‘Tis the season… to hear Christmas music pretty much everywhere you go, whether you love it or don’t. But who first brought the holiday spirit to rock music?
The origins of Christmas music date all the way back to the fourth century. Various sources including Southern Living and Billboard cite “Jesus Refulsit Omnium” (Latin for “Jesus, Light of All the Nations”), written by St. Hilary of Poitier, as the very first Christmas hymn. The hymn was reportedly written after the first-ever recorded Christmas celebration, which took place on Dec. 25 in 336 A.D.
The English Christmas carols that we know today didn’t become more common until the 16th century, though, which was quite a while before rock ‘n’ roll even existed as a style of music. As of today, a bunch of rock and metal artists have covered holiday classics and even written their own original Christmas songs, so we wanted to explore the history of Christmas music in rock.
What Was the Very First Rock Christmas Song?
If you ask Google this question, the answer you’ll likely see come up the most is the 1957 song “Jingle Bell Rock,” which was performed by Bobby Helms, who was technically regarded as a country singer. However, a month before that song came out (in October of ’57), Elvis Presley — the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll — released a full album of Christmas songs packaged as Elvis’ Christmas Album.
“It’ll be a rock ’n’ roll Christmas,” Presley said during a press conference that year, according to the Elvis History Blog.
Featuring songs such as “Blue Christmas” and “Santa Claus Is Back in Town,” the album had a mix of the blues, gospel music and some Christmas carols. It was received pretty negatively by the media, with some calling it “sacrilegious,” particularly his cover of “White Christmas.” The Ohio Penitentiary News wrote that the original version of the song was “a song beloved until this creature recorded his barnyard version of it.”
Radio stations refused to play songs from the record, but it still managed to reach the top of the album chart during the holiday season that year anyway. So technically, any of the songs from this album can answer the question, but the two we mentioned just before probably fit the criteria for “rock” and “Christmas” the best.
Which Rock Artists Released Christmas Music After Elvis Presley?
As we already mentioned, “Jingle Bell Rock” came out a month after Presley’s Christmas album. The following year (1958), Chuck Berry‘s “Run Rudolph Run” became the latest addition to the rock Christmas catalog. Brenda Lee’s 1958 hit “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is considered rockabilly, so we’ll give it credit too,
By the ’60s, as rock music became more popular, so did Christmas rock music. The Beach Boys followed in Presley’s footsteps, releasing a full collection of holiday songs in 1964 appropriately titled The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album.
Since then, tons of rock and metal artists have dabbled in the holiday spirit to bring a little bit of rock and a little bit of brutality to fans’ playlists every year. See some of our favorite heavy holiday tracks here.
Most Metal Christmas Traditions
The most metal Christmas traditions.
Gallery Credit: Taylor Markarian