last. And what a joy that is. With all the tinsel and lights, Christmas is a holiday meant to glitter. So you need a little glam. Especially when it comes courtesy of a long-haired man wearing KISS makeup. Despite the outward metal appearance, Wizzard conjures up vintage Phil Spector sounds here.
Image: Harvest Records
Slade - "Merry Xmas Everybody"
No. 1 on UK Singles Chart
A standard in Great Britain, Slade's stomper is sadly underplayed in the States. It beat out Wizzard for the top of the charts in December 1973 — the glammiest Xmas ever. In our opinion, this is the greatest rock & roll Christmas sing-along ever.
Image: Polydor Records
Mud - "Lonely This Christmas"
No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart
A year after Wizzard and Slade, Mud turned gold with this doo-wop flashback. With echoes of Elvis, this slow dance was perfect for the dawn of the Happy Days era.
Image: RAK Records
Showaddywaddy - "Hey Mr. Christmas"
No. 13 on UK Singles Chart
The Sha Na Na of the U.K., Showaddywaddy cheered up kiddies with this bubbly cut in 1974. It sounds a like a choir of Peanuts characters are belting along.
Image: Arista Records
Dana - "It's Gonna Be a Cold, Cold Christmas"
No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart
The Irish crooner might have easily been mistaken for the Carpenters of Captain & Tennille in 1975. She later became a Member of the European Parliament.
Kate Bush - "December Will Be Magic Again"
No. 29 on UK Singles Chart
In 1979, Kate Bush hosted her very own baroque and delightfully bonkers Christmas special on British television. This was the standout number from the showcase, as the 21-year-old sang of "Bing Crosby," "mistletoe," "mystery" and "magic." It charted a year later in 1980.
Chris de Burgh - "A Spaceman Came Travelling"
First released in 1975, this track gained far more popularity a decade later on the heels of De Burgh's breakthrough "Lady in Red." He turned the Christmas tale into something extra-terrestrial, but the big hook here is the catchy "Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na" in the chorus.
Image: A&M Records