Few songs truly embody the holiday season like “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” One of the earliest non-religious holiday songs to become popular, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie and first recorded in 1934. The song was an instant hit and has since been covered by hundreds of artists across a wide range of genres. Picking just five iconic renditions of such a widely covered song is tough, but these covers by some of rock and pop's most iconic artists are among the most popular.
5. The Beach Boys
A staple of oldies radio every holiday season, it's hard to argue against this version by the band that is arguably America's greatest rock vocal group, The Beach Boys. Included as part of 1964's The Beach Boys Christmas Album, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was one of the major drivers of the album being made as The Beach Boys recorded it in response to Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector after Brian Wilson played piano on the track but was rejected for not being good enough. The Beach Boys got the last laugh as their Christmas album has outsold Spector's yearly, eventually going gold on the strength of its annual holiday sales.
4. The Four Seasons
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons scored one of rock's earliest charting renditions of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in 1963. Their version of the song reached #23 on the Billboard Hot 100, the highest chart position for the song in the rock era. The Four Seasons' version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” remains a popular hit on holiday radio stations in large part because of the uniqueness of their version. The song's high energy and singer Frankie Valli's trademark falsetto telling kids “you better not cry-ay-ay” is a staple of the Christmas season.
3. The Jackson 5
Leave it to Michael Jackson to deliver one of the most dance-worthy versions of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” ever recorded. In 1970 The Jackson 5, still a relatively new Motown group who had been amassing a string of hits, released The Jackson 5 Christmas Album, their third that year. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was the American single and not only hit #1 on the Christmas charts in 1970, it did it again in 1971, and made it to #9 in 1972.
2. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters
While many stations choose more rocking versions of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” for their 24 hour Christmas music marathons, for many the most iconic version of the song is one of its earliest. Bing Crosby with his frequent collaborators and movie co-stars The Andrews Sisters recorded their version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in 1943. While it didn't make the radio airplay charts, it has remained a classic due to strong sales of Crosby's Merry Christmas album, which has sold over 15 million copies.
1. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Was there ever any doubt what the #1 version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” would be? While Bing Crosby might be the most recognizable traditional version of the song, it's Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's high camp live recording of the song that blasts from practically every holiday radio playlist yearly, with Clarence Clemons' bass line “You better be good for goodness sake” practically a Christmas tradition. While the song was recorded way back in 1975, it didn't receive a proper release until a decade later, when it was the B-side to “My Hometown.” Since then, it has made an annual appearance on the charts in December and has become a fan favorite live during the holidays.