Twenty-One Modern Classic Christmas Songs That You Need On Your Festive Playlist

There are good original Christmas songs every single year and the world must know!

Noddy Holder asked it most famously: “Does your granny always tell you that the old songs are the best?” But as I’m sure you know, the belief that older Christmas songs are always better is not just a quirk of seventies grandmothers. Every year, when I try to push my modern Christmas music opinions on friends and loved ones I am met with hostile glares and angry denials. “Nothing after ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’!” they cry. “Okay, fine, that one by The Darkness is allowed!” they wail.

I ask you this: where would we be if the good people of 1984 had taken that attitude? “It’s Bing Crosby for me!” “Sinatra only please!”. We might be living in – and I don’t even want to say it – a world where Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ could have faded into obscurity. Like vampires and the Church of England, Christmas music needs new blood to survive. How will we look our children/robot overlords in the face/screen 30 years from now and tell them “We didn’t allow any new Christmas songs to get popular. We were stick-in-the muds (sticks-in-the-mud?). We played ‘Merry Xmas (War Is Over)’ on repeat for 70 years. We broke the chain. We’re sorry.”

One of the best things about the festive season is scanning the new releases to find out who has decided to take up the noble task of penning a brand new Christmas song. The Killers were longtime proponents of the art, releasing a Christmas song every year between 2006 and 2016, and Sia recently graced us with an entire album of original festive music. Each autumn more and more artists and bands gamely step up and show us what they can do. I hereby present my top 21 favourite modern Christmas classics (aka original holiday songs released post 2005 that aren’t Sufjan Stevens because you already know about him).

21. This Is Christmas – The Goo Goo Dolls (2020)
From the opening lines, it is clear the Dolls did not come to play: “Yeah it’s cold and it’s grey / I’m in love with this day / ‘cause it’s Christmas”. Me too, The Goo Goo Dolls. Me too.

20. Loneliest Time Of Year – Mabel (2019)
Despite the title, this is not a sad song. It’s a great festive track because Mabel leaned all the way into an iconic trope of Christmas tunes past: the nonspecific “I am sad that other people are sad”. With lyrics like “Can you even imagine / All the people that haven’t / Got no presents” it’s a solid entry into the canon.

19. Christmas Song – Phoebe Bridgers (2018)
One for all those who find the festive season a struggle, this sparse song explores how hard it is when you’re meant to be happy and you’re not. (It’s a cover of an original by the band McCarthy Trenching, but the original was released in 2008 so I’ll allow it!)

18. A Great Big Sled (feat. Toni Halliday) – The Killers (2006)
Their first festive offering, recorded at the peak of the band’s second album popularity (‘When You Were Young’ was my own personal song of that summer) this is a classic Killers hit, with driving synths and crunchy guitars and a huge anthemic chorus, just with added tubular bells!

17. two queens in a king size bed – girl in red (2020)
Do you listen to girl in red? Why not start with this mellow little song about girls kissing girls on Christmas day?

16. Big Christmas – Sarah Levy (2019)
Yes, this is literally a Christmas song by Twyla of Schitts Creek and it’s as lovely as it should be. A dreamy pop song with a sweet Motown-lite sound, it’s pure festive joy. (And more wholesome than her brother’s Christmas song!!)

15. Island Christmas – Christine Anu (2014)
Christmas does not exclusively happen in snow-covered northern hemisphere places, despite what Bob Geldof tried to tell you. Australian singer Christine Anu, who is of Torres Strait Islander heritage, paints a colourful picture of a festive season spent with sun and surf and I fair dinkum love it.

14. First Christmas (That I Loved You) – Shameik Moore (2019)
Is it a ‘song within a movie’ from a Netflix original where Shameik Moore plays a pop star who gets snowed into a small town? Yes. Is it a legit lovely song on its own? Also yes.

13. A Christmas Wish – Beverley Knight (2020)
Anything that Beverley Knight does should make it onto any best-of list anyone is making. She has been solidifying her place as a national treasure for years and this enormous song gives all the warm fuzzies of Phil Spector’s Christmas album without having to think about murder the whole time.

12. Christmas in L.A. (feat. Dawes) – The Killers (2013)
By 2013 Brandon Flowers and co were in a more contemplative mood, releasing this melancholy acoustic ballad about spending the season away from loved ones, perfect for crying into your chocolate orange when you miss your mum.

11. Make You Mine This Season – Tegan and Sara (2020)
The theme song from gay rom-com Happiest Season, starring queer royalty Kristen Stewart and directed by the Clea DuVall. Who else but Tegan and Sara could create the perfect sapphic Christmas tune to lend undeserved pep to a film that punches you in the gut and then hands you a mug of mulled wine.

10. When The Thames Froze – Smith & Burrows (2011)
Tom Smith of Editors and Andy Burrows latterly of Razorlight teamed up for a Christmas collaboration which included this piano-driven track that used to be Very 2011 (“goddamn this government…”) and unfortunately feels just as fresh today. It’s a classic sad British banger carrying the torch lit by Jona Lewie’s ‘Stop The Cavalry’.

9. Santa Tell Me – Ariana Grande (2014)
Okay, so with over 200 million views on YouTube this isn’t exactly a forgotten gem, but I couldn’t not include it on the tiny off chance that there is still someone in the world who doesn’t acknowledge its genius.

8. Christmas Tree Farm – Taylor Swift (2019)
A jaunty tribute to the titular farm where she spent her childhood, with a sickeningly adorable music video to prove it, this surprise release from last Christmas never fails to make me smile.

7. One More Sleep – Leona Lewis (2013)
Leona Lewis deserves more respect as one of the great British voices of the twenty-first century and this perky anthem to anticipation is one of the many reasons why.

6. It’s Christmas (I’m A Dog) – Uncle Billy (2019)
This heart-bursting ditty describing Christmas from a dog’s perspective made me weep happy buckets when I first heard it, and if you have a dog, had a dog, or ever loved a dog, I think you’ll love it too. (“What is this tree? Why is it here? Seems it suddenly appeared!”)

5. White Wine In The Sun – Tim Minchin (2009)
Approach with extreme caution – this is the biggest tearjerker on the list. Australian national treasure Minchin gets a bit more serious than usual on this six and a half minute epic exploring his complicated relationship with Christmas, as an atheist who has spent significant time living thousands of miles away from his homeland. If the final third doesn’t make you weep, I can’t help you.

4. Christmases When You Were Mine – Taylor Swift (2007)
Swift’s 2007 Holiday Collection EP was the first non-compilation Christmas album I ever owned, and this standout is still one of my all-time favourite festive tunes. An acoustic country song about missing a former lover at Christmas, it’s sort of hilarious that at seventeen years old she’s already missing them and there have apparently been multiple Christmases when they were hers. Oh to be fifteen again.

3. Christmas Lights – Coldplay (2010)
It’s slowly becoming a staple (I heard it at a socially-distanced Christmas fairground I walked past last week) but not fast enough! We should be celebrating ten triumphant years of this ode to not feeling Christmassy.

2. Love Is Christmas – Sara Bareilles (2011)
I could listen to Sara Bareilles’ mellifluous voice dance over a piano forever; everything she does is gorgeous. This deceptively simple song is no exception. “Love is not a toy, and no paper will conceal it. Love is simply joy that I’m home.” Brb, crying forever.

1. Underneath The Tree – Kelly Clarkson (2013)
I’m going to say it. A worthy successor to ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’? This glorious song bursts into life already cranked up to eleven and doesn’t let up for nearly 4 perfect minutes.

Check out all these songs and start building a future for Christmas music with our Spotify playlist here!

Author: Jodie Manning

Hello! My pronouns are she/her and I am an enthusiastic opinion-haver, mostly-amateur writer, once-published poet, and the person who makes 99% of the Taylor Swift references on The Phase.

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