Holiday music immediately springs to mind when one mentions winter songs, but there are scads of tunes with a wintry theme that have no association with Christmas. Many of the songs in this playlist devoted to winter are romantic, best enjoyed with a hot toddy before a roaring fire.
“Our Winter Love,” Bill Pursell // This lovely instrumental was a hit in 1963 for pianist Pursell, a session musician, arranger, and music professor. Initially, “Our Winter Love” sounds conventional, with strings and piano carrying the melody, but an unexpected fuzztone and wordless choir provide interesting aural layers.
“Song for a Winter’s Night,” Gordon Lightfoot // Lightfoot’s second recording of this song, from Gord’s Gold, is scored for acoustic guitar, strings, and bells. It’s one of pop music’s most romantic winter numbers, and it deserves to be better known. It’s filled with yearning, as Lightfoot sings of pining for his sweetheart on a lonesome winter’s night.
“Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan // This coy duet is usually heard around Christmas, but the lyrics have nothing to do with the holidays. Frank Loesser wrote it in 1944, and he and his wife performed it at private parties. Loesser later sold the tune to MGM, which featured it in the flick Neptune’s Daughter. There are numerous recordings, but the 1949 pairing between Fitzgerald and Jordan is unbeatable.
“A Hazy Shade of Winter,” Simon & Garfunkel // A rueful song about the wasting of time and the passage of it was recorded in 1966, showed up on the 1967 S&G album Live from New York City, then popped up on the pair’s 1968 Bookends album and once again on their 1997 compilation, Old Friends. An upbeat song in a minor key, it was also covered by The Bangles in 1987.
“Cold Song,” Klaus Nomi // A haunting aria from Henry Purcell’s opera King Arthur, “Cold Song” is about winter’s deathly grip. German-born Nomi (1944-83), who sang arias and pop music with equal aplomb, was one of the music world’s most bizarre but fascinating performers. He dressed outlandishly, his face often smothered in white makeup, but he sang with an ethereal countertenor, which he uses to great effect here.
“Sometimes in Winter,” Blood, Sweat & Tears // Blood, Sweat & Tears was famous for brassy, jazz-inflected arrangements and lead singer David Clayton-Thomas’ brash vocals. But the brass is muted in this number written by BS&T’s Steve Katz, and Thomas sings with subtle expression about a lover who’s gone, present only as a dim specter in his memory.
“Winter,” Tori Amos // From Amos’ 1992 album Little Earthquakes, this introspective number, played with wistful fragility on the piano by Amos, is a remembrance of her relationship with her father. She wants to remain a child, but he wants her to grow up, and the lyrics, which alternate between a child’s and an adult’s perspective, are suffused with longing.
The Seasons, Tchaikovsky // This set of 12 pieces evoking the spirit of each month should properly be called “The Months,” but errors have a way of sticking. The two most evocative of winter are “November,” subtitled “Troika,” and December, a carefree waltz that’s light as a snowflake. The original version is for solo piano, but there’s an orchestral version, and it’s in the latter guise where you get the full effect of the troika in a Russian snowdrift in “November,” complete with sleigh bells. Our own Detroit Symphony Orchestra, under Neeme Järvi, turns in a fine interpretation.