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Michael Bublé
Photograph: Evaan Kheraj

The best Christmas songs to play during the holidays

We shake up the Christmas playlist with a mix of festive classics, all-time faves and fresh tracks vying for our attention

Cam Khalid
Cheryl Sekkappan
Written by
Cam Khalid
Contributor
Cheryl Sekkappan
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You do the Thriller on Halloween, but the minute the clock strikes midnight on November 1, jingle bells are a-ringing. For the next couple of days, having yuletide tunes spilling from speakers around town is inevitable – from ye olde office Christmas parties (if you're allowed mini one this year) and holiday specials on the telly to gift shopping and festive feasting.

To help you create the ultimate playlist to get in the Christmas spirit – and we’re not talking about playing Mariah Carey’s 1994 Christmas album in its entirety – the Time Out team share their festive favourites to play during the holidays on top of the main highlights. Not even the biggest Scrooge could get sick of these.

RECOMMENDED: The ultimate guide to Christmas and the best Christmas movies to watch during the holidays

New releases

When It's Time by Jean Tan

This Christmas, cosy up to Singaporea singer-songwriter Jean Tan's latest single When It's Time. There's a bit of romance about the festive season, and this lush song will have you reliving the tentative, fluttery feelings at the early stages of relationships. Bringing her signature folk, jazz and pop sensibilities to this single, Jean delivers a soothing song that's fit for the year end. 

Fall in Love at Christmas by Mariah Carey ft. Khalid and Kirk Franklin

The reigning Queen of Christmas will have you falling in love all over again this Christmas. Fall in Love at Christmas starts off as a romantic RnB slow jam complete with handpicked guitars and chiming sleigh bells. Stick around a bit more and you'll be treated to Mariah's signature whistle tone as the song crescendoes to a rousing choir section – props to American choirmaster Kirk Franklin. Khalid's soulful as ever, never outshining but perfectly matching Mariah in this Christmas-y tune. 
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The Christmas Sweater by Michael Bublé

Break out the ugly Christmas sweaters, because Michael Bublé says so! In The Christmas Sweater, the undisputed king of Christmas makes a good case for getting into the spirit of the season, cheesiness be damned. Co-penned by Michael himself, this new song is part of his iconic Christmas album's Super Deluxe Limited Edition Box Set. He released it this year to mark its 10th anniversary, and it includes a new studio version of the favourite Let It Snow!.  

Little Things by ABBA

Swedish icons ABBA are getting in on the festive cheer with Little Things, a twinkly, musical-box like song that's full of innocent wonder at all things Christmas. Fältskog and Lyngstad’s vocals elevates this deceptively simple song about Christmas mornings, festive stockings and the little things that make this holiday so special. Coming on ABBA's alleged last album ever, Voyage, it's a bittersweet reminder of what makes ABBA so great. 

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Christmas isn't Cancelled (Just You) by Kelly Clarkson

 

This one goes out to all the broken-hearted folks out there. Christmas isn't Cancelled (Just You) by Kelly Clarkson is a wonderfully empowering song that'll help fresh singles get out of bed during this festive season. Clarkson takes a poke at her ex over festive trumpets and jingle bells, declaring 'you won't take Christmas from me'. Who needs him or her? Gather your best friends, turn this song up to full volume, and head out for a blast this Christmas. 

Alternative hits

Christmas In Harlem by Kanye West ft. Cyhi Da Prynce & Teyana Taylor

You get two options with this Kanye Christmas (or rather, Kris-mas) special – the relatively ‘nice’ four-minute version featuring rapper CyHi Da Prince and songstress Teyana Taylor, or the really ‘naughty’ nine-minute cut (aka the G.O.O.D. Fridays Version) featuring rappers Cam'ron, Jim Jones, Vado, Pusha-T, Musiq Soulchild, and Big Sean. Nonetheless, press play to hear Tayena sing over a gentle piano melody, and the rappers spitting fire bars over a slick soul-sampling beat. Surprisingly, it sounds Christmassy enough without having to rely on any of those obvious holiday cheat codes.

It’s Going To Be A Cold Winter by Blossoms

For an indie fix, treat your ears to the jangly guitars of Blossom’s festive release. Let the song warm you up with lyrics that are easy to sing along, guitar riffs that will get you hooked, synths that will get you into the Christmas spirit, and the sweet carolling of their hometown’s Stockport Junior Voices Choir that will tug at your heartstrings. But don’t let the upbeat track deceit you – It’s Going To Be A Cold Winter is on the run to become the next best Scrooge soundtrack. 

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I Wish It Was Christmas Today by Julian Casablancas

If you’re wishing for a merry Strokesmas, look no further than The Strokes’ frontman’s swooning solo seasonal single. What started as a now-legendary SNL sketch featuring Jimmy Fallon and Tracy Morgan has become an indie Christmas classic. It bears all the hallmarks of a Strokes song – razor-sharp guitar riffs, loud drums, and fizzing rhythms. But to amp up the festive spirit, the charmer croons lyrics with Yuletide references and namedrops Santa. For a more experimental, distorted version, check out his 2015 reimagination with The Voidz.

Christmas Will Break Your Heart by LCD Soundsystem

Take a breather and slow it down with this melancholic number about the most wonderful time of the year. Despite the jingle bells, vocalist James Murphy isn’t jingling all the way here as he ditches LCD Soundsystem’s usually high energy alternative-rock for something more gloomy. Listen out for lyrics such as “Christmas will shove you down / So just lay back in the snow / That quiet wind won't wake / What inside you has grown cold.” But despite the doom and gloom, in the beginning, the song awakens with a hopeful, Bowie-esque chorus that’s quite apt for this year.

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Don’t Shoot Me Santa by The Killers

If those cheesy songs don’t quite cut it, give ‘em a skip and settle for The Killers’ Chrimbo single, instead. In a nutshell, this novelty, jingle-belled song basically retells the plot of Bad Santa in music. Expect the LA rockers’ trademark sound, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and frontman Brenda Flowers pleading cries, promising that he’s “been a clean living boy.”

Christmas classics

The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole

For some throwback, Nat King Cole’s Christmas Song is the Christmas song to play while you deck the halls, indulge in a glass of mulled wine, and wrap (or unwrap) your presents. The minute you hear the opening “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” it’s customary (well, in our books) for you to listen to the song all the way through. Just let Nat King Cole’s warm vocals and romantic string accompaniment give you that fuzzy feeling Santa gets with his cookies and milk combo.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town by The Jackson 5

From Frank Sintra and The Beach Boys to Michael Bublé and Justin Bieber, it seems like everyone has covered John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie’s 1934 classic. But none beats The Jackson 5’s groovy, Motown version. It has plenty of fizzing guitars, hi-hats, and a bold soprano from King of Pop Michael Jackson who was 12 years old at the time. It’s pretty ironic to have kids on the mic, singing a song that also doubles as a bargaining tool by parents. But nonetheless, it’s a pretty darn good Christmas essential.

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Feliz Navidad by José Feliciano

Why have lyrics in one language when you can have them in two languages? Together with an acoustic guitar and a Puerto Rican cuatro, this joyous bilingual festive tune is responsible for teaching me (and many others) to say Merry Christmas in Spanish and vice versa. There are only 20 words in English and Spanish, so lyrics-wise, it was easy to remember and sing along. Despite turning 50 this year, Feliz Navidad still shows no signs of aging.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland

Whether you’re watching Meet Me in St. Louis during the holidays or not, you can’t go through it without listening to Judy Garland’s emotive version. While there are many different versions including those by Frank Sinatra, Sam Smith, and Michael Bublé, there’s something about Judy’s version that hits different, especially in 2020. Perhaps, it’s the lyrics “Someday soon we all will be together / If the fates allow / Until then, we’ll muddle through somehow / So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”

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Fairytale of New York by The Pogues ft. Kirsty MacColl

Don’t let the slow intro fool you into thinking it's a slow Yule jam. It starts off as a maudlin drunken reverie before going into Irish overdrive with fiddles, duets, a liner about the NYPD choir singing Galway Bay, and some very offensive lyrics. But beyond the profanity is an unholy hymn to life at its rawest, narrating elements of hope, despair, and heartbreak. If anything, Fairytale of New York is a beautiful drunken mess of an ode to Christmas.

Christmas In Hollis by Run-DMC

There’s not a lot of mainstream hip-hop holiday songs, but dare we say, Christmas In Hollis is the best one there is. Hip-hop trio Run-DMC samples Back Door Santa by Clarence Carter and cleverly turns Jingle Bells into a witty tale of the holiday season in Queens, with Run finding Santa’s bill-stuffed wallet in the park on Christmas Eve. It’s the perfect track to turn to for a bit of bounce when you’re all flatted out by those Slade and Paul McCartney songs.

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Last Christmas by Wham!

Despite being a ballad of doomed romance, this Christmas essential remains a top drawer tune from the Wham! duo. It has everything you need to get into the festive spirit. Sleighbells – check. Synths – check. Plenty of knitwear in the music video – check. But what sets it apart from other seasonal choons with the same core ingredients is George Michael’s heart-on-sleeve delivery which includes his wistful, sultry vocals. Love it or loathe it, it never fails to give us the festive feels.

All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey

And of course, Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You. Bet you didn’t know that this incredibly catchy song never peaked at number one on the mainstream charts when it was released in 1994. But it has since made up for it by re-entering in the charts every year since 2007, cementing the songbird's rep as the Queen of Christmas. Mimi’s entry into the Christmas canon is a stocking full of jingle bells, flirtatious coos, beltable verses, and girl-group harmonies that still shows off her effortless vocal range without being an over-the-top ballad.

Time Out Singapore's top picks

Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day (Well, You Deserved It) by Sufjan Stevens

"It's okay to not be happy-clappy on Christmas, it's really okay. In fact, there are so many reasons to be unhappy – shitty presents, the same boring food, cleaning the house, having to socialise, ghosts... of Christmas' past. I like to embrace my unhappiness which is why I really like this song. Perhaps I am too bitter, perhaps I am too salty, but to that, I say "Huzzah!" and stay in to watch terrible Netflix Christmas movies (Knight Before Christmas is especially terrible I love it)."

- Delfina Utomo, Editor

Jingle Bell Rock by The Plastics

"Jingle Bell Rock is an all-time favourite, feel-good Christmas tune. Every time I hear the song, it makes me want to break into song and dance because, ya know, it is so fetch."

- Dewi Nurjuwita, Art & Culture Editor

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One More Sleep by Leona Lewis

"It’s a song that’s as sweet as panettone. Plus, it features X-Factor Leona Lewis – a forgotten talent who could really use a comeback."

- Fabian Loo, Food & Drink Writer

Oi to the World by No Doubt

"Right, the original punk-rock version is by The Vandals but I can't help lean towards the cover by their Cali-pals – and Gwen Stefani-fronted ska band – No Doubt. A middle-finger to those cheesy choons, this alternative track isn't exactly one to play 'round the Christmas tree – unless you're a family of punks ready to spread the Christmas jeer. And if Scrooge ever curates a bangin' Christmas playlist, I reckon this one's the party starter."

- Cam Khalid, City Life Writer

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I Am the Grinch by Tyler the Creator

"Representing for all those who aren’t that chuffed about Christmas. I love that it’s grumpy, eccentric and overflowing with ‘I could care less’, perfect for when I just want to curl up in the dark away from all the blinding festive lights and Christmas cheer."

- Cheryl Sekkappan, Staff Writer

Snow in California by Ariana Grande

"I dig it because it's such wishful thinking. Since California doesn’t snow – just like Singapore – and it's a song about wishing for snow from Santa, well, here I am. I can only wish/ and sing to have snow in Singapore this Christmas."

- Kashmira Kasmuri, Designer

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Christmas Tree Farm by Taylor Swift

"Not only is the music video for this adorable, but Christmas Tree Farm also makes up for Tay’s country Christmas songs days."

- Nicole-Marie Ng, Former Editor

It's Christmas!

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