This time last year I put out my last holiday playlist. Whether this will become an annual tradition or not, who can say! But as we’re once again approaching the most wonderful time of the year I thought another playlist would be a lot of fun. There were so many songs I debated including last time but didn’t, so here’s an opportunity to talk about a few more of my festive favourites!
I’m an avid collector of Christmas albums, and I have been for years. Many albums, especially recently, seem to consist of the same handful of “traditional holiday favourites” in different variations, but every once in a while there’s a real gem amongst them. Sometimes these can be original songs, other times simply an original take on a classic Christmas tune.
It’s been a long while since there was a proper race to the Christmas number one spot – at least here in the UK. Nowadays novelty songs or big hits by well-known stars dominate the charts, and the days when a truly festive Christmas song would attract a lot of attention seem to be fading! The music charts are less and less relevant, of course, as folks turn to streaming, but still it would be nice to get another year like 1973 – when Slade and Wizzard battled it out with duelling songs that were both spectacularly Christmassy!
All of the songs on the list below are embedded here courtesy of YouTube. If, for whatever reason, any of the videos are blocked in your country I daresay you can find the tracks via some other streaming service without too much difficulty. I hope you’ll take a look at last year’s playlist as well – you can find it by clicking or tapping here. You’ll find the aforementioned Slade and Wizzard Christmas hits there, as well as a few other favourites of mine. This playlist is “Part 2” – it’ll go very well with last year’s offering!
Now that the shameless plug is out of the way, let’s jump into the playlist!
Saviour’s Day – Cliff Richard (1990)
Saviour’s Day is the first holiday song I listen to every year. Its opening lines are the perfect way to kick off the festive season, as mainstay of British pop Cliff Richard sings “Now we have been through the harvest, winter has truly begun.” As the harvest season draws to a close, the clocks turn back, and the temperature drops, this is the first song I turn to – it perfectly encapsulates the season that lies ahead of us.
The song was Sir Cliff’s third Christmas number one in a row here in the UK – following 1988’s Mistletoe and Wine and Band Aid II’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? in 1989. The Beatles from 1963-65, the Spice Girls from 1996-98, and most recently YouTube sensation LadBaby from 2018-20 have also achieved the feat of three Christmas number one singles in a row! I’m not a religious person, so Saviour’s Day and its Christian slant wouldn’t be my usual kind of tune. But at this time of year I don’t mind a bit of religious imagery!
Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid 20 (2004)
So here’s a question that’s bound to generate controversy: which version of Do They Know It’s Christmas is the best? For me it comes down to a clash between the original in 1984 and the 2004 cover version, and it’s the latter that we’ll listen to on this occasion. While the original has its charms, I like the slower tempo and more modern instrumentation that Band Aid 20 used. This version of the song blends slow piano, an electric guitar solo, and even a rapped verse all into one – and it works.
Band Aid 20, like Band Aid before it, was a charity project. Raising money for people in less well-off countries is always a good cause, and the holiday season sees a lot of charitable activity. Do They Know It’s Christmas wasn’t the first charity song to top the charts, but it’s a fun song in its own right, with a short but sweet melody that has become synonymous with this time of year. Band Aid 20 produced a creditable cover version in 2004, and it’s one I’m happy to revisit at this time of year.
Christmas Is Starting Now – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (2009)
This was one of several Christmas songs featured on the Disney Channel special Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation. It’s an amazing Christmas song in its own right, and an original track written for the show. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are a swing band, and the song uses their style in show-stopping fashion!
The song plays at the climax of Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation, and the Christmas special needed a big number to fit the excited, uplifting tone of that moment. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy delivered – but the song is so good it seems almost criminal to relegate it to one moment on the soundtrack to an animated show! It should be a permanent fixture on Christmas playlists – and it has been on mine ever since I first heard it.
Lonely This Christmas – Mud (1974)
A year after Slade and Wizzard had duked it out for the Christmas number one spot here in the UK, Mud came along with another record that would go on to become a Christmas classic. Unlike the upbeat tone of the two Christmas contenders in 1973, Lonely This Christmas is a slower track that perfectly fits the sombre, reflective tone of its lyrics.
Lonely This Christmas is a very relatable song – I think many folks must’ve lived through “the Christmas after the one before;” that first Christmas after a big break-up, wondering what the other person is doing and looking back at happier memories from the year before. I know I’ve been there… raise your hand if you have, too!
A Spaceman Came Travelling – Chris de Burgh (1976)
This one has been on my festive playlist for decades… mostly for sentimental reasons. I have fond memories of a friend who adored this slow, melodic track, and while I freely admit it isn’t my all-time Christmas favourite, it’s the time of year when it’s nice – sometimes – to wallow in fond memories.
I like the lyrics of A Spaceman Came Travelling – it’s the kind of song that makes you stop and think. The premise is simple (and supposedly inspired by the 1968 pseudoscience book Chariots of the Gods) that the Star of Bethlehem was, in fact, an alien spacecraft. The benevolent alien would preach a message of peace… but presumably was misunderstood! The ’70s had quite a few of these New Age concept songs… but this one has a Christmas theme.
Good King Wenceslas – The Piano Guys (2013)
The Piano Guys are a YouTube musical outfit well-known for their instrumental covers of pop hits. In 2013 they put out their first Christmas album – and it’s a good one! There have been many covers of Good King Wenceslas over the years, including instrumental variations like this one. I don’t want to say this one is the “absolute best” – but it has to be up near the top!
The arrangement of the piece is beautiful, giving what can be a slow, droll Christmas carol an up-tempo reworking. The melody focuses on the piano – as you might expect – but there’s also a cello and percussion present. All in all, a wonderful and somewhat different rendition of a traditional Christmas classic.
364 Days To Go – Brad Paisley (2006)
Representing the country music genre we have modern country superstar Brad Paisley! In my opinion at least, the country music genre as a whole doesn’t always get it right at this time of year… too many samey covers of the same few Christmas hits! But once in a while there’s a fun original song, and Brad Paisley’s 364 Days To Go has to be among them.
The song’s premise is simple… Christmas has only just finished, and while it’s tempting to feel a little melancholic at the end of the season, if you think about it there really isn’t that long until the next one! I love this time of year, and the few weeks leading up to Christmas are beautiful – so it can feel a little sad as Christmas Day draws to a close. But Brad’s right – there’s only 364 days to go and we’ll be back here again!
Merry Xmas Everybody – Robbie Williams ft. Jamie Cullum (2019)
We’ve done it… this is the first cover version of a track that appeared on last year’s list! But wait, don’t skip ahead yet! I was truly surprised to enjoy a cover of Slade’s amazing Christmas hit Merry Xmas Everybody… especially a swing-inspired one! But Robbie Williams and Jamie Cullum put together a really fun rendition of the track.
This version feels different enough from the original to really feel like something new, and the swing elements fit perfectly with the up-tempo music and fun lyrics. When I saw this track on the album’s listing I almost skipped it… but I’m so glad that I didn’t. It’s well worth a place on anyone’s Christmas playlist!
In Dulci Jubilo – Mike Oldfield (1975)
The Piano Guys aren’t the only musicians to put together a very different instrumental version of a traditional carol! Mike Oldfield did it decades earlier, and his version of In Dulci Jubilo has become a holiday favourite. In 1975 it peaked at number four on the UK charts, but has made a comeback on compilations and holiday albums ever since.
Mike Oldfield is a multi-instrumentalist, and over the course of a long career has put together a number of instrumental pieces as well as songs. In Dulci Jubilo features an electric guitar and recorders playing the main melody, backed up by synthesisers, drums, and piano. It’s very difficult to put into words; it’s a unique piece of music, based on a traditional carol but taking it in a very different and unexpected direction.
Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses (1981)
Christmas Wrapping wasn’t a rousing success for New Wave band The Waitresses either on its original 1981 release or its re-release the next year, peaking at a lowly 45th position on the UK charts. It was originally commissioned for a compilation album that likewise wasn’t a huge success in the early ’80s, but it’s been featured on a number of Christmas albums in the years since, and has seen its popularity rise as a result.
The song’s title is a pun: “wrapping” sounds a lot like “rapping,” and there had been a song a couple of years earlier called Christmas Rappin’. Lyrically, the song tells of someone with a busy life who thinks she’ll skip Christmas – only to re-encounter someone she’s interested in on Christmas Eve. If one of those corny made-for-TV Christmas movies was condensed into five minutes and twenty seconds… this is what you’d get!
It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas – Michael Bublé (2011)
Michael Bublé has actually only released one full Christmas album, but he seems to have acquired a reputation of late as being a Christmas artist first and foremost! His cover of the 1951 hit It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas is one of the best versions of the song that I’ve heard, sticking fairly close to the original arrangement to provide a sweet, familiar-sounding Christmas tune.
There have been many versions of It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas over the years, including a few that take the song to different musical genres. Michael Bublé’s version is great, though, and makes the perfect backdrop to any Christmas party!
Merry Christmas – Ed Sheeran and Elton John (2021)
I debated whether to include this one because it’s so new… but it’s been on constant repeat in my house the past couple of days so I can’t help myself! This year, popular singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has teamed up with Elton John for a Christmas single in aid of two charities. Merry Christmas is a fantastic Christmas song that draws on the very best of late 20th Century Christmas pop hits, mashing it all together into a simple, catchy tune.
The music video is hilarious, too. Featuring parodies of the likes of Walking in the Air, Shakin’ Stevens, Wizzard, and East 17’s Christmas hits – among others – it also features a number of celebrities and Christmas hitmakers of years past. Although it’s brand-new and has only been around for a couple of days at time of writing, I can already tell that Merry Christmas is going to become a permanent fixture on my Christmas playlist… staying there for as many Christmases as I have left!
So that’s it!
But don’t forget to go back and listen to last year’s playlist too – you can find it by clicking or tapping here. Once again we’ve put together a somewhat eclectic mix of different genres and styles, but I hope it’ll make the perfect backdrop to your Christmas party. For the second year in a row we’ve managed to avoid Wham! and Mariah Carey… but how long can we keep that up?
2021 has been a difficult year for all of us, and it’s years like this where we need the holiday season more than ever. Whether you’re able to spend Christmas with family and friends, or whether you’ll be chilling out alone, I hope you find some comfort and enjoyment in some of these songs. I find that listening to Christmas music can be a great way to relax and take my mind off things at this time of year.
Stay tuned for more Christmas-themed content here on the website between now and the big day!
All songs on the playlist above are the copyright of their respective record company, studio, distributor, composer, etc. All videos courtesy of YouTube. Videos are merely embedded here, and are not hosted on Trekking With Dennis. For copyright claims, please contact YouTube directly. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.