Get Close by The Pretenders

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Get Close by The PretendersThe fourth overall album by The Pretenders, the 1986 release Get Close, shows a radical musical transition by the group firmly controlled by composer and lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde. In fact, by the end of recording sessions for this album Hynde would be the only original member of the group remaining, as original drummer Martin Chambers was released from the band early in the recording process.

The Pretenders’ original guitarist and bassist, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, each died from substance abuse in 1982 and 1983 respectively. Hynde and Chambers decided to continue with the band and eventually added guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster for the 1984 album Learning to Crawl, a critical and commercial success. The band built on this success with a performance at Live Aid in 1985.

Produced by Steve Lillywhite, the first recording sessions for Get Close resulted in the album’s final track, a slick pop cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Room Full of Mirrors”. It was here that Hynde decided that Chambers’ playing had deteriorated and fired him from the band, which sparked a discouraged Foster to quit shortly after. Hynde and McIntosh recorded the rest of the album with producers Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine in multiple studios and with multiple session musicians. Two of these players, bassist T.M. Stevens and drummer Blair Cunningham, were eventually hired as The Pretenders’ new rhythm section.


Get Close by The Pretenders
Released: October 20, 1986 (Sire)
Produced by: Bob Clearmountain & Jimmy Iovine
Recorded: Air Studios, London; Power Station and Right Track Recording, New York City; Bearsville Studio, Bearsville N.Y.; Polar Studios, Stockholm
Side One Side Two
My Baby
When I Change My Life
Light of the Moon
Tradition of Love
Don’t Get Me Wrong
I Remember You
How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?
Chill Factor
Hymn to Her
Room Full of Mirrors
Primary Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Robbie McIntosh – Guitars
T.M. Stevens – Bass
Blair Cunningham – Drums, Percussion


The bright and jangly chords of “My Baby” enter to a steady beat in this moderate love song filled with suspended fourth chords, strategic double-track vocals and some crowd sound effects later on. Released as a single, this album opener spent two weeks at #1 on the Mainstream Rock charts. “When I Change My Life” is another mellow track with strummed acoustic, persistent lead guitar notes and a waltz-like beat by the bass and drums. This moody and well-produced track also features some layered synths strategically placed later in the track.

After these initial fine tracks, the album devolves a bit starting with the slicker rock arrangement of the cover, “Light of the Moon” and followed by the rhythm and beat oriented “Dance!”. While this latter track does contain some fine droning guitar and Hammond organ leads, the dry vocals and mind-numbing repetition make this extended track a chore to listen to. The album returns to form with the moderate ballad “Tradition of Love”, featuring a fine musical arrangement, melodic vocals and the ever slightest twist of psychedelic through its guitar and voice-effect fused outro.

Chrissie Hynde

The most indelible song on the album is the happy-go-lucky rock jaunt “Don’t Get Me Wrong”, driven by the Stevens’ thumping bass line and McIntosh’s choppy guitar chords. This song’s slight rotating bridge is the only deviation from the original verse pattern and is followed by a lead that is very slight and mimicks Hynde’s main vocal melody. “I Remember You” features a reggae arrangement, driven by various keys and methodical rhythms, followed by “How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?”, full-fledged devolution into eighties synth pop which is a bit embarrassing for the talents of Hynde and the group. “Chill Factor” is better as a Motown flavored, soulful ballad with a steady, slow beat and rich backing vocals. Written by Meg Keene, “Hymn to Her” starts with minimal synth through the intro vocals before breaking into steady, AOR smooth rock feel, which eventually builds to a harder rocking arrangement.

For the tour supporting Get Close, The Pretenders expanded to a quintet with the addition of keyboardist Bernie Worrell, signaling a future commitment to evolve further. However, this lineup did not last and, when McIntosh quit in 1987, The Pretenders were effectively finished as a working band.

1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1986 albums.


Pretenders by The Pretenders

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The Pretenders debut albumPretenders, is the self-titled debut studio album by the British-American band of the same name. Released just weeks into the new decade of the eighties, this was one of the more widely anticipated debuts as the group had already achieved commercial success with three charting hits in 1979. Those three singles (along with two of the ‘B sides’) were combined with new studio material to make this fine rock album, which debuted at #1 in the UK and went platinum in the U.S. The album also received high praise critically, which it has sustained as it is included on many lists of top debuts of all time.

The Pretenders are led by composer, guitarist and vocalist Chrissie Hynde. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Hynde moved to London in 1973 and wrote for the weekly music paper NME. She formed and played in many groups through the mid seventies and was involved with the inception of the punk scene, including short stints with early versions of The Clash and The Damned. After recording a demo of original songs, Hynde was convinced to assemble a more permanent band to reach the next level. Bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott joined Hynde in this yet-to-be named band in early 1978.

Later that year, the group chose their name after the Platters song, “The Great Pretender”, and recorded a cover of the Kinks’ ,”Stop Your Sobbing”, with producer Nick Lowe and drummer Gerry Mackelduff. Released in January 1979, the single gained the new group some attention and radio play as well as the backing to record more songs and eventually this debut album. Martin Chambers signed on as the group’s permanent drummer and the quartet recorded scores of tracks through 1979 with producer Chris Thomas, many of which were not released until a re-mastered edition of Pretenders was released in 2006.

Pretenders by The Pretenders
Released: January 19, 1980 (Sire)
Produced by: Chris Thomas & Nick Lowe
Recorded: Wessex Studios and Air Studios, London, 1979
Side One Side Two
The Phone Call
Up the Neck
Tattooed Love Boys
Space Invader
The Wait
Stop Your Sobbing
Private Life
Brass In Pocket
Lovers of Today
Mystery Achievement
Group Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitar
James Honeyman-Scott – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
Pete Farndon – Bass, Vocals
Martin Chambers – Drums, Vocals

Hynde wrote the bulk of the material on Pretenders and found a nice blend of rock, punk and pop, with the slightest hint of new wave edge. “Precious” starts as a rapid, two chord jam until the song gets a little more intense and sonically interesting with phasing and reverse-reverb effects, and overtly vulgar lyrics. The song was a cynical ode to Hynde’s home city of Akron, a theme she would revisit in a more sentimental way in later years on “My City Was Gone” from Learning to Crawl. “The Phone Call” is a rudiment driven, new wave rocker where the vocals are mostly spoken word with some interesting deviations during the short, rapid, off-beat choruses, while “Up the Neck” is much more contemporary and melodic than the first two tracks as a steady, jangly, and pleasant pop/rocker throughout.

The PretendersReturns to the feel of the opening track, “Tattooed Love Boys” shoots a strong sexual vibe by Hynde and is close to punk in underlying feel, albeit much more refined up top. This track also employs a very odd time signature and the first of several brilliant guitar leads by Honeyman-Scott. Next comes the album’s only instrumental, “Space Invader”, driven by Farden’s bass line in the opening jam and a slight synth section by Honeyman-Scott. “The Wait” has more interesting riffs and rudiments in the verse where Hynde’s lead vocals seem to be in a race between the crunch riffing, while the chorus has a more standard rock release with great bass by Farndon, who co-wrote this song.

While this album is fine throughout, the second side is especially strong. “Kid” is a melodic and upbeat ballad with some cool instrumental passages, including a nice acoustic section and very animated, rolling drums by Chambers. Here, Hynde abandons the punk bravado and branches out with a love song about vulnerability and Honeyman-Scott contributes layers of fine lectric guitars. “Private Life” follows as a quasi reggae tune, but with the guitar riff and vocals giving it a dark feel. Although the group rarely leaves the same basic riff through its six and a half minute duration, the song does contain some soul-fueled background vocal variations and another respectable rock guitar lead.

“Brass in Pocket” is the most popular early track by The Pretenders, driven by the slightly funky riff by Honeyman-Scott, Hynde’s great sense of melody, and Farndon’s rounded eighties bass to introduce the new decade. Lyrically, the song is one of self-assurance among women with a laid-back swagger and confidence. The song was a pop hit on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching the Top 20 in the US. “Lovers of Today” starts as pure ballad but takes some interesting turns into classic rock areas with coolly strummed acoustic with strong electric riffs above while maintaining the overall melancholy mood of the track. The album ends strong with “Mystery Achievement”, a powerful and intense rocker with more melodic vocals by Hynde.

Pretenders was a commercial success worldwide, reaching the Top 10 on a half dozen album charts in 1980. The next year the group followed up with an EP and a second full-length album, Pretenders II.


Classic Rock Review 1980 promo

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.


Learning to Crawl
by The Pretenders

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Learning to Crawl by The PretendersFollowing a very tumultuous period where two band members lost their lives due to drug overdoses, Learning to Crawl, was a bit of an early career comeback album for The Pretenders. The group’s third overall album, this early 1984 release was their first in nearly three years and contains recordings that date back to the summer of 1982. With the personnel turmoil, group leader Chrissie Hynde took a more active role in shaping the group’s sound and compositional direction, adding some maturity to the raw intensity of the Pretenders’ core approach. The result is an original blend of later-era new wave rock, which propelled the group to the height of its popularity.

After the great success of their self-titled debut album, the group released Pretenders II in 1981, but felt that album was rushed in order to take advantage of their popularity. The following year, original bass player, Pete Farndon,was fired due to his increasing drug dependency. Just two days later, original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died of heart failure from cocaine intolerance, leaving the Pretenders cut in half almost overnight. Still, Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers continued on and began recording just a month after Honeyman-Scott’s death.

In 1983 Hynde brought on guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster as new permanent members of the band. One of the first recordings made by the new lineup was the B-side “Fast or Slow (The Law’s the Law)”, which was sung by drummer Chambers and has a folk/dance riff and beat throughout. The song, which seems to be about an actual altercation with the law, was released two months ahead of Learning to Crawl.

Learning to Crawl by The Pretenders
Released: January 7, 1984 (Sire)
Produced by: Chris Thomas
Recorded: AIR Studios, London, 1982–83
Side One Side Two
Middle of the Road
Back On the Chain Gang
Time the Avenger
Watching the Clothes
Show Me
My City Was Gone
Thin Line Between Love and Hate
I Hurt You
2000 Miles
Group Musicians
Chrissie Hynde – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Robbie McIntosh – Guitars, Vocals
Malcolm Foster – Bass, Vocals
Martin Chambers – Drums, Vocals

The album commences with the thundering “Middle of the Road”, a straight forward, three chord rocker. With a catchy vocal chorus hook and rapid-fire lead vocals, the song seems rather simple on its surface, but actually has a deeper underlying meaning interpreted from the Tao Te Ching. Hynde’s harmonica lead at end of the song completes the track which reached the Top 20 in America. “Back On the Chain Gang” may be the best song ever recorded by The Pretenders. Recorded and released as a single in 1982, the song features a smooth lead guitar by Billy Bremner, who was a temporary fill-in at the time. In spite of the odd lyrical tempo, Hynde’s vocals are catchy and delivered in a near weeping manner, making the song at once uplifting and melancholy, and with a good, inventive bridge. The song became the band’s biggest hit in the US, reaching number 5, and pays homage to Sam Cooke’s 1962 hit “Chain Gang” with workman vocals dubbed in the background.

“Time the Avenger” is another good, upbeat rock song with lots of little guitar riffs on top of Foster’s repeating 2/4 bass phrase. On this track, Hynde’s vocal style is much like that of Joni Mitchell, while she delivers more deeply philosophical lyrics such as; “Nobody’s permanent, everything’s on loan here”. After the brief new wave screed “Watching the Clothes”, the album’s first side concludes with the melodic “Show Me”. This upbeat and jangly track is a true a singer’s song, with each word maximized for melodic effect in the repeating vocal areas (there is not really verse/chorus setup). With slightly differing musical arrangements and approaches, the mixture of acoustic, electric, bass carries the song through its pleasant fade-out.

The second side is filled with songs of diverse styles, with mixed results. “Thumbelina” has a Country-rock, Johnny Cash-like rhythm and, like many lyrics of songs on this album, this appears to be written about Hynde’s daughter, Natalie (fathered by Kinks’ leader Ray Davies). In fact, Hynde named the album “Learning to Crawl” because that’s exactly what her daughter was doing at the time. “My City Was Gone” is another track that dates back to 1982 and features a consistent bass riff by Tony Butler with heavily-effected drums by Chambers. Lyrically, the song is about changing landscapes, and change itself and never really relents from straight-forward riff and beat.

The album’s only cover, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” features piano by former Squeeze member Paul Carrack along with crooning vocals by Hynde. In contrast, “I Hurt You” takes a pure new wave funk approach with multiple voices and vocal melodies and another driving, simple bass line. This song is most interesting at the very end with overdubbed, slightly strummed guitars and a cool lead by McIntosh. The album concludes with the beautiful and steady “2000 Miles”, with a sweet synth and guitar intro, which fades in with the perfect vibe for this song. The musicians add the right mixture of rhythm and effect to keep the song on a steady pace and provide the canvas for Hynde’s vocals. Written for the departed guitarist Honeyman-Scott, the tune is often considered a Christmas song, due to its lyrical content;

In these frozen and silent nights, sometimes in a dream you appear / Outside under the purple sky, diamonds in the snow sparkle, our hearts were singing, it felt like Christmas time…”

Learning to Crawl was critical and commercial success that launched the Pretenders to the upper echelon of pop/rock groups. However, the inner turmoil continued as both Chambers and Foster left the band before the completion of their next album, Get Close, leaving Hynde as the only original group member through their later years.


1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.


Top 9 Rock Festivals of All Time

This week Classic Rock Review joins the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. In conjunction with Top 9 Lists, we present a list of the Top 9 Rock Festivals of all time, along with a bonus list of Top 9 Single Day, Single Location Concerts.

Woodstock from behind the stage

1. Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969
Bethel, New York

This remains the mother of all music festivals, held at a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. A series of coincidental events unfolded which effected the location and operation of this festival, which grew to become a “free” event for over 400,000 attendees. Regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, 32 acts performed during the rainy weekend, starting with Richie Havens, and concluding with a memorable performance by Jimi Hendrix as the crowd dispersed mid-morning on Monday, August 18th. Woodstock was immortalized in a later documentary movie as well as a song by Joni Mitchell, who was one of many major acts that did not attend by later regretted it.

Woodstock Performers: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun Rainbows

Buy Woodstock soundtrack
Buy Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music DVD

2. Monterey Pop Festival

June 16-18, 1967
Monterey, California

Jimi Hendrix at MontereyCredited as the event which sparked the “The Summer of Love”, The three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival had a rather modest attendance but was soon recognized for its importance to the performers and significance to the sixties pop scene. The lineup consisted of a blend of rock and pop acts with memorable performances by The Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Monterey Pop Performers: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas

Buy Monterey Pop Festival Live album

3. Live Aid

July 13, 1985
London and Philadelphia

Live Aid, PhiladelphiaStill the largest benefit concert 30 years on, Live Aid was a also the first live multi-venue event, with over 70,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and close to 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Organized by musician Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as relief for the Ethiopian famine, the concert evolved from Band Aid, a multi-artist group who recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Live Aid was also one of the largest worldwide television broadcasts, with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion in about 150 nations. Memorable performances and moments included those by Queen, U2, Dire Straits, a reunited Black Sabbath, and a loose reunion by members Led Zeppelin, the first since their breakup in 1980.

Live Aid Performers: Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, David Gilmour, Paul Young, U2, Dire Straits, Queen, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Joan Baez, The Hooters, Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, REO Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (announced as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Thompson, Paul Martinez, Phil Collins”), Duran Duran, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, USA for Africa

Buy Live Aid DVD

4. Isle of Wight Festival

August 26-30, 1970
Isle of Wight, UK

Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970In sheer numbers, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival may be the largest ever, with estimates of over 600,000, which is an increase of about 50% over Woodstock. Promoted by local brothers Ronnie, Ray and Bill Foulk, the 5-day event caused such logistical problems (all attendees had to be ferried to the small island) that Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Memorable performances included late career appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and The Who, who released their entire set on the 1996 album Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Isle of Wight 1970 Performers: Judas Jump, Kathy Smith, Rosalie Sorrels, David Bromberg, Redbone, Kris Kristofferson, Mighty Baby, Gary Farr, Supertramp, Howl, Black Widow, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Fairfield Parlour, Arrival, Lighthouse, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices of East Harlem, Cactus, John Sebastian, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Doors, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Melanie, Good News, Ralph McTell, Heaven, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens

Buy Message to Love, The Isle of Wight Festival DVD

5. Ozark Music Festival

July 19-21, 1974
Sedalia, Missouri

Ozark Music Festival stage“No Hassles Guaranteed” was the motto of the Ozark Music Festival, held at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in 1974. While this festival offered an impressive lineup of artists as well as a crowd upwards of 350,000 people, the Missouri Senate later described the festival as a disaster, due to the behaviors and destructive tendencies of the crowd.

Ozark Music Festival Performers: Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, REO Speedwagon, Spirit

6. US Festival

May 28-30, 1983
Devore, California

Steve Wozniak’s US Festivals were staged on two occasions in September 1982 and May 1983. The second of these was packed with a lineup of top-notch eighties acts who performed in an enormous state-of-the-art temporary amphitheatre at Glen Helen Regional Park.

1983 US Festival Performers: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Van Halen, Los Lobos, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, The Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie

7. The Crossroads Guitar Festival

June 4-6, 2004
Dallas, Texas

Crossroads Festival 2004 adStarting in 2004, the Crossroads Guitar Festivals have been held every three years to benefit the Crossroads Centre for drug treatment in Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton. These concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, with the first lineup at the Cotton Bowl stadium in 2004 featuring some legends along with up-and-comers hand-picked by Clapton himself.

2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival Performers: Eric Clapton, Johnny A, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ron Block, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Doyle Bramhall II, JJ Cale, Larry Carlton, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Bo Diddley, Jerry Douglas, David Honeyboy Edwards, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Eric Johnson, B.B. King, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang, Robert Lockwood, Jr., John Mayer, John McLaughlin, Robert Randolph, Duke Robillard, Carlos Santana, Hubert Sumlin, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Steve Vai, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, David Johansen

Buy Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD

8. Live 8

July 2, 2005
Locations world wide

Pink Floyd at Live 8Held 20 years after he organized Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 was even more ambitious, being held in nine different locations around the world on the same day. Timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Scotland that year, the goal was to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. The most memorable moment from the concerts was at Hyde Park in London where the classic lineup of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in over two decades.

Live 8 Performers: U2, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. The Killers, The Who, UB40, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Bob Geldof, Velvet Revolver, Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Deep Purple, Neil Young, Buck Cherry, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, Brian Wilson, Green Day, a-Ha, Roxy Music, Dido, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, Zola, Lucky Dube, Jungo, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, The Cure

Buy Live 8 DVD

9. Woodstock ’94

August 12-14, 1994
Saugerties, New York

Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, Woodstock ’94 was promoted as “3 More Days of Peace and Music”. in fact, this concert took place near the originally intended location of that first show and other similarities such as common performers, similar crowd size, rain, and mud.

Woodstock ’94 Performers: Blues Traveler, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Jackyl, King’s X, Live, Orleans, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, Joe Cocker, Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Melissa Etheridge, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, John Sebastian, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Aerosmith, Country Joe McDonald, Sisters of Glory, Arrested Development, Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Santana, Green Day, Paul Rodgers Rock and Blues Revue, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel

Read more on Woodstock ’94 from our recent Comebacks and Reunions special feature

Bonus Top 9 List: Best Single Day, Single Location Shows

The Who at Concert for New York City

1. The Concert for New York City October 20, 2001. New York, NY
2. The Band’s Last Waltz November 25, 1976. San Francisco, CA
3. Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration May 14, 1988. New York, NY
4. Concert for Bangladesh August 1, 1971. New York, NY
5. Knebworh Festival June 30, 1990. Knebworth, UK
6. Texxas Jam July 1, 1978. Dallas, TX
7. Farm Aid September 22, 1985. Champaign, IL
8. Canada Jam August 26, 1990. Bowmanville, Ontario
9. Altamont Free Concert December 6, 1969. Tracy, CA


Ric Albano

Classic Rock Christmas Songs

Classic Christmas Rock SongsNearly from its inception, rock and roll and Christmas songs have made for a potent mixture of holiday-flavored punch. This marriage dates back to 1957 with the first Elvis Presley Christmas Album and Bobby Helms’s timeless “Jingle Bell Rock”, a rockabilly Christmas classic which was actually written by an advertising executive and a publicist, joining together the overt commercialism with these early anthems. However, it wasn’t all about dollars and cents, as demonstrated in 1963 when major Christmas initiatives by producer Phil Spector and The Beach Boys were pulled off the shelf after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Below we review our favorite songs during the classic rock era. Please be sure to let us know which ones you like best, including those that we omit.

Christmas by The Who, 1969“Christmas” by The Who, 1969

This is a truly fantastic song from the rock opera Tommy but, as such, this song is only about Christmas for a short period of the song, the rest of the song is spent pondering whether the aforementioned Tommy’s soul can be saved as he is deaf, dumb and blind – lacking the capacity to accept Jesus Christ. This aspect of the song works exceptionally well in the scheme of the album, but not so much in the scheme of it being a Christmas song. That said, no song captures the majesty of children on Christmas day as well as this one.

Happy Xmas by John Lennon, 1971“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, 1971

John Lennon’s voice is fantastic and the song itself evokes the kind of melancholy Christmas spirit I find in great Christmas songs. The backing vocals work very well and the bass guitar, sleigh bells, chimes, glockenspiel all play their part as well, a testament to the excellent production by Phil Spector. It does sound a little dated with the overt political correctness and, of course ant-war sentiment. Then there is a bit of irony, foe, although the song advocates “War is Over”, the personal war between Lennon and Paul McCartney was at a fevered pitch with Lennon poaching McCartney’s lead guitarist for this very song just to stick him in the eye a bit. So, in that sense, I guess war was not quite over.

I Believe In Father Christmas, 1975“I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake, 1975

You really do learn something new every day. In fact while doing research into this song’s origin I discovered that this is actually a Greg Lake solo song and not an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer song which I had always believed because of its inclusion on their 1977 Works compilation album. This new revelation does not diminish my love of the song one iota. The song was written by Lake with lyrics by Peter Sinfield. Lake says the song was written in protest at the commercialization of Christmas, while Sinfield says it is more about a loss of innocence and childhood belief. I tend to believe them both, as I’ve always found the melancholy song to be much too complex to be written about any single subject or incident. Musically and melodically, the song is a masterpiece, with Lake’s finger-picked acoustic ballad complemented by ever-increasing orchestration and choral arrangements. Each verse is more intense than the last and the arrangement elicits all kinds of emotions, far deeper than the typical “feel good” Christmas song.

Father Christmas by The Kinks, 1977“Father Christmas” by The Kinks, 1977

Just listen to the first fifteen seconds of this song and you will see, it’s amazing! Starting with a Christmas-y happy piano melody and sleigh bells before punk-influenced guitar and drums crash in with the impact of a meteor. Lead singer Ray Davies sings as two characters in the song; the first is a department store Santa (“Father Christmas”), the second is a gang of poor kids. Davies makes his vocals more forceful for their demands, “Father Christmas give us some money!” I have long thought Davies is probably the most underrated singer in Rock, and the Kinks may be the most underrated band in rock history. What other band appeared in the British invasion did a few concept albums and then practically invented punk rock!? Dave Davies lead guitar is fantastic, definitely the most entertaining work in any of the Christmas songs on this list. The drums are also a huge high point as they roll franticly between verses. If you needed a definition of it, this IS Christmas Rock!

Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy, 1977“Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy”
by David Bowie & Bing Crosby, 1977

This partial cover (Bowie’s “Peace On Earth” part was original, while Crosby sang the traditional “Little Drummer Boy”) was actually as about as original a compositions as any Christmas song with a rock theme to it. So why does this song make the cut? Well it is fantastic! It’s DAVID BOWIE and BING CROSBY! It’s a great little song that feels like Christmas. Two totally different artists from different genres and eras coming together to sing a song for a television special, only around Christmas could this happen. Well, in fact it was recorded in London in August of 1977 for an upcoming Christmas special and Crosby passed away in October, before it aired, making it even more special.

A Wonderful Christmas Time, 1979“A Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney, 1979

Not to be out done by his former Beatle mate turned musical rival (see above), Paul McCartney launched the post-Wings phase of his solo career with “Wonderful Christmas Time”. A song with an uncanny ability to instantly put one into the Christmas spirit, this synth-driven, new-wave ballad showcased McCartney’s mastery at writing pleasant pop songs in just about any sub-genre. Unfortunately, his “wonderful Christmas” was interrupted soon after the new year of 1980, when he got busted In Japan for marijuana possession and spent ten days in prison before he was released.

Christmas Wrapping, 1981“Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses, 1981

“Christmas Wrapping” is a really fun new-wave style song that jives musically by an otherwise obscure group. The song goes through quite a few little progressions – a little guitar rift and some jolly percussion instruments introduce the listener to the song’s primary beat of guitar and drums. Lead singer Patty Donahue flirts with actually rapping through the song which comes out really cool despite my less than enthused relationship to that genre. The interlude of horns really makes this song fun as they bridge the gap between verses.

2000 Miles, 1983“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders, 1983

Not really intended to be so much a Christmas song as a lament about missing someone with the hope they return at Christmas. It was nevertheless released in 1983 in advance of the band’s 1984 album Learning To Crawl because of its holiday season potential. The vivid lyrics which paint the Christmas landscape and activity, along with the masterful delivery by lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde above the simple folk-guitar riff, makes this one for the ages.

Thank God Its Christmas, 1984“Thank God It’s Christmas” by Queen, 1984

This is a Christmas rock song that often gets overlooked but is virtually impossible to ignore due to Freddie Mercury’s singing. Co-written by drummer Roger Taylor, the drums have a smooth grooving feeling, albeit very processed. Mercury’s backing keyboards and occasional Christmas bells give the song that holiday feeling it needs. The addition of the guitar later in the song by the other co-writer, Brian May adds some earthiness, but the song would benefit from more of it. The piece never quite transcends the mellowness or the karaoke-like quality of the song, but is still a Christmas classic.

Do They Know Its Christmas, 1984Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, 1984

Sure, it is outrageously corny, especially when you are watching Boy George and other eighties has-beens singing next to the likes of Bono and Sting. But underneath all the silliness lies a pretty good song, written in a decent style of British pop. This song is the brainchild of Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, who co-wrote this song along with Midge Ure, and then they brought together these top-notch English musicians to perform under the name Band Aid as all proceeds went to relief for the Ethiopian famine of 1984-1985. The success of this single eventually lead to the worldwide benefit concert Live Aid, the following summer.

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, 1985“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1985

The only true cover of a “traditional” Christmas song on this list, this song was actually recorded in December 1975, but was not released for a solid decade when Bruce Springsteen began putting together his triple live album 1975-1985. It was put out as the B-Side to his single “My Hometown” in 1985 and has since become a holiday staple and rock and pop stations worldwide.

Another Christmas Song, 1989“Another Christmas Song” by Jethro Tull, 1989

We conclude with a beautiful and elegant song put out by Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull during their leaner years, this May be one that many do not know. From the 1989 album Rock Island, this is actually a sequel to “A Christmas Song” put out by Jethro Tull on their 1968 debut album two decades earlier, but is far superior in beauty elegance than the original. With some light flute, drums, and the occasional wood block sound and other percussive effects, the song features Tull’s traditional guitarist Martin Barre who nicely accents the flute line from Anderson in the interweaving musical passages. Lyrically, it describes an old man who is calling his children home to him for Christmas and subtly drawing their attention to other parts of the world and other people;

Everyone is from somewhere, even if you’ve never been there
So take a minute to remember the part of you that might be the old man calling me…”

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Christmas rock tradition continued with fine originals such as “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a rendition of “Heat Miser” by The Badlees, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa Clause” by The Killers, and Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights”. It is likely this tradition will continue for years to come.

J.D. Cook and Ric Albano