Not sure where your neck of the woods is, but where I am (the Chicago area), it got mighty frigid this week. So in honor of our prickly cold weather, we give you the best songs for this time of year, our favorite winter songs. In evaluating these songs, much like how we evaluated our top ten albums of winter last year, we tried to find the ten songs that best encapsulate the look, feel, and sound of the season; not just our ten favorite songs that just so happened to mention winter. So without further ado, the ten best songs for this frisky weather.
Editor’s note: This post originally published in 2013.
10. Simon & Garfunkel – “A Hazy Shade of Winter”
Simon & Garfunkel were known best for their quiet, contemplative folk songs in the 60s which makes a perfect fit for winter, but “Hazy Shade of Winter” isn’t that at all. Rather, “A Hazy Shade of Winter” is a rollicking ride of a song, but does stay menacingly cold in its delivery.
Best heard while: Driving through the ice-covered roads in your ice-covered car.
9. White Stripes – “In the Cold, Cold Night”
I think it’s fair to say, “In the Cold, Cold Night” is the best thing that Meg White has ever done or ever will do. Meg White bashing aside, I think she gets a raw deal a lot of time with the White Stripes coverage as I think she provided what the White Stripes needed: a simple but competent canvas for Jack White to paint upon. “In the Cold, Cold Night” is as simple as it gets, but the pleasant melody over the sliding guitar makes for a real treat of a song.
Best heard while: Peering distantly out the window on a winter’s eve.
8. Damien Rice – “The Eskimo”
Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice released a fairly timeless debut in 2003’s O, and “Eskimo” closed it on a hugely dramatic note. The quiet and pretty ballad transforms into a photo finish filled with soaring strings and the fat (opera) lady singing.
Best heard while: You are hanging with your eskimo friends or when you’re down.
7. The Mamas and the Papas – “California Dreaming”
You wouldn’t expect one of the sunshine folk bands of the late 60’s to delivery one of the best winter songs. Like a west-coaster stuck in the Midwest for college or a young Midwesterner wishing they were born on the coast, the Mamas and the Papas sing about being stuck in the winter wishing for even a glimmer of warmth and sunshine. The song hits another level of greatness when considering the songs deeper subtext about America being stuck in the winter of the Vietnam war wishing for peace and a light at the end of the tunnel.
Best heard while: Pouting and complaining to your friends in the winter about how you are going to move south, west, or southwest.
6. The Antlers – “The Bear”
As sad as they come thus far on our list, as “the Bear” this Brooklyn indie band is talking about isn’t actually Pooh or Yogi, but rather the bear of a disease that is cancer. The song may not be directly about winter, but winter symbolizes dying, and this gloomy yet defiant song well captures the season.
Best heard while: sitting at the hospital after a tragedy as the snow falls outside.
5. Radiohead – “Idioteque”
Our favorite song off our favorite album for winter, Kid A, “Idioteque” manages to be dancy, reflective, and prophetic all at the same time. Electronic music has always made for a nice winter soundtrack, and this is exemplified in “Idioteque” as the slow-moving synth and vulnerable vocal remain alone amidst a cold and catastrophic world of percussion.
Best heard while: Watching Dreamworks’ Ice Age, Ice Age 2, and/or Ice Age 3.
4. Blind Willie Johnson – “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”
As moving as any three minutes of music comes, Blind Willie Johnson’s 1927 “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” is nothing but the sweet moan of Johnson’s voice and slide guitar, but it doesn’t get any more raw and powerful than “Dark Was the Night,” true human sadness about life as a black man in the segregated South distilled in a blues song.
Best heard while: Singing the blues about your first world problem of having to shovel the snow.
3. Neil Young – “Winterlong”
Old Canadian Neil knows a thing or two about cold weather, and he uses some winter symbolism to talk about a loved one he hopes will return like the spring. This longing folk ballad is well fit for Groundhog’s Day, when you just wish we would get over with it already.
Best heard while: watching Groundhog’s Day on Groundhog’s Day.
2. Sigur Ros – “Svefn-g-englar”
I have no clue what “Svefn-g-englar” means, but if I were to guess, I would guess “a moving glacier”. The Icelandic post-rock band plays this glacial-paced beauty as if you were stuck in a winter wonderland just taking it all in.
Best heard while: in Iceland, anywhere, anytime.
1. Fleet Foxes – “White Winter Hymnal”
The one winter song to rule them all. Throw on your stocking cap, long johns, fluffy mittens, and call up your best pals because it’s a snow day. “White Winter Hymnal” is probably the only non-Christmas song that actually makes you long for winter, so for that feat alone, it takes our top spot of the best winter songs.
Best heard while: tobogganing and singing rounds with some of your more vocally gifted friends.
Austin – The xx – “Crystalised”
The intimate, electronic sounds of English indie pop group the xx no doubt encapsulates winter. Austin refuses to shout this time of year, but rather chooses to baby whisper all winter long just like Romy Craft of the xx.
Best heard while: whispering sweet nothings to a loved one under a blanket by the fire.
Todd – T. Rex – “Throat of Winter”
“Throat of Winter” isn’t T. Rex’s normal swaggering glam rock but like the winter season itself, the song is inevitably sad and spare with Bolan’s slow-chugging guitar and throaty voice.
Best heard while: getting straight sad after a losing effort in a snowball fight.
Wes – Sufjan Stevens – “Majesty Snowbird”
I had a hard time deciding upon my miss, at first thinking Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” then Kings of Convenience’s “Surprise Ice” before finally settling on Sufjan Steven’s “Majesty Snowbird”. Why “Majesty Snowbird” you ask? It’s the greatest song he has never released and maybe one of his greatest songs period, and the 10 minutes of symphonic brilliance is exactly what I want to brighten my day in this cruel, unforgiving winter.
Best heard while: Gliding gracefully at the ice rink amidst all the crying, snot-nosed kids falling on their behinds.
So there is the list. Let us know what we unforgivably missed, or got right, but still feel free to just rip on us in general …