There’s something missing from your festive playlist. These songs will make you instantly think of Christmas… without even mentioning it.
You know how Die Hard is universally accepted as a Christmas film, despite not officially being one? Well this counts for music, too – songs that don’t actually reference the season, but have a distinctly festive feel. So, in the spirit of expanding playlists beyond Wham! and Mariah, I would like to bring to your attention the Christmas Song That’s Not A Christmas Song. I say they count as Christmas songs just as Bruce Willis’s film is a Christmas movie. What follows is a small selection, old and new.
(Criteria include: The song features Christmassy production elements; the song invokes an instant Christmassy Feeling™; the music video is set at Christmas.)
Liam Gallagher – All You’re Dreaming Of
Opening with a peal of festive horns, this charity single is a cosy bedtime story of a song. Who knew Liam had it in him.
Jennifer Lopez – All I Have ft. LL Cool J
A single snowflake falls to the ground. Shimmering chimes fill the air. Nobody wants to go through a breakup at Christmas, but here we have J.Lo and LL Cool J in that miserable situation. She’s dropping snowglobes everywhere, he’s invading her personal space and chucking house keys into a roaring winter fire. In the words of fellow RouteNote blogger Kieran: ‘Her coat is fluffy and the boots are Christmas white – what more do you want?’ Verdict: Absolutely a Christmas song.
S Club 7 – Never Had A Dream Come True
If fluffy boots are a criteria for a Christmas hit, then this video nails it, although the frozen wasteland the noughties pop group appear to be trapped in doesn’t look very festive. Bringing the seasonal harmony however is the glistening sound of chimes and soft, soaring strings. Should you be interested, S Club 7 are now available for hire as S Club 3.
Elliot Smith – Angel in the Snow
Picture the scene: we’re trudging through the snow along to Elliot Smith’s acoustic guitar with its folky lilt. He’s singing quietly about the winter season. It’s the perfect, beautiful accompaniment to your own post-Christmas dinner plod, even if there’s no snow to be seen.
Carly Simon – In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning
The gentle, romantic strings, the lyrical references to not being able to sleep; the muted trumpet solo, prompting thoughts of dark winter nights spent staring up at a starry sky. It feels like Christmas, along with the fact that this cover of Frank Sinatra’s original is on the soundtrack of Sleepless in Seattle, a festive-feeling film which opens on Christmas Eve (just like, er, Die Hard).
Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal
It’s got a merry tambourine, it’s got carol-singer-esque harmonies, it’s got winter in the title. It’s only two and a half minutes long, which is the average length of a day after the clocks go back. It’s a Christmas Song.
East 17 – Stay Another Day
Perhaps the ultimate Non-Christmas Christmas Song. Claiming the UK Christmas Number 1 in 1994, the moving song was written by Tony Mortimer about his brother’s death. The band recorded two videos, one to fit in with the Christmas release. The very-of-it’s-time festive video opens with the group apparently sleeping tucked up in their fluffy white hoods. By the end the pounding piano is joined by church bells and the band return to their slumber, because Santa won’t come if you’re still awake at midnight. Aside from all that, it’s a beautiful song about thinking about absent loved ones around the holidays.
The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want
That’s right, the Stones make the cut. Opening with a children’s choir, fading away to a rising, hopeful French Horn… I do accept that it gets less Christmassy as the song progresses, although the choir does return. But continuing throughout is the message of Christmas – that the presents under the tree might not be what you asked Santa for, but you might get something useful instead, like an innovative avocado slicer.
Leon Bridges – Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand
This gorgeous track is included here because you can imagine it playing in a romantic Christmas movie à la Bridget Jones, as a heartbroken character walks dejectedly through a snowy city, being splashed by buses. Listen to the intro – it tricks you into thinking it’s a Christmas song with the ringing xylophone and blossoming harp, which peel away into a classic soul tune before returning at the end of the song. All that’s needed is for the video to be blanketed by snow.
Rage Against The Machine – Killing in the Name Of
The year was 2009. For the previous four years, the Official UK Christmas Number 1 had been claimed by a clone from the X Factor pop machine. In one of the first examples of the power of social media, the race was hijacked by a Facebook campaign that saw Rage get the top spot. But the anti-singing competition revolution sadly didn’t last, because X Factor winner Matt Cardle crept back in 2010 to retake the crown. Disappointing. After all, nothing says ‘festive’ like a song about police brutality.