Every year the number of Christmas songs creeps up and up, but 2020 and the enforced extended periods of staying at home seems to have put a rocket under a whole load of musicians to make a bid for festive notoriety. Below is a round up of this bumper crop of seasonal songs but, be warned, not all of them are pro-Christmas….
Gina Baez – Christmas Candlelight
Gina Naomi Baez is one of those sickeningly talented people who can turn their hand to any number of activities and roles but all that over achieving is forgiven when ‘Christmas Candlelight’ melts your heart. Sleigh bells, twinkling piano notes and a sense of hopeful purity all mix up like mulled wine to give you a warm glow inside.
More information: https://www.instagram.com/ginanaomibaez/
Pentatonix – Thank You
In recent years, acapella group Pentatonix have forged ahead in the Christmas rankings with a series of heartfelt covers of Christmas classics. This year, the quintet have pulled together a whole album for the holidays but they are leading with an original composition, ‘Thank You’. The unusual addition of a piano and cello makes this different to Pentatonix’s previous releases but the unerringly tight vocal harmonies and perfect hair lets you know that this is the real deal. The bottom line is that this is a song about being grateful for what you have and it’s pretty hard to argue with a message like that.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/Pentatonix
The Strawheads – Rebelieve
There’s a dusky and husky tone to the wistful festive offering from the Strawheads who are keen to look back to a simpler, more innocent time when Christmas still held the magic it does for children. ‘Rebelieve’ has a pleasing acoustic strum and complimentary vocal harmonies which, if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the fire crackling behind.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/thestrawheads
Goldblade with Poly Styrene – City of Christmas Ghosts
Who wouldn’t be tempted by a Christmas song created by a mash up between Goldblade and Poly Styrene, right? ‘City of Christmas Ghosts’ is reliably punk in spirit with Wild West undertones setting the scene for Styrene and John Robb to duet over. Interestingly, this is a rerelease brought about by fan pressure as there was a feeling that this didn’t get enough recognition first time around so maybe the timing is better for a song of this energy and vim now.
Goldblade - https://www.facebook.com/Goldbladeband
Poly Styrene - https://www.facebook.com/polystyrenemusic
Eliza and the Monkey Butts – Before Santa Arrives
Kids are getting younger and younger these days, aren’t they? Eliza, in this instance, is just 7 years old but she has already formed a group of Monkey Butts around her and they have produced this festive offer, ‘Before Santa Arrives’. Fortunately, Eliza doesn’t come across as at all precocious and the melody is dripping in indie influences so she’s obviously been steered right by her parents. “We all need a good Christmas all over the world” is a pretty powerful lyric to come out of the mouth of a 7 year old and if that doesn’t warm your cockles then nothing will.
More information: http://elizaandthemonkeybutts.co.uk/
Watch the Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViJVsRWxwUg&feature=youtu.be
Adrift – I See Christmas
‘I See Christmas’ is an uplifting pop romp for Christmas courtesy of Adrift and the pace is pretty relentless. Take the perkiness of McFly, the pop-soul of the Feeling and an overactive drum machine and you’re getting close to the kind of tune that will land well with the Tik-Tok generation – if there is such a thing (I’m definitely not part of that generation, in case you were wondering).
More information: https://twitter.com/Adrift_Music_
Ryan Hamilton w/Emily Capell – Christmas Wish (Wicked Cool)
There’s a really wholesome vibe to this duet from Ryan Hamilton and Emily Capell and wholesome is what Christmas is all about, surely. ‘Christmas Wish’ has that festive piano sound and an innate sense of looking back over the year with the superbly child-like lyric; “Wishing wells, shooting stars, a lucky rabbit’s foot, praying each and every night that this year I’ve been good”. This really feels like a log cabin in the snow kind of song and I’m all over that.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/RyanHamiltonandTheHarlequinGhosts/
Phoebe Bridgers – If We Make It Through December
Another feature of the Christmas single is often raising awareness and funds for charity and this offering from Phoebe Bridgers is doing that for the Downtown Womens Center. ‘If We Make It Through December’ is a gentle and frost covered cover of the Merle Haggard track with Bridgers’ delicate and nearly broken voice dancing carefully over the mournful piano keys. This is one of those tracks that deals with the oft-ignored downside of the festive season and that makes it all the more important.
Phoebe Bridgers – https://www.facebook.com/phoebebridgers
Downtown Women’s Center - https://downtownwomenscenter.org/
Ice Island – Little Drummer Boy
This is, without a doubt, the best cover of a Christmas song I have heard this year and possibly in any number of years. Ice Island take on ‘Little Drummer Boy’ with the vocal style of Gruff Rhys, the melodies of New Order and Kraftwerk having a jam and the overall oddballness of LCD Soundsystem. If you’re looking for a tune to please all generations in the family bubble this Christmas then this is definitely it – Granny can sing along and the kids will rave their heads off.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/iceislandmusic
Limahl – One Wish for Christmas
80s icon Limahl takes you on a tour around a Christmassy London with his Christmas tune ‘One Wish for Christmas’ and it is earnest about love, for sure. The problem is that with all the references to “Selfridges for shopping” and “cocktails in Mayfair” it feels a little detached from, well, 90% of the population. It’s a nice enough tune but this isn’t the moneyed up 80s anymore, most of the people in London can’t afford to walk down Oxford Street, never mind shop in Selfridges.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/limahlofficial
Watch the Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv64KLxB7AM&feature=youtu.be
Alice Kube feat. Morgan Munroe – I Believe In Christmas
This is a thoroughly festive tune to warm your heart and raise some money for the Prince’s Trust in the meantime. Alice Kube has teamed up with Morgan Munroe to duet on ‘I Believe In Christmas’ where the vibe is very much about rekindling that festive fire. Lines like “you put the me back in merry” may be a little corny but we can all forgive a little corniness at Christmas for a good cause, can’t we? The voices work perfectly together and the festive chimes really seal the vibe as you close the door and wrap your arms around your loved ones.
Alice Kube - https://www.instagram.com/itsalicekube/
Morgan Munroe - https://www.instagram.com/morganmunroeofficial/
Zealandia Angel – Christmas Dreams
This is certainly at the sadder end of the Christmas song spectrum but when you’re having a bad Christmas due to ill health, poverty or other factors then maybe you want to hear something that resonates. Zealandia Angel’s offering is ‘Christmas Dreams’ and it will work for fans of sparse, art-pop with influence from the likes of Bjork or otherworldly K-Pop. Arresting, interesting but not necessarily that festive.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/ZealandiaAngelEntertainment
Alanis Morissette – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
This is a pretty faithful cover of the John and Yoko classic but what with it being Alanis Morissette there is a lot of respect and that distinctly unique voice. ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ is a little slowed down from the original and there’s an obligatory sleigh bell percussive element but it’s the children’s backing vocals that really tips this over the edge as a really festive treat. This is also a timely reminder that war really is over, if you want it.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/alanismorissette
Brother Sea – Royal Parade
Westcountry folk troupe Brother Sea are raising money for the homeless charity Shelter with new single ‘Royal Parade’, named after a key road through the centre of Plymouth. A soothing vocal wafts out atop a gently played squeeze box and then a comforting acoustic guitar joins on and the whole thing feels like an arm around the shoulder when you need it most. The collective sing together with beautiful, earthy harmonies and they sing of joy, Christmas and angels as though they are sending out reassurances to those that need it.
Brother Sea - https://www.facebook.com/brotherseamusic
Lizzie Cates – Christmas Eve
There is a purity to this country-pop take on the Christmas theme as Lizzie Cates goes all old-school Taylor Swift on new single ‘Christmas Eve’. “I still believe in you and me, just like I still believe in Christmas Eve’ is the crucial line delivered with regret and hope but also all the pop sweetness of Carly Rae Jepson or Miley Cyrus just after she abandoned Hannah Montana. Definite festive feels and a real slickness to boot.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/LizzieCatesMusic
Willie Lock – Footprints
New York City son Willie Lock is bringing acoustic track ‘Footprints’ to the Christmas table and it comes with a healthy dose of earnestness and sadness which seems to be a theme of this year’s tunes. Lock takes simple piano and acoustic melodies, combines it with his excellent rock vocal to really tug at the heart strings as he sings of a lost parent or grandparent who helped him home “with footprints in the falling snow”. I don’t mind admitting to a lump in the throat on this one.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/WillieLock
Jaret Reddick & Kelly Ogden – Get This Christmas Right
This is certainly one of my favourite submissions this year as members of the Dollyrots and Bowling for Soup team up for a seasonal single with a video animated by the dudes at Southpark. ‘Get This Christmas Right’ is, understandably, pop-punk with sleigh bells on but the back and forth between Reddick and Ogden is cute and will appeal to older listeners too as it fits in to that musical tradition of polite arguments played out to a jaunty melody. Merry rockin’ Christmas.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/bowlingforsoup
Robb Murphy – A Brand New Life
A gentle piano melody and the soft, Belfast vocals of Robb Murphy are what opens ‘A Brand New Life’ and you’re immediately transported to a modern version of a certain manger on a certain night. This is a song about new beginnings, parenthood and the hope that comes with those moments which are so special, pure and fleeting. It might not be specifically about Christmas but this song encapsulates everything that is good about the season of good will and the new beginnings that follow.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/TheRobbMurphy
Joey Stuckey – A Santa That Plays Guitar
All blind guitarist Joey Stuckey wants for Christmas is ‘A Santa That Plays Guitar’ and, honestly, if Santa is up for a jam then he could do a lot worse. A slow blues jam with tinkling ivories and a rasping vocal complete the package with Stucky filling in on axe duties until Ol’ Saint Nick is available (maybe on Boxing Day). Definitely one to turn up loud when the kids are in bed and the mistletoe is up high.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/JoeyStuckeyMusic
Sophie Ellis-Bexter – My Favourite Things
Sophie Ellis-Bester covering Julie Andrews – could you get anything more English? Maybe if you put marmalade on top but that would be weird. Anyway, the queen of Lockdown has produced a pin-point accurate version of ‘My Favourite Things’ and, honestly, it’s never been my jam but at the end of this year of years, it might just be what I need. Practically perfect in every way (yes, wrong movie, I know) and just the kind of pure innocence we all need to start again in 2021.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/SophieEllisBextor
Wesley Gonzales – Red Man Is Back Again (With A Lonely Dose of Pain)
This is a jaunty little alt-pop number from Wesley Gonzales and the superbly titled ‘Red Man Is Back Again (With A Lonely Dose of Pain)’. Buzzing guitars, synths and steady beat all serve to support Gonzalez’s Bryan Ferry-esque vocal telling stories of mundane and heartbroken Christmases past, present and future. Lo-fi and honest, just like I like my Christmas.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/wesleygonzalezmusic
Kathryn Williams & Carol Ann Duffy – Snow Angel (One Little Independent Records)
This feels like a pretty big deal with Mercury nominated Kathryn Williams teaming up with poet and playwright Carol Ann Duffy to produce this charming slice of wintry goodness. ‘Snow Angel’ opens with the melting icicles of acoustic guitar strings and piano notes before Williams’ warm and soothing voice reaches out to invite you inside for hot cocoa and a blanket. This feels entirely appropriate for a Julia Donaldson Christmas animation as the gently lilting rhythm and melodies put you in the festive mood and the swelling arrangement makes you breathe that little bit deeper and relax your bones back in to your favourite chair. Beautiful.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/KathrynWilliamsMusic
Meghan Trainor – A Very Trainor Christmas (Epic Records)
Meghan Trainor is getting to be pop royalty now so it was about time she produced a Christmas tune but she’s gone one better and put out a whole album of festive fayre. There are originals like ‘My King of Present’ and ‘I’ll Be Home’ which have a kind of Ariana Grande vibe but sit nicely alongside covers of classics like ‘It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas’ and ‘Last Christmas’ which are fairly faithful but also very Trainor. My highlight is the superbly swinging version of ‘White Christmas’ that brings Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane in on guest vocal duties for a superb duet (seriously that guy can croon). Fair play, it’s a great set of tunes both new and old with some well selected guests and that’s what you want at a Christmas party, right?
More information: https://www.facebook.com/meghantrainorsongs
Various Artists – Christmas Rocks EP (Mascot Records)
If you’re sick of all the pop and niceness in this Christmas list, then there are a couple of releases here that might bring you back in. Firstly, the excellent Mascot Records have put together a seven-track compilation of rocking Christmas songs. P.O.D. are up first with ‘Christmas Lullaby’ which is pretty damn festive and easy on the ears before Otherwise take on ‘Run, Rudolph, Run’ and now all I can picture is a bunch of reindeer in a mosh pit. ‘Silent Night’ is given the full rock ballad treatment by 10 Years and then ‘Dragged Under’ let rip a brutal but hilarious attack on Christmas from the point of view of someone severely lacking in festive cheer.
Crobot ‘What Child Is This’ to the table along with a doom metal take on the traditional hymn while Ayreon break out the mandolin and sleigh bells for ‘The Last Day Of War and the First Day Of Peace’ which gets you in the mood for open fires and festive cheer. The album closes out with Black Stone Cherry’s outstanding take on Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas’ and it’s a high octane take on a classic. Mascot Records and the all the artists involved have pulled a blinder with this collection so get yourself a copy and do some proper rocking around the Christmas tree.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/MascotRecordsRocks
The Pocket Gods – No Room at the (Holiday) Inn
Infamous noiseniks The Pocket Gods have thrown their Santa’s hat into the ring with an entire album of Christmas themed songs, ‘No Room at the (Holiday) Inn’. What follows is a bunch of lo-fi, high energy, and maxim attitude songs with titles like ‘Stop the (Covid) Cavalry’, ‘I Saw Mommy Doing Track & Trace’, ‘Fuck the Rules At Christmas’ and ‘Going Insane In A Sanitised World’. None of this is particularly festive but in 2020 what else do you expect? ‘Surplus Population – Ode to Boris’ is a favourite of mine with sampled speech and funky organs covering a steel fist in a velvet glove.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/thepocketgods
Hanna Mia – Winter Songs EP
I think this EP might just capture the heart of Christmas for me and so I should offer thanks to Icelandic-Swedish singer-songwriter Hanna Mia. Inspired by the musical choices of her 93 year old grandmother, Mia recorded this five track collection starting with a stunningly beautiful piano version of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’. The ubiquitous ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ is given a lovely jazzy guitar reworking while ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ is turned in to a husky folk tune full of playful warmth. Mia’s warm, dusky voice is perfectly put to work on ‘Carol of the Drum’ with rippling pianos and soft strings tones adding to the ambience. The choice of Mia’s grandmother is a traditional Christmas Eve tune called ‘Nu Tandas Tusen Juleljus’ which is new to me but is utterly, utterly beautiful. Soft vocals, sprinkled melodic notes and a real sense of everything being shut down to focus on family and friends for a few days. Merry Christmas to Hanna and her grandmother – thank you both for this gift.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/hannamiamusic
Chris Keys – On This Christmas Night
Singer-songwriter Chris Keys has penned an original composition for the festive season and ‘On This Christmas Night’ is pleasingly cosy and inviting. Keys’ style is a bit Dylan and similar to the Americana of Paul Armer but the key elements of a strumming guitar and gravelly vocals make this a folky delight. You can almost picture the twinkling lights, flickering candles and a real sense that ‘we made it’ as the repeated refrain of “on this Christmas night” brings it on home.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/chriskeysofficial
The Kut – Waiting for Christmas
The first thing to say is that, in this year of disasters for musicians, the Kut are giving 100% of the profits of this track to the Red Cross Coronavirus Crisis Fund so that’s a good reason to purchase this one. The main reason, however, is that it’s a big ol’ grungey rock ballad with chimes and the kind of energy you might expect from Smashing Pumpkins or Silverchair. Downtempo verses are countered with big choruses that break out the strings and the backing vocals. There’s a moving video too so you really need to get involved with ‘Waiting For Christmas’. Now.
The Kut – https://www.facebook.com/thekut
Red Cross Coronavirus Crisis Fund – https://waiting4christmas.com/?fbclid=IwAR3DuwkzF0YM9NLI9q60ggggcFIR7y4rLUf5ctfOG-Y7AZUqvVcQNOELyMI
Watch the Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhtOtn3Gzyc&feature=youtu.be
Traction x Miranda Myles x Master C – A Candle For Carson
Christmas can be a heartbreakingly sad time of year for some people and this song captures that perfectly. The idea behind this release was to cheer up a young lad called Carson (aka the Blackburn Warrior) who was to undergo his seventh major heart surgery of his short life but sadly Carson passed away on 17th November so this song is now in his memory. ‘A Candle For Carson’ is a gorgeous and moving ballad with the soulful and emotive vocals of Miranda Myles taking centre stage atop a simple but powerful piano melody. If you don’t shed a tear watching this and listening to the lyrics then you’re not really paying attention. Rest In Peace Carson, your fight is over now.
Watch the Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dZfQfGzAjM&feature=youtu.be
Josie Cotton – Every Day Like Christmas (Kitten Robot Records)
There is a timeless quality to this tune and, indeed, to Josie Cotton’s voice which makes this song hard to pin down. Nevertheless, ‘Every Day Like Christmas’ has a lovely laid back pace to it that is given flourishes by some sha-la-las and Cotton’s voice that has a bit of Dusty about it (Springfield, not bin) while the organ goes for a walk and the guitars jangle like the bells on Santa’s sleigh. You can almost picture this song wafting out of one of LA’s cocktail lounges on Christmas Eve with Cotton’s voice acting as a siren call to find you dashed on (whisky on) the rocks.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/JosieCotton
We Three Kings – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
Well it’s a Christmas classic and it’s been covered a fair few times but I’m pleased to say that this version follows the Bruce Springsteen pattern more than any other. ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ is given a fresh airing with electric guitar and vocals only by the suitably festive We Three Kings and it’s the kind of raw version you’d expect to be ringing out of a load of pub doors at the end of Christmas parties around about now. In fact, the only disconcerting thing about this is that the video featuring a guitar toting Santa in sunglasses looks like a ransom video – especially when he starts singing “you better watch out….”.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/we3kingsband
Watch the Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65OWpaHDeYY&feature=youtu.be
Stephanie Ryann – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
A gentle country version of a classic Christmas song? Oh go on then. Westchester County’s own Stephanie Ryann lends her dulcet tones to ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ which, along with some gorgeous steel guitar work and a gentle acoustic strum, makes for an absorbing and luxurious listen. This is one for the traditionalists who want something familiar to wrap around them at the end of a hard year and Ryann’s voice is certainly a great one to get wrapped up in.
More information: https://www.facebook.com/stephanieryannmusic