December is a month that inspires a lot of songwriters' pens. Christmas, with the melancholy feelings it often brings, is one muse. But there's also falling snow, the finality of a year's end, and the bitter cold to inspire. So it's no surprise that a list of great hits about December covers practically every genre, from rock and metal to country and pop, and even classical.
10. “Back to December”- Taylor Swift
Before Taylor Swift became the current generation's Queen of Pop, she was a country singer with heavy pop sensibilities. It was during this period that Swift released “Back to December” on her 2010 album Speak Now. While Swift has never revealed who the song, an apology song for a breakup, critics have speculated it was about Twilight actor Taylor Lautner, something Lautner has confirmed in interviews.
9. "December 4th"- Jay-Z
If anyone has a reason to write a song about December, it's rapper Jay-Z. The artists, born Shawn Carter, was born Dec. 4 and his track “December 4th” from his The Black Album is an autobiographical song about his journey from birth to stardom. Lyrics like “maybe you'll love me when I fade to black” are interspersed with interview clips from Jay-Z's mother Gloria Carter talking about her son's birth and childhood.
8. "December Will Be Magic Again"- Kate Bush
Leave it to the always enigmatic English vocalist Kate Bush to write a Christmas song that sounds both festive and regretful, celebratory and cerebral. Never released on an album, the1980 single still managed to crack the Top 40 on the UK singles charts. The song's lyrics careen between beautiful scenes of Christmas snow and Bing Crosby on the radio to lyrics about parachutes and falling “backward like the snow.”
7. “December Song”- George Michael
A Christmas music standard for radio stations looking for the fare with less saccharine than the standard holiday fare. George Michael and partner David Austin originally wrote the sad song of Christmas through the eyes of a child with The Spice Girls in mind, then offered it to Michael Buble before Michael decided to keep it for himself. Released as a single in 2009, the song had moderate chart success but has gone on to become a favorite of the holiday season, getting a huge boost in sales and airplay in 2016 when Michael passed away on Christmas Day.
Even classical music finds inspiration in December, although in this case, the song “December” was the culmination of a project titled “The Seasons” in which famed composer Tchaikovsky penned twelve short character pieces for solo piano, each inspired by a different month of the year. While not one of Tchaikovsky's better-known selections from “The Seasons”, “December” is still a reminder of Tchaikovsky's genius as a composer.
If you're planning the formula for a successful pop song, you can't go wrong by comparing the songwriting prowess of Stevie Wonder with the beautiful voice of Roberta Flack. That's what happened with “I Can See The Sun in Late December” from Flack's 1972 album Feel Like Makin' Love. The song, about finding the positives in an often negative world, is classic Wonder in its lyrical beauty and classic Flack in its vocal density.
If you aren't familiar with “December, 1963” that's probably because you know it by its alternate title “Oh What a Night.” The 1975 release from The Four Seasons album Who Loves You was a #1 single in both America and The UK for The Four Seasons. It was an unusual song for the band as the lead vocal was provided by drummer Gerry Polci, with singer Frankie Valli providing his signature sound to the bridge.
“Same Old Lang Syne” from vocalist Dan Fogelberg's 1981 album The Innocent Age often gets lumped in with the Christmas music on holiday radio. But a look at the lyrics shows the only connection to Christmas the song has is that it takes place on Christmas Eve. Instead, Fogelberg's autobiographical tale about meeting an old lover in the grocery store while home on holiday mines other December tropes such as the snow covering tracks and the year's end as a symbol of finality.
This heavy metal Christmas carol is best known in its rendition by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. But what many don't know is that “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” was originally part of a bigger concept album by metal band Savatage on their 1995 album Dead Winter Dead. There it transcends a Christmas single and becomes one of the most important parts of the tale, with a cello player performing Christmas songs in the square during the Bosnian conflict. His silencing after a bombing was the catalyst to bring the album's protagonists, star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the conflict to find out what became of him. When members of Savatage formed Trans-Siberian Orchestra, “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” became their first hit.
If anyone could wring every bit of depression and despair out of the holiday season, it's country outlaw Merle Haggard. “If We Can Make It to December” was a hit from Haggard's album 1974 album of the same title. The song tells the tale of a man who is laid off during the holidays and wonders how he's going to explain to his daughter why there's no Christmas. While intended as a Christmas single, the themes of despair, holiday depression, and fears of being a disappointment to your child resonated so much with audiences that it became a signature hit for Merle Haggard year-round.
Not familiar with some of the songs? Check out our Spotify playlist below to give a listen.