Here we go again. The tree is betinseled, the mince pies are in the oven and Mariah Carey and Wham! are in the top 10 yet again. It’s a time of tradition, but that doesn’t stop a sleigh-worth of musicians from attempting to join the canon of Christmas classics that come around every year.
No one can match Mariah’s annual ubiquity but it’s not impossible to nudge Slade and Shakin’ Stevens down a notch. One More Sleep by Leona Lewis and Underneath the Tree by Kelly Clarkson, both from 2013, seem to be keepers, as is Ariana Grande’s slightly younger Santa Tell Me, and believe it or not, Michael Bublé’s omnipresent Christmas album is only celebrating its 11th birthday. Will anything from this year’s present pile still be around for Christmas 2023? Let’s have a listen.
Cuban-American pop star Camila Cabello’s ruse for making her festive single unforgettable is to cover one we already know – I’ll Be Home for Christmas (**) – add a mariachi band and then pronounce the word “Christmas” in the most bizarre way imaginable. It sounds like she’s singing about mice.
Meanwhile both Alessia Cara and Sia have given a polish to earlier Christmas offerings. Cara’s faithful take on Jingle Bell Rock (****) now has a black-and-white video in which the Canadian dons a moptop to become all four members of a Sixties pop band.
Sia’s 2017 album Everyday is Christmas seems to get bigger every year. It’s now 20 songs long, up from the original 10, with three additions this time including the swinging, handclapping Naughty & Nice (****). For the younger members of the household, Canadian TikTok success story Lauren Spencer-Smith has a sad story to share on her song Single on the 25th (***), which has a bittersweet quality that might work for fans of the John Lewis adverts.
She could take some romance tips from Sussex’s Maisie Peters, whose insufferably chirpy Together this Christmas (**) acts as the theme tune to another tradition: the Christmas rom-com. Your Christmas Or Mine? is a snowy new Brit flick made by Prime Video.
Romantic entanglements are beneath Lizzo’s pay grade when it comes to selecting a Christmas cover. For her contribution to a range of new seasonal recordings commissioned by Amazon, she’s plumped for Stevie Wonder’s call for peace on earth, Someday at Christmas (****) and shown her more serious side.
Sam Smith, too, is in a melancholy mood on original song Night Before Christmas (****). It’s a cosy contrast to their recent worldwide number one, Unholy. The most unlikely addition to the soul category is veteran Californian punk band The Offspring, who have unearthed a string section, a line of female backing singers and naturally, a few sleigh bells for a cover of Charles Brown’s vintage favourite Please Come Home for Christmas (***). But if you prefer your Christmas music to be cliché free, try the six-song EP by LA psych-soul musician Kadhja Bonet, California Holiday (****), which is lyrically festive but musically could work whenever.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Happy Xmas (War is Over) still gets plenty of outings every year, but the B-side, an Ono composition called Listen, the Snow is Falling, was all but forgotten until Andy Bell of Ride and Oasis fame gave it a hypnotic, shimmering revival (****). New Jersey rock band Titus Andronicus are more energetic on their song Drummer Boy (***), which is a different kind of cover version. It’s the lyrical perspective of the Christmas classic Little Drummer Boy, set to the music of Billy Joel’s Piano Man, and given some of the raw rambunctiousness of The Pogues. The most fun to be had comes courtesy of LA teen punks The Linda Lindas, whose new song Groovy Christmas (****) is simple, fast-paced joy to the world.
Phoebe Bridgers is now on her sixth festive cover version over the years, and rarely goes for an obvious one. Joining her takes on Tom Waits and Merle Haggard this year is So Much Wine (****), The Handsome Family’s alcohol-soaked candidate for saddest ever Christmas song. On the other hand, Noah Cyrus and her songwriting partner PJ Harding might outdo them on their funereal new ballad Snow in LA (****) which they describe with these heartwarming words: “It’s reminiscent of traditional Christmas carols (with all their reverence and hope) but contrasted by images of catastrophic climate change and looming fascism that represent so many of our fears for the future.” The bleak midwinter indeed.
What would Christmas be without a novelty single in your stocking, eh? YouTubers LadBaby have had the Christmas number one slot to themselves for four years on the trot so will surely go for a fifth, but haven’t yet announced their intentions as regards 2022’s sausage-themed parody. In the meantime you could keep singing Baddiel, Skinner & Lightning Seeds’ inevitable football/Christmas hybrid, Three Lions (It’s Coming Home For Christmas) (**) until Saturday night at least. What could summon the Christmas glow better than the threatening tones of Ray Winstone reciting a poem over Collette Cooper’s version of Silent Night (**)? Even more terrifying, fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race might just about tolerate one listen of Naughty List by The Frock Destroyers (**) with its slavering enthusiasm for “Santa’s North Pole”. If you’re still conscious after all that, how about puppet fox Basil Brush singing Boom! Boom! It’s Christmas Again (*) in a video packed with retro kids TV characters? At least it’s for charity.