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In a previous article for Drumming Review, I mentioned that I’d recently been doing some work travel. Right now, I’m spending some time working on a few music projects in Helsinki. Like most places, Winter here is dark, cold and also just a little bit beautiful.
Christmas is just around the corner now, and that raises a very important question for us drummers: which songs are we going to rock out with over the Christmas period??
If you’re running around in a blind panic – trying to pick the best tracks for the season – then fear not!
Here’s a list of twelve great drum songs (the best ones, in my opinion) for you to slam out over the festive season.
1) Wizard – I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day
In my opinion, this is the archetypal Christmas song, and it maybe has the best Christmas video too.
Sung by a man with a beard to rival Santa Claus’, this track skips along with more swing than a pendulum. It wouldn’t be out of place if it was played in the North Pole from dawn til dusk!
While you’re playing this one, try not to lose the pocket. It’s easy to get excited and plough through the song without really considering important things like groove and timing, but good drumming principles still apply; even in a Christmas song. Lock into time, and have fun!
2) Slade – Merry Christmas Everybody
Another absolute classic, Merry Christmas Everybody is sure to get those X-mas endorphines flowing. It’s another track with a neat shuffle feel, too.
Again, be sure to stay in the pocket with the bass, and keep the shuffle tight and precise to avoid everything sounding a little bit messy.
Finally, feel free to award yourself some bonus points if you do the “IT’S CHRISTMAAAAAS!!!” shout near the end of the track.
3) Band Aid – Feed the World
I don’t know if this one has travelled to the States but if it hasn’t, it’s really worth a listen – and a playthrough. Featuring Boy George, Sting and Paul Weller amongst others, this track was recorded to support an anti-famine campaign in Ethiopia. The song starts with a kick and tom groove, before bursting into eighties synth-pop heaven.
Bono delivers the famous line, “Well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you” (which sounds a bit mean on the surface, but I understand the sentiment). As the track progresses, there’s even a half-time break down to enjoy – be sure to hammer it out!
4) Elton John – Step Into Christmas
My brother calls this track ‘The Evil Christmas Song’, because it sounds a bit like good old Elton is singing:
“Santa hates Christmas, Santa hates Christmas… even the demons sing along with him…”
Whether Elton is singing about demons, Christmas – or both, this song is stupidly catchy, and full of the kind of optimism that we all need in 2020.
This track also has an interesting feel, because it’s always on the front foot, without speeding up. Try to keep the groove ticking along nicely, without going overboard and moving too fast.
5) Sufjan Stevens – Sister Winter
Here’s a curve ball (which ‘Twelve Days of Drum-mas’ list would be complete without one??).
This beautiful, ambient track breathes out Winter with every wistful note. It starts reflectively – perhaps even mournfully – but begins to soar about half-way through, before building towards an impressive ending.
I really like playing to this track because even in the quiet sections (especially in the quiet sections), there’s an opportunity to be creative and musically delicate.
Try to play something all the way through the track, even though drums don’t play throughout the whole recording. Explore cymbal sounds, gentle grooves which don’t accent the two and four, and try
to build layer-upon-layer as the song progresses. You could experiment with turning the snare wires off, using cross-sticking or playing ghost strokes on the floor tom to create a dark, sombre mood. When you get towards the climax at the end, be sure to play out nice and loud!
6) Falling Up – Emanuel
This is another track which you may not know. It deserves more attention though, in this humble Londoner’s opinion!
Formed in Albany, Oregon, Falling Up were an experimental alt-rock band and in 2013 they released Silver City – a Christmas album with an indie twist. Their version of the Christmas Carol ‘Come O Come Emanuel’ features washy synths, a crisp drum sound and some beautiful female vocals.
Pay special attention to some of the builds within the songs, and look out for the subtle 7/8 section which could trip you up as the song progresses.
7) Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas is You
This festive favourite is sure to get everyone dancing at the Christmas party, but it can be tricky to drum along to it. Mariah Carey’s Christmas contribution features yet another fast shuffle feel, and it’s
pretty tricky to keep on top of without everything sounding lumpy and clumsy. Nail those big, triplet-y snare fills, lock in with the bass and try not to speed up over the course of the track.
8) Wham – Last Christmas
It’d be absolutely criminal to leave this song off a list of Christmas songs.
It’s a lot simpler than some of the others mentioned in this article, but it’s no less fun to play. Play the snare on the 2 + 4 and keep a steady groove all the way through.
Because of this track’s moderate tempo, you could even use it as a chance to try out a few linear fills and to catch some fun hits – just don’t tell any music purists if you do!
9) The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
Speaking personally, I used to hate this song! It used to wind me up beyond belief.
That all changed once I realized how groove-laden the bass line is. It’s possibly the funkiest Christmas song around! Use this track as an opportunity to play around with ghost strokes, kick independence, open hi-hats and to practice catching the pre-chorus hits in an interesting way. There’s also a great disco feel throughout the chorus, featuring sixteenth notes on the hi hat. These sixteenths really tie everything together nicely.
(By the way, here’s an entire article on various hi hat subdivisions, if you’re interested in thinking more about them)
10) The Pogues – Fairytale of New York
One for the grown-ups, maybe – but nothing says ‘Christmas’ like a drunken Irish couple fighting about their past, present and future. Played in 6/8, with a gruff, folk-y vibe, this track brings something a little different to a Christmas drum-list.
Allow yourself to be a little scrappy here – it’s not a song which demands perfection. Inject plenty of energy into the track and allow your playing to be a little rugged around the edges. A couple of Guinesses might help to oil the wheels, too!
11) Brenda Lee – Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree is often overlooked here in the UK.
It’s a song you hear in shops by accident, rather than one that you’d deliberately listen to the moment it hits 1st December. Nevertheless, it’s a really great track to perfect a natural swing feel. It’s also a good
choice for practicing brush work too. Try and explore the dynamic range of the track for all its worth – building through the chorus towards each stop, and then breaking into a softer groove for the verses.
Keep the tempo ticking over too – the track skips along a little quicker than you might imagine on first listen.
12) Coldplay – Christmas Lights
Maybe this is an unconventional choice, but for me it conjours up an image of cozy English pubs and the bright lights of London on a cold Winter’s night. Sure, it’s a little bittersweet, but it has a certain hopeful quality too. This track is a chance to build a song in layers. Start on the hats or the ride, and just keep time on the one, two, three and four. As the track picks up a little, you can change to eighth
notes. Next, you’ll hear that there’s a cross-stick on each quarter note, giving the song extra energy and life. Finally, the track builds into a big, pint-swinging feel which could fill anything from your family living room to Wembley Stadium.
There’s another random bar of 7/8 in this track (what is it with Christmas songs and odd-time signatures??), but don’t let that throw you.
Finally, keep an ear out for the rit which happens about midway through the refrain. Phew – there’s a lot to remember on this one!
So, that was my definitive list of the top Christmas drum songs, and I’d like to finish by saying:
Sorry. I’m really sorry!
I know what I did. And it was wrong of me. I missed your favorite Christmas song!
But I promise I didn’t do it on purpose, there are just so many classics to choose from: Shakin’ Stevens,
John Lennon and Chris de Burgh, Jingle Bells, Lonely this Christmas and Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland.
Writing a list like this is an absolute mine-field. I feel brave to even attempt it!
But hey: just because your favourite seasonal song isn’t on the list here, it doesn’t mean you can’t play it in the comfort of your own bedroom, living room or basement!
Whichever tracks you choose to rock out with this Christmas, I hope your festive season is filled to the brim with great food, too much drink, an army of great people and a whole load of drumming.
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!!
About the Author
Chris Witherall is a pro drummer, producer and songwriter from London, England. He loves talking about music, and helping people to reach their music goals.