Learn Five Easy-to-Play Modern Holiday Songs - GuitarPlayer.com

Learn Five Easy-to-Play Modern Holiday Songs

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Traditional holiday songs are fine. We really do like them. But the best way to get the party rolling is by strutting out a modern take on a Christmas tune.

Over the next pages, we provide you with easy-to-play versions of five Christmas favorites from the past 50+ years. Given that time frame, you can bet there’s at least one “modern” holiday song in the bunch that’s verging on become traditional.

So check ‘em out, and get ready to share them with family and friends this holiday season.

“2000 MILES”

The Pretenders
Written by lead Pretender Chrisse Hynde, “2000 Miles” has become popular as a Christmas time song, thanks to its refrain. Though the song seems to be about two separated lovers, it was written in tribute to James Honeyman-Scott, the Pretenders’ original guitarist, who died June 16, 1982. His role in the band was subsequently taken over by Robbie McIntosh.

“Robbie plays beautifully on ‘2000 Miles’,” singer Chrissie Hynde recalled. “Anything to avoid listening to my voice and my stupid words.”

Millions of holiday revelers would disagree with criticism.

“2000 Miles” is among the easiest-to-play songs of any genre, consisting of just three simple chords: G, C and D.

Time Signature: 6/8

|:| G | C D |

| G | C D |

| G | C D |

| G | C D |:|

| C | D |

| C | D |

| G | C D |

| G | C D |

“JINGLE-BELL ROCK”
Bobby Helms

Released in 1957, “Jingle Bell Rock” was an attempt to co-opt the rock and roll wave and put a fresh spin on the standard “Jingle Bells.” It was written by Joseph Carleton Beal, a public relations professional, and James Ross Boothe, a writer in the advertising business. Both clearly knew how to grab the public’s attention, as the song became an instant hit and has remained a holiday favorite ever since.

The song was recorded by American country music singer Bobby Helms, whose generous dollop of twang make the song more country than rock and roll. The song includes a reference to Bill Haley and the Comet’s then-popular song “Rock Around the Clock” and a “jingle hop”—a hop being a dance party for teens.

Helms used some jazzy diminished chords in his arrangement, but we’ve simplified it to use standard open and barred major and minor chords. For the opening refrain of each verse, you have the option of playing a straight D chord or following the vocal melody by switching from D to Dmaj7 to D6 and back to D. This can be easily done by playing an “open” D chord and dropping the D on the B string down from the third fret to the second, for Dmaj7, and then letting the B string ring open, for D6.

Time Signature: 12/8

VERSE

| D | D | (or, if you prefer) | D Dmaj7 | D6 D |

| D F#7 | Em A |

| Em A | Em A |

| Em | A 7 |

| D | D | (or, if you prefer) | D Dmaj7 | D6 Dmaj7 |

| D F#7 | Em A |

| Em A | Em A |

| Em A | D D7 |

BRIDGE

| G | Gm |

| D | D |

| E | E |

| A (tacet) | A |

CHORUS

| D | D | (or, if you prefer) | D Dmaj7 | D6 Dmaj7 |

| D | B7 |

| G | Gm |

| E 7 A7 | D |

“BLUE CHRISTMAS”
Elvis Presley

“Blue Christmas” had been a hit for nearly a decade before Elvis Presley recorded his now-famous version in 1957. The song was first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948 and subsequently popularized by Ernest Tubb that same year and by Billy Eckstein in 1950. Presley cemented its status as a Christmas song when he included his version of it on his 1957 album, Elvis’ Christmas Album. Wikipedia notes that, Presley’s back-up singer, the Jordanaires “replace many major and just minor thirds with neutral and septimal minor thirds, respectively. In addition to contributing to the overall tone of the song, the resulting ‘blue notes’ constitute a musical play on words that provides an ‘inside joke’ or ‘Easter egg’ to trained ears.”

The song uses all standard open and barre chords, except for the Bb diminished that occurs before the song’s tag line (“But I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.”) Fortunately, this is a very easy chord to play in open position:

Bb dim7

E | —0— |
B | —2— |
G | —0— |
D | —2— |
A | —1— |
E | —x— |

Time Signature: 12/8

| E | E | B | B |

| B7 | B7 | E | E |

| E | E7 | A | A |

| F# | F# | B | B (tacet) |

| E | E | B | B |

| B7 | B7 | E | E |

| E | E7 | A | Bb dim7 |

| B | B7 | E | E |

“HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER)”
John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir

John Lennon and Yoko Ono had been campaigning for world peace since 1969, when they held bed-ins for peace in their hotel rooms in Amsterdam and Montreal. “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is the most significant and long-lived anti-war effort by the couple. It became an immediate hit upon its release in 1971 and has been a holiday favorite ever since. War is, unfortunately, still with us as well.

Lennon had undertaken social themes before, both while in the Beatles (“Revolution”) and with the Plastic Ono Band (“Give Peace a Chance,” “Power to the People”). While those songs were successful, they failed to become the anthems that he had perhaps imagined they would. When “Imagine,” his 1971 ballad to world peace, became a smash hit, Lennon decided that its success was in part due to the song’s gentler approach. “Now I understand what you have to do,” he concluded. “Put your political message across with a little honey.” Which is what he succeeded, brilliantly, in doing with “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”

Time Signature: 6/8

VERSE
| A | A | Bm | Bm |

| E | E | A | A |

| D | D | Em | Em |

| A | A | D | D |

CHORUS

| G | G | A | A |

| Em | G | D | E |

“CHRISTMAS ALL OVER AGAIN”
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Written by Petty, “Christmas All Over Again” was first featured on the album A Very Special Christmas 2 to benefit the Special Olympics and athletes with intellectual disabilities. (Petty donated the song’s royalties to the organization.) It was also included on the 1995 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Playback box set.

There are plenty of familiar chords in this song, except for a Cdim7 that appears as the second chord in each verse. Remember the Bb dim7 we learned earlier in “Blue Chrismas”? Just use your index finger to barre the second fret and make the Bb dim7 shape with your third finger (A string), ring finger (D string) and pinkie (B string).

C dim7

E | —2— |
B | —4— |
G | —2— |
D | —4— |
A | —3— |
E | —x— |

Time Signature: 4/4

VERSE

| A | Cdim7 | Bm | E |

| A | Cdim7 | Bm | E |

| Bm | E |Bm | Dm |

CHORUS

| A | F#m | A | F#m |

| Bm | Bm | E | E |

MIDDLE EIGHT

| Gm | A | Gm | A |

| D | D | D | D |

| B | B |

| E | E | E | E |

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