While massively popular British pop duo Wham! are best known for creating eminently danceable pop songs like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and ultra-sincere pop ballads like “Careless Whispers,” the group also gave modern music one of its best Christmas songs.
Featuring deceptively upbeat synth-pop production and a rapturously smooth vocal from George Michael, “Last Christmas” is both a great Christmas song and a great breakup song. It’s a great Christmas song because it highlights how the holiday can come to be associated with some of our most cherished – and most painful – memories. And it’s great breakup tune because it offers reassurance that no matter how bad a breakup, there’s always more fish in the sea.
Since its recording in 1984, “Last Christmas” has been covered more than a dozen times by musical acts ranging from the cast of Glee to the Swedish Crazy Frog to No Doubt lead singer Gwen Stefani. To help discerning music fans separate the good from the bad, here’s a definitive ranking of the five best covers of “Last Christmas.”
Record in 2001 right after the band’s fourth studio album Bleed American became a surprise megahit, Jimmy Eat World cover of “Last Christmas” ditches the originals synth heavy production in favor of some more rocking and energetic. The result is a cover that is charming, life-affirming and oddly nostalgic.
With its something synthetic baseline, “Last Christmas,” has always had a pleasingly dance-pop undertone. German electronic music act Cascada really brought that quality to the fore with their 2007 cover of the track. This rendition of the song makes a really convincing argument that the best way to get of a broken heart is to leave it all out on the dance floor.
3. The xx
In 2012, British electronica group The xx stopped by BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge and performed a chill-inducing rendition of “Last Christmas.” Stripped of all but the most minimal instrumentation, the trio’s cover ratchets up the desperation inherent in the track’s lyrics to an almost unsettling degree. Despite the visceral nature of their cover, it does show off how nuanced Michael’s songwriting really was.
Ariana Grande’s R&B-pop cover of “Last Christmas” is great because it splits the difference between the danceable fun of the Cascada cover and the sultry undertones of the xx renditions. Its bouncy production makes it ideal for placement on a Christmas dance party playlist but Grande’s sugary sweet vocal resonates with enough vulnerability and uplift to justify its inclusion on the tracklist of a mix CD made for family Christmas dinner.
Carly Rae Jepsen’s cover of “Last Christmas” is the all-time best for three distinct reasons. One, the track’s new wave instrumentals are a perfect 21st-century update of the original’s synth-heavy production. Two, this song and the saxophone that has been added to it go together like eggnog and cinnamon. And three, Carly’s ethereal yet emotional vocal is so overwhelmingly charming, it has the ability to warm even the coldest heart.