in Top Ten

You could basically say we’ve begun winter by now, despite the fact that the winter solstice isn’t for another two weeks.  Regardless, it’s cold, it’s dark, and if it weren’t for Christmas, it’d be altogether depressing, and much of the music I listen to around this time of year reflects that.  So as a counterpoint to the Top Ten Summer Songs I did last May, I’m presenting you with my top ten favorite winter songs.  The most obvious criteria is not only that they feature winter as a prominent theme, but also that they’re songs that aren’t associated in any way with Christmas.

10. Simon & Garfunkel – “Hazy Shade Of Winter”

Honestly, I’m not that big a fan of this song.  But the other song that I was considering for the number ten spot was Vampire Weekend’s “Horchata”, and I didn’t want to turn this into more of an indie-rock lovefest than it already is.  Still, it’s Simon & Garfunkel, it’s got winter in the title, and it’s certainly not terrible.  So there you go.

9. Galaxie 500 – “Snowstorm”

This song is pretty cool just because it depicts one of the great childhood winter pastimes, especially if you live in a place like the Northwest.  It’s the pastime of quietly waiting for a snowstorm, constantly looking out the window, listening to the weatherman, and then finally watching with wide-eyed wonderment as the snowflakes come trickling down.

8. Death Cab For Cutie – “The New Year”

Of course leave it to Death Cab to make a joyous occasion like the New Year’s celebration sound like such a bummer.  But I guess that’s one way of looking at the birth of a new year, as just another opportunity for the same old shit to repeat itself.  Still, you’ve got to give credit to Death Cab for bashing the song out with a kind of liberated energy despite it’s downbeat message.

7. The Walkmen – “In The New Year”

And then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got The Walkmen spouting the message that the New Year presents you with the opportunity to start anew and to proclaim “It’s gonna be a good year!”, as Walkmen singer Hamilton Leithauser does with an undeniable conviction.  Of course, with songs like “Blizzard Of ’96” and “While I Shovel The Snow”, The Walkmen are a very “winter-y” band with lots of possibilities for a list like this, but for me it’s hard for any Walkmen song to compete with “In The New Year”.

6. Elliott Smith – “Angel In The Snow”

Much like The Walkmen, Elliott Smith is another artist whose music seems pretty well suited for those colder months.  Of course, the amazing thing about “Angel In The Snow” is the fact that it wasn’t even released until the collection of outtakes New Moon came out in the wake of Smith’s untimely death.  And then of course there’s that sequence from Up In The Air, which gives the song an even greater resonance as a quintessential winter song.

5. The National – “Apartment Story”

With their their modest but nonetheless comforting sound, The National have been one of my go-to bands during the last two winters.  “Apartment Story” for me is one of the quintessential National songs, as it’s a “grower” in the best possible sense.  It starts out simply, talking about how the colder months cause us to “stay inside and wait for the winter to leave”, before building to a rousing chorus of hope and optimism.

4. Fleet Foxes – “White Winter Hymnal”

Fleet Foxes may have used Peter Breughal’s painting The Netherlandish Proverbs as the cover of their debut album, but for me the lush sound of “White Winter Hymnal” evokes another Bruegal painting, Hunters In The Snow.  Yeah that’s right, I just dropped some art school knowledge on y’all.  Deal with it.

3. Bob Dylan – “Girl From The North Country”

This is a song that seems not only to evoke those New York winters that Dylan encountered in the early ’60s, but also the unrelenting cold of his early years growing up in northern Minnesota.  Also, I have a very distinct memory of listening to this song every morning in December of 2004, when I’d have to walk to the bus stop each day at seven in the morning.  So for that reason, a cold chill seems to comes over me every time I hear “Girl From The North Country”.

2. Joni Mitchell – “River”

This song almost borders on being a Christmas song, since I know there are some Christmas stations that play “River” in their rotation around this time of year, plus there’s that intro.  But I think the song is less about Christmas, and more about the memories that this time of year evokes, even when you’re stuck in the warm and sunny climate of Southern California that the Canadian Mitchell seems to be growing tired of in “River”.

1. The Mama’s And The Papa’s – “California Dreaming”

I couldn’t really think of any distinct personal favorite for this list, so I just decided to go with an old favorite.  I actually have no problem with winter, but some people seem to kind of hate it, and The Mama’s And The Papa’s appear to be those kind of people.  Their vision of winter takes on the feel of an Apocalyptic Road Movie, as this cross country treck towards California seems to be the only thing that will save them from the depressing monotony of winter.  Seriously, it’s not that bad guys, just curl up by the fire and enjoy yourself some hot chocolate.