E Street Band guitarist and garage-rock aficionado Little Steven Van Zandt has put his own spin on the Ramones‘ festive anthem “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight),” adding a third verse about Frosty and Christmas carolers. He recorded the track, which sounds much grander in Van Zandt’s hands, in late November with his backing band the Disciples of Soul, which created a Wall of Sound with glockenspiel, chimes, string, organ and sleigh bells, a vocal chorus and saxophone.
“It’s our tribute to the Ramones,” Van Zandt tells Rolling Stone. “We’re keeping their music alive. We cut it live at a soundcheck in Utrecht, Netherlands, two weeks ago. I needed a third verse so I channeled Joey and wrote what I feel is the third verse he would have written. His brother, Mickey [Leigh], heard the record and gave me his blessing.”
The Ramones released the song, which Joey wrote, as the B side to their “I Wanna Live” single in 1987, around the time they’d put out their Halfway to Sanity album. They later tacked it on as the last track of their 1989 album, Brain Drain, which, incidentally, came out that March – far from seasonally appropriate. They also made a music video for the tune for their Lifestyles of the Ramones home video, complete with a silly fight between lovers in between images of them performing.
“Going back to Irving Berlin, nice Jewish boys had a knack for writing catchy Christmas tunes,” Marky Ramone wrote of the song in his book, Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone. “Ours had enough of a Ramones feel not to be a campy sellout and enough of a doo-wop holiday spirit to actually get cued up during the yuletide season.”
Van Zandt first put together the Disciples of Soul in the early Eighties, around the time Bruce Springsteen was recording his sparse solo album Nebraska. They released their first album, Men Without Women, in 1982. Their recording of the Ramones track is now available as a digital single.