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10 Great December Songs

360°Sound editor-in-chief Chris Bisha brought to my attention that we did not have a playlist of December songs. Since I usually do a Christmas music-related list this time of year, I neglected to do a month-themed song list for December. Well, that has been remedied with 10 great December songs. All that was necessary for inclusion was the songs had “December” in the song title. It’s quite a variety with swing, classic country, alternative rock, hip hop, and more. Enjoy!

Count Basie & The Mills Brothers – “December”

Songwriter: Seger Ellis
Genre: Swing
Released: 1968

The Mills Brothers were a long-running R&B vocal group who notched their first hits back in the 1930s. This cheery, swingin’ tune appeared on a collaboration album with legendary bandleader Count Basie. The lyrics, written by underappreciated jazz pianist and composer Seger Ellis, declare December the merriest month of the year. “Whenever it’s December, more than ever I remember that all the joy it brings each year when Christmas time is here.”

Merle Haggard – “If We Make It Through December”

Songwriter: Merle Haggard
Genre: Country
Released: 1973

In this sad country song, Merle Haggard sings about a father being laid off from his factory job and unable to afford a Christmas gift for his daughter. “I don’t mean to hate December/It’s meant to be the happy time of the year.” The inspiration for the song came from Roy Nichols, lead guitarist of Haggard’s band The Stranglers. Nichols’s few divorces always came late in the year. When Haggard asked him about his outlook, Nichols replied, “If we just make it through December…”

“If We Make It Through December” topped the country charts and peaked at #28 on the Billboard Hot 100. While The Hag had a whopping 38 country number ones, this is was his only single to crack the pop Top 40.

Roberta Flack – “I Can See the Sun in Late December”

Songwriter: Stevie Wonder
Genre: Soul/jazz
Released: 1975

This is a lovely, hypnotic tune composed by Stevie Wonder and given to Roberta Flack for her 1975 album Feel Like Makin’ Love. Flack was red hot at the time, having notched #1 pop hits in each of the previous two years with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”

“I Can See the Sun in Late December” clocks in at over 12 minutes (the album’s title track would be Flack’s third and final pop #1). Wonder performed the jazzy tune during a 1974 appearance on the German TV show The Beat Club. [Editor’s Note: Check out our list of Wonder’s best ‘70s deep cuts.]

Four Seasons – “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)

Songwriters: Bob Gaudio, Judy Parker
Genre: Pop
Released: December 1975

Honestly, I only recently learned that this song, which hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976, was a Four Seasons hit. (I thought it was like, KC & the Sunshine Band, or something.) It’s notable for featuring drummer Gerry Polci on the lead vocal, with Frankie Valli singing the bridge. And bass player Don Ciccone takes the falsetto part. It’s also notable for me, because I made out with a girl on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale, after years of stolen glances and mutual innuendo, with this song jamming from the bar in the background. I do recall feeling “a rush like a rollin’ ball of thunder.”
-Chris Bisha

Teenage Fanclub – “December”

Songwriter: Gerard Love
Genre: Alternative rock
Released: 1991

This song is from Teenage Fanclub’s excellent 1991 album Bandwagonesque, which famously beat out Nirvana’s Nevermind as Spin magazine’s 1991 Album of the Year. Whether or not that was justified is a subject for another piece, but Bandwagonesque is indisputably a classic album, and “December” is one of the highlights.

Although the song has an upbeat, power-pop sound topped off with gorgeous strings, the lyrics center on unrequited love. Like a lot of “December” songs, the songwriter, bassist/singer Gerard Love, rhymes December with remember. The song closes with the repeated line, “I wanted to assassinate December.” Maybe that was the month he was rejected. Or perhaps it’s a reference to the “December boys got it bad” line in Big Star’s “September Gurls” (which made our September songs list). Regardless, it’s a ‘90s alt-rock masterwork.

Counting Crows – “A Long December”

Songwriter: Adam Duritz
Genre: Adult Album Alternative
Released: December 1996

A friend of mine recently moved back to Michigan after some years living out in Oakland. We’d talk when he was out there, and I’d say, “I think I might come to California,” to which he’d reply, “I think you should.” Now he and his wife are back here, in a house whose garden overlooks a vast ravine. There’s a long serpentine road that takes you back to their place, and when I turn onto it my mind immediately goes, “A long December and there’s reason to believe…”  I’m glad he’s back – up in the canyon. And y’know… maybe this year will be better than the last.
-Chris Bisha

Mazzy Star – “Flowers in December”

Songwriters: Hope Sandoval and David Roback
Genre: Dream pop
Released: 1996

Best known for their 1994 hit “Fade Into You,” Mazzy Star was distinguished by their dreamy, psychedelic alternative rock and singer Hope Sandoval’s mesmerizing vocals. “Flowers in December” was a single from their third album, Among My Star. The wistful track features minor chord changes, pretty violin parts, and harmonica played by Sandoval. “Send me your flowers of your December/Send me your dreams of your candy wine,” Sandoval sings. While “Flowers in December” didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100, it peaked at #40 on the UK charts.

Jay-Z – “December 4th”

Songwriters: Shawn Carter, Justin Smith, Walter Boyd and Elijah Powell
Genre: Hip hop
Released: 2003

The first song on 2003’s multi-platinum Black Album, the biographical “December 4thfeatures rhymes recounting Jay-Z’s childhood, to his drug dealing days, to his reign as the biggest rapper in the world. The track is narrated by Jay-Z’s mother Gloria Carter (“Shawn used to be in the kitchen, beating on the table and rapping until the wee hours of the morning).”

Jay-Z wrote of “December 4th” in his 2010 memoir, Decoded: “Ultimately, the point of this song is that I don’t blame anyone, I’m just trying to explain myself, tell you why I’m this way.” The infectious strings-laden beat, which samples The Chi-Lites’ “That’s How Long,” comes courtesy of producer Just Blaze. Jay-Z turned 54 on Dec. 4. Happy Belated B-Day, Hov!

Taylor Swift – “Back to December”

Songwriter: Taylor Swift
Genre: Pop
Released: 2010

The current Queen of Pop, Taylor Swift, also weighs in on the December vibe. We brought in an expert and true Swiftie, 12-year old Lucie Bisha, to tell us about this one:

Taylor Swift is such a wonderful artist. She has made amazing appearances in movies and in the music industry. This seems like a sad song, but it’s a wonderful way to express the hope in Christmas spirit, and it’s great for the winter season. I love seeing this song sitting on my holiday playlist.

Kylie Minogue – “White December”

Songwriters: Kylie Minogue, Karen Poole and Matt Prime
Genre: Pop
Released: 2015

“White December” is one of three originals on Kyle Minogue’s 2015 Christmas album Kylie Christmas. The lyrics, co-written by Minogue, have the Aussie pop star referencing holiday classics “Blue Christmas” and “Fairytale of New York” (R.I.P. Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan) as she yearns for a white Christmas with the one she loves. The music sounds a bit like a modernized version of A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector with its Wall-of-Sound-like layers and honkin’ saxophone.

Thanks to Chris and Lucie for pitching in from Michigan. From the Austin bureau down here in central Texas, enjoy December everyone, and have a holiday that is both holly and jolly.

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