Sick of Christmas clichés? Refresh your festive playlist with these modern Christmas bangers!
Of course, we can't deny our love for the Christmas classics. Whether it's the outdated back-and-forth of The Pogues, the eardrum bursting vocals of Mariah Carey or the cheesy 80s pop of Wham! all of the retro numbers still have a special place in everyone's heart and remind us of happy Christmases gone by. However, we are in a Christmas song crisis! When compiling your yearly seasonal playlist how many songs make it in from the 21st century? Apart from the odd attempt from the biggest global popstars to land a Christmas number 1 by covering festive hits hits, the past 20 years have been starved of seasonal material. So, we have compiled a chronological list of our favourite Christmas songs since the millennium to spice up your playlists with a mix of festive originals and a few more Indie centered covers.
Badly Drawn Boy - Donna and Blitzen (2002)
If ever a film/artist collaboration was destined to be then Badly Drawn Boy and the 2002 Hugh Grant Rom-Com About A Boy has to be one of them, producing one of the best original soundtracks of the 00s. The film has an almost Die Hard debate about it, with some claiming it is just a witty coming-of-age Rom-Com while others suggesting it is a nailed on Christmas film. Along with the fact that Hugh Grant's character lives off the royalties of his dad's Christmas #1 and the climactic talent show scene occurring at Christmas one of the biggest claims for About A Boy being a festive film is its own original Christmas track Donna and Blitzen from Badly Drawn Boy. The track is short but quickly builds a really poignant atmosphere that should crack even the coldest of hearts.
The Darkness - Christmas Tine (Don't Let the Bells End) (2004)
The pompous Rockers landed with this anthemic single following the release of their hit debut album 'Permission to Land'. What really makes this track is that they don't dampen their style to suit the Christmas theme. They unapologetically inject Christmas with their distinctive high soaring vocals and Brian May esc guitar extravagance. However, they do employ some of the classic Christmas song traits with the introduction of the school choir backing. The combination of a heavy Rock atmosphere and an angelic choir chorus is somewhat strange yet by the end it all gels perfectly. The upbeat, dense sound mixed with the late shout of "Come on kids" echoes memories of the fun finale in Wizzard's 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'. This is about as big and bold as a Christmas tune can get - certainly one for waking up any family members still snoozing off the Christmas Eve hangover.
The Wombats - Is This Christmas? (2008)
Art school trio The Wombats start the theme of Scouse artists dominating this list. Perhaps that is just our local bias or maybe Merseyside have a particular knack for injecting Christmas spirit? Back in their more angsty youth they released this energetic single that, with lyrics such as "nights extended into the overdraft" and "turn Back to the Future off I've seen it before", gives us a more honest representation of Christmas Day than some of the rose tinted classics. Despite the cynical lyrics, it takes on a musical style more reminscent of the Xmas party anthems from the likes of Slade. It is loud and punchy and provides the perfect soundtrack to liven the mood and break the post Christmas dinner food coma.
D.I.D - TV Christmas (2015)
Perhaps best known for their uplifting 2012 track 'Glockenspiel Song', Nottingham's Indie quintet D.I.D brought us a more heartbroken Christmas release in 2015 with 'TV Christmas'. The track, released on Christmas day itself, has lyrics that will certainly resonate with people this year. As COVID swoops in to play Scrooge once again, the lines "And it's been a real hard year but I've been a good boy - And you've been a real tough cookie, you've been a killjoy" will definitely ring true. Yet, despite the somber lyrical content the song actually becomes quite wholesome as it progresses with its warm tone and rich, brass backing.
Zuzu - Distant Christmas (2018)
Talking of heartbroken, our local girl Zuzu delivered a Christmas break-up track back in 2018. Christmasy I know... but don't worry! It has a happy ending and is a fantastic story that feels like a heartwarming Christmas movie condensed into an emotive 3 minute musical. It starts out as a melancholic tale of a couple who no longer speak but by the end they are back together with "a fresh pair of PJs". With her cleaner female Pop vocals this is one on the list for the 'All I Want For Christmas' sing-a-long gang that carries an added layer of depth. The warm strings, smooth harmonies, xylophone notes and jangly bells throughout give it an obvious Christmasy feel and make it a great playlist addition! After you've listened to that, why not check out her brand new debut album, released last month.
FEET - Vegetarian Christmas (2019)
We didn't want to pepper this list with novelty Christmas songs but FEET's 'Vegetarain Christmas' is a great track musically. They pour in their trademark blarse wit with the lines "Nah FEET don't eat meat. Sprouts and gravy, a Linda McCartney too, food so tasty don't forget to chew". However, this doesn't take away from the serious quality of the music. It is a laid-back lo-fi Indie Rock track that is endearingly rough around the edges and provides the perfect antithesis to the cheesy classics for those who hate Christmas clichés.
Blossoms - Christmas Eve (Soul Purpose) / It's Going To Be A Cold Winter (2020)
If there's a band that are fit for seamlessly dragging Christmas music into the modern age it is Stockport outfit Blossoms. They have enough of that palatable Pop edge, appreciation for the songwriting greats of Christmas' past like McCartney, Lennon, Elton John and Shakin' Stevens as well as an existing preference for retro keyboard tones and soft acoustic chords that we associate with some our favourite Christmas music. Last year they took on this task and provided two festive singles that offer two contrasting attitudes to the holiday season. The first, 'Christmas Eve (Soul Purpose)' is an uplifting ballad packed full of all the classic ingredients for a Christmas song; a kids choir, bells chiming and lyrics about "peace on earth". It has all the charm of your favourite classics with a brighter modern twist. Whereas the second track 'It's Going To Be A Cold Winter' is the perfect anti-Christmas song. The lyrics call for Summer to return while taking a back-seat and eye-rolling at the Christmas traditions. However it still offers a fun, swinging Christmas sound musically. So whether you are a Bob Cratchit or an Ebenezer Scrooge Blossoms have your Christmas soundtrack covered.
Willie J Healey - Merry Christmas (2020)
Quirky Indie Songwriter Willie J Healey took up the festive songwriting challenge last year and turned out one of the best Christmas songs of the 21st Century. His slightly lo-fi style and soft vocal tone gives him the perfect tools for creating a warm and cosy tune well suited for the season. The chorus is perhaps the most pure on this list with an uplifting strings section providing a great character and the bells giving a sprinkle of Christmas atmosphere while he sings "Merry Christmas honey and a happy new year, its gonna be a good one there's magic in the air". This creates a feel-good chorus that has the retro charm of an old-fashioned record player while still making you want to belt out the words like 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'. The considered, Lennon esc songwriting taps further into the retro aesthetic while lyrics like "I heard that Santa is a lady, she works on aisle 10" drag it into the modern age. It achieves Christmas song status not just through its content but through its tone. It has a fuzzy, warm feeling to it as if you have just sat up next to the fire and popped on your favourite Christmas jumper and pair of pyjamas. Just the kind of feeling that Christmas should bring!
Robert Weston - Counting Down To Christmas (2021)
Although the past 18 months may have dampened the Christmas spirits of many, it hasn't stopped Dutch Country songwriter Robert Weston offering a wholesome Christmas classic. Despite it being the latest release on the list it probably has the most retro feel of all. The vibrant blues piano and rich brass accompaniment build a dense, care-free Christmas party atmosphere. The lyrics tick all the boxes of Santa's sleigh, snow falling and mistletoe and provide a joyful escape from the "long tough year" that we've all had. If you have a family member stuck in the traditions and cliches of Christmas music then this may be the perfect gateway to give their playlist an update!
Abbie Ozard - Stay Another Day (2018)
In reality there isn't much about the 1994 Christmas number 1 from East 17 that makes it a Christmas song apart from the snowy music video and church like chimes yet 'Stay Another Day' has been featured in countless compilations over the years. Perhaps it's cheesy, smoothed over vocals fit the Christmas song characteristics. However, in 2018, introspective Bedroom-Indie star Abbie Ozard stripped back the track's outdated 90s varnish to the bare bones of its sentimentality. The ethereal tone in her voice carries a slight feeling of emptiness that is instantly heartbreaking. She completely reworks the instrumentation, creating a new electric guitar line that can only have been written alone, late at night. The lyrics of the original song can sometimes be overlooked because of the music behind them but the intimate production and emotional vocal performance in Abbie's version elevate the chorus lines of "Oh don't leave me alone like this - Don't you say it's the final kiss -Won't you stay another day?" to a whole new level. If you can listen to this with getting a lump in your throat then you have a heart of stone!
Sam Fender - Winter Song (2020)
We mentioned before about Blossoms wishing for Summer to return on 'It's Going To be A Cold Winter' but no one takes this to more of an extreme than Sam Fender on this 2020 cover. Switching his guitar for a stripped back piano performance of Lisdisfarne's 'Winter Song' he delivers a powerful cinematic ballad. The track personifys the winter as a viscous creature with "shadowy fingers" that "caress without permission" and makes you rethink your view on the festive period. It was originally written as a political folk song that reminds us of how the festive period that we cherish can be a time of fear and even death for the less fortunate. Sam Fender picks up this message but completely reinvigorates the track with a shattering vocal performance. The restricted instrumentation and raw vocal tone reflect the coldness that the song is trying to convey and his performance demands full attention from start to finish. Although it is not the most 'Christmasy' in tone it is a staggering solo effort and deserves another listen as the nights get colder.
Red Rum Club - Last Christmas (2020)
Prolific Scouse six-piece Red Rum Club have not let COVID slow them down and have released three albums in an as many years. However, they still found time last Christmas to don their Christmas jumpers for a rendition of, well...'Last Christmas'. Now we know that the Wham! classic will be many people's favourite Christmas song of all time and so some may be skeptical about switching up George Michael's 80s vibes for a modern cover. Yet, their trademark trumpeter Joe Corby brings a new freshness to the track with the bright brass melody. The rich vocals of Fran Doran compliment this track perfectly too and together the band produce a cover that is both true to the original and worth existing in its own right.
The Academic - Lonely This Christmas (2020)
Irish Rock outfit The Academic are better known for their upbeat Indie anthems like 'Acting My Age' and 'Bear Claws' but last year they took a slower, more sentimental turn with their cover of the MUD single 'Lonely This Christmas'. They offer a cleaner and crisper version as you would imagine from any modern cover, replacing the weary warble and deep harmonies for a soaring sonic landscape. With this full band rendition they revamp an intimate fireplace classic into an anthemic Indie Rock banger perfect for belting out with after Christmas dinner! Although we hope that after Boris' announcement you all avoid a lonely this Christmas this year round and can celebrate with your families once again!
Hopefully you enjoyed the list - but if Christmas music just really isn't for you then take a listen to our 2021 Top 100 below to recap our favourite tracks from the past 12 months!