Let's face it the vast majority of people turn a darker shade of Scrooge once they come into contact with Christmas music at any point before December. As a consequence those of the opposite disposition, namely Christmas music aficionados, play a dangerous game. So, for example, if you are predisposed to playing The Best Christmas Album In The World Ever on the office stereo as soon as Halloween is over you can expect plenty of grumblings. Avoiding these unsavoury situations is possible however thanks to the following collection of 10 songs which will, mostly, afford you a warm yuletide glow while all around nobody will be the wiser as to your, frankly odd, seasonal desires.
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - Time of the Season
Campbell and Lanegan are an odd pairing but one that nearly always produces quality music. On this occasion the grizzled (Mark Lanegan) and the gilded (Isobel Campbell) voices meet in beautiful harmony for a Christmas song that sidesteps all the rules pertaining to the traditional Christmas song template. So much so that you could easily play Time of the Season at any time of the year without so much as an eyelid batted in anger. And how could you resist something that includes lines such as "You knew how I was feeling, underneath the mistletoe and stars you know you set my senses reeling". Bliss.
Laura Marling - Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)
Trumpeted as one of brightest folk artists to emerge in recent years Laura Marling proved she was worthy of the hype on this track from her I Speak Because I Can album. Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) has the feel of a slow burning classic, the type that will suddenly infiltrate every Christmas compilation known to festivus in about a decade or so. For the moment however it will just be your little secret joy that showcases the splendours of the season and all the magical meteorological occurrences that come with it.
Paul Brady - Arthur McBride
This is Paul Brady and his definitive live version of Arthur McBride which describes the seaside events one Christmas morn where a pair of young fellows take on the might of the military. With dexterous guitar playing and faultless storytelling this is a song that you'll rarely hear in the build up to the season but it deserves to be feted all the same. The classic folk sound will draw the ear of those within range and have them hooked on a story where the only men in red are those bedecked in coats.
Joni Mitchell - River
This classic was spirited away on a 1971 Joni Mitchell album called Blue that had otherwise got zero to do with Christmas. It has taken some time but River is increasingly popping up on seasonal radio playlists. Such is its delicate nature however that it remains bound to slip under the radar of even the most belligerent yuletide soundtrack-hating curmudgeon.
Tracey Thorn & Green Gartside - Taking Down The Tree
This is a very useful option if your sneaky plan to play Christmas music before it is legal to do so is foiled. That's because the ex-Everything But The Girl front woman and Scritti Politti singer contend themselves with that onerous task of removing all signs of the season. So technically it is not a song about Christmas, rather a time when it is no longer logical to wish someone the merriest.
Lou Reed - Xmas In February
Included here for those who just like the sound of hearing the word Christmas mentioned in a song. For everyone else this is just plain miserable but in that Lou Reed kind of poetic way. Sure the tempo is soft and that guitar jangles like an angel's wings on Christmas Eve but the pallor drawn from memories of war could be just too much for most people as the season approaches.
Gordon Lightfoot - Song For A Winter's Night
It's cold outside and winter is here so how could a song about an evening spent by the roaring fire ever discommode anyone, even those with an aversion to all things sonically festive? Lightfoot has admitted that he wrote this song in July but that does nothing to dissuade you from picturing the fluffy snow falling outside. At its heart Song For A Winter's Night is a paean to lost love and longing and such is the beauty of Lightfoot's tender guitar playing that it turns into quite the emotional experience.
Billie Holiday - I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
Of all the songs that have become associated with Christmas but were not written specifically for it (Baby, It's Cold Outside, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow et al) it is perhaps Billie Holiday's smoking I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm that has stayed closest to the margins. And by that I mean it can be equally dispatched in cold spells as times when the mulled wine has started to bequeath its considerable gifts.
The Flaming Lips - Christmas at the Zoo
This is the only one of the 10 songs listed here that has includes Christmas in its title. But that's where Christmas ends because the Flaming Lips do what the Flaming Lips are prone to doing in conjuring a psychedelic dream that could easily go undetected amongst non-believers. With the animals set free from their zoo cages not even the appearance of a sheet of icy water can make this close to becoming a perennial seasonal favourite.
Waxahatchee - Rose, 1956
Housed in the less than seasonal surrounds of a lo-fi indie tune this is a Christmas song alright. It's just that you wouldn't know it. Even when Christmas Eve gets mentioned twice Rose, 1956 could be just another forgotten tale of drunken excess and broken love. You could call it an underground Fairytale of New York which means it is just perfect for rubbing in the noses of the anti-Christmas music brigade.
Kevin Hugger is chief writer for YulePlay, a website dedicated to Christmas music.