7 Christmas songs that aren't about Christmas

Jon O'Brien 7 December 2021

Here are the inescapable Christmas hits that weren't about the holiday season at all

Most Christmas songs lose their appeal the minute you’ve finished tucking into your turkey with all the trimmings. But there are a handful which technically could be listened to all-year round.

Here’s a look at seven tunes that have been accepted into the Christmas canon without having anything to do with the holiday season whatsoever.

East 17—“Stay Another Day

East 17’s signature hit “Stay Another Day” was penned by chief songwriter Tony Mortimer as an emotive tribute to the brother he’d lost to suicide. It’s not exactly festive subject matter. And indeed, there’s not a hint of anything Christmassy in its heartfelt lyrics or its sparse piano-led production until those closing chiming bells.

But the bad boy alternative to Take That were still more than happy for the British public to embrace this 1994 single as a seasonal ballad. They even filmed an alternative snow-drenched video sporting white fur puffer jackets just to hammer the theme home. Their efforts also saw them deny Mariah Carey’s more intentionally festive classic to the Christmas number one spot.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood—“The Power of Love

After shocking Middle England with the one-two Hi-NRG punch of “Relax” and “Two Tribes,” Frankie Goes to Hollywood wrongfooted everyone in 1985 with a powerful beatless ballad described by frontman Holly Johnson as “the record that would save me in this life.” Fans still lapped it up, giving the Liverpudlians their third consecutive UK number one and a guaranteed windfall each December.

The latter is no doubt thanks to the nativity-themed promo—directed by 1980s video maestros Godley and Crème—and the biblical artwork on its single cover as there’s not a single Yuletide reference on offer elsewhere.

Aled Jones—“Walking in the Air

We can understand why the Howard Blake-penned “Walking in the Air” graces nearly every festive compilation. Who didn’t grow up watching the animated Raymond Briggs tale it appeared in every December despite its capacity to scar for life? But both the Peter Auty version in 1982’s The Snowman and the Aled Jones rendition which became a hit single three years later are notably free of Christmas references. In fact, the choral number, which plays as the titular hero magically whisks his young friend off to the North Pole, doesn’t even mention snow.

Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán—“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” 

First performed by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán in 1949 musical Neptune’s Daughter, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” has recently fallen foul of certain radio stations uneasy with lines such as “Say, what’s in this drink?” and “Ah, you’re very pushy you know.” Whether you believe the track—since covered by the likes of Michael Bublé & Idina Menzel and Tom Jones & Cerys Matthews—is essentially a form of sexual harassment or simply a playful sparring, one thing’s for sure. The weather conditions are the only thing that places it anywhere near the festive season.

Leonard Cohen—“Hallelujah”

Us Brits have The X Factor to thank for making Leonard Cohen’s maudlin existential crisis an unlikely Christmas staple. The 2008 winner Alexandra Burke’s cover version continued the talent show’s stranglehold on the festive number one spot in 2008, thwarting Jeff Buckley’s exquisite rendition in the process.

But what’s the excuse for those across the pond? Acappella outfit Pentatonix, dancehall artist Shenseea and Christian rockers Cloverton have all attempted to pass the 1984 single off as a Yuletide favourite, presumably oblivious to fact that its ambiguous lyrics contain as much Christmas spirit as a wet weekend in February.

Fleet Foxes—“White Winter Hymnal”

Eighties pop icon Kim Wilde, Pointless host-turned-crooner Alexander Armstrong and seemingly habitual offenders Pentatonix have all covered Fleet Foxes’ debut single for their respective Christmas albums. Presumably that’s solely due to the seasonal title, as the harmonic indie-folk number is actually based on an unhappy childhood memory with no connection to the season of goodwill.

Indeed, the standout from the band’s 2008 self-titled first LP is based on the time frontman and chief songwriter Robin Pecknold was abandoned by his middle school friends. Oh, and apparently “Whistle While You Work” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs too.

Bing Crosby—“A Marshmallow World”

Hailed as the Voice of Christmas, Bing Crosby recorded dozens of carols, traditional and festive originals that have become part of the Great American Songbook for Decca Records. But there’s one track that doesn’t really merit a place in the Yuletide canon.

Penned by Tin Pan Alley veterans Carl Sigman and Peter DeRose, 1950 single “A Marshmallow World” has also been covered for seasonal albums by everyone from Darlene Love to Seth MacFarlane.

But while the soft sugary goodness is used to describe the snow its performer has waited for all-year-round, there’s nothing to signify that it’s fallen anywhere near December 25.

Read more: Interview—Aled Jones

Read more: Everything we've learned from the new Beatles documentary

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