Music

The best Christmas covers ever recorded

From Bruce Springsteen and Sharon Van Etten to Khruangbin and Weezer – we round up the best Christmas covers to freshen up your festive playlists.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – but it sometimes doesn’t feel like it when you keep hearing the same old songs played on a loop. Worse than hearing your favourite classics getting worn out over M&S speakers is hearing them getting ruined by rubbish remakes, which is why we’ve sorted the crackers from the turkeys to bring you the Christmas covers that never feel old.

‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town’ – Bruce Springsteen 

“You guys know what time it is?!” screams Bruce, geeing up a college crowd in Brookville, New York, in 1975. Possibly the best way to start any Christmas party, Springsteen’s stadium rock vocals on the 30s classic are even better when you know the song was first recorded for a Sesame Street compilation album, originally sharing liner notes with Burt, Ernie and Cookie Monster. 

‘Christmas Time Is Here’ – Khruangbin

The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s mournful Charlie Brown chorus has seen a lot of covers over the years – from R.E.M. and Stone Temple Pilots to Mariah Carey and John Legend. 2020 gave us Hiatus Kaiyote’s future-soul Nai Palm rendition, but this year’s Khruangbin cover helps the song rediscover its jazz roots (albeit with a new psych-funk bassline). 

‘It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas’ – Fruit Bats

Christmas comes to the ranch house by way of the Chicago indie folk scene. There’s a lovely SoCal mood to Fruit Bats’ take on the crooner classic, with slide guitars drifting sleepily into a Hawaiian steel string riff that just makes you want to reach for a cocktail.  

‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ – The Beths

There are a lot of great contenders for this cover including tracks from Phoebe Bridgers and First Aid Kit, but it’s The Beths that take the song and really make it feel new. Somehow still sad and soft, the cover swells into a big indie pop ballad that mixes moods like nothing else. 

‘Blue Christmas’ – Sharon Van Etten

Elvis did it first, Shakin’ Stevens’ did it bigger and Kevin Morby did it better, but there’s something about the stripped back simplicity of Sharon Van Etten’s recent cover that makes the country classic sound sadder and more beautiful than the rest. 

‘Frosty The Snowman’ – Bowling For Soup

Making ‘Frosty The Snowman’ sound like ‘Girl All The Bad Guys Want’ works a lot better than you might expect – with Bowling For Soup seeing The Ronnettes’ Motown cover and the Jackson 5’s funk track and raising them a bona fide pop punk classic. 

‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ – The Big Moon

There’s always been something darkly ironic about ‘The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ – a song that always plays best in movies when people are punching each other in the middle of toy shops – but it’s never sounded as beautifully nasty as it does here. You can almost hear the smile and the snark in Juliette Jackson’s voice.

‘Wonderful Christmastime’ – The Shins

Paul McCartney’s synth-pop Christmas must be one of the most played (and most skipped) tracks on the family compilation album, but The Shins found a way of making it a lot less weird and lot more fun – tweaking it just enough to make it feel new without losing the spirit of the original. 

‘Little Drummer Boy’ – Flaming Lips 

One of the joys of Christmas is watching Bowie and Bing sing ‘Little Drummer Boy’ (looking like a nice old dad trying to bond with his really odd grown-up son) but there’s always been something a bit too stiff about their cover. Enter the least stiff band in the world – with Flaming Lips turning it into a loose and woozy psychedelic riff that still feels warm and fuzzy.

‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ – Twisted Sister

Possibly written by King John IV of Portugal, possibly by 18th century Cistercian monks, ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ has been begging for a metal cover for at least 200 years. Exactly the kind of song you always wished you could sing in the school carol concert, Twisted Sister’s New Jersey rock hymn is pretty much just ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ with slightly different lyrics.  

‘Joy To The World’ – Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens loves Christmas. So much so that he put out a five disc box-set album in 2006 consisting entirely of Christmas covers (also featuring two short Christmas stories, Christmas stickers, a Christmas comic and a Christmas sing-along book). There’s so much to love on all five discs, but it’s his lo-fi, spiritual-folk whisper of ‘Joy To The World’ that carries the biggest glow. 

‘Jingle Bells’ – Sugar & The Hi-Lows

The best thing about any Sugar & The Hi-Lows track is that singer Amy Stroup and guitarist Trent Dabbs both sound like they’re playing on their own. Here, Stroup is all smooth southern vocals whilst Dabbs goes off on a thick funk tangent – melding into the best Jingles Bells cover since that one you used to sing at school about a smelly Batman. 

‘O Holy Night’ – Weezer

Everyone knows Weezer’s best cover is Toto’s ‘Africa’, but the next best is the greatest black key Christmas Carol of all time. Put out on a EP alongside ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’, ‘The First Noel’ and ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’, ‘O Holy Night’ carries the same power pop chords as the band’s best, building to a cracking Rivers Cuomo solo that makes all other versions of the song sound boring as hell.