The day after Christmas is traditionally called Boxing Day: it is the day when you “box” up all the extra food from Christmas dinner and give it to the servants. Even for those who don’t celebrate Christmas, this is a time for generosity and nostalgia. These tunes are all about the roots of the things to which we listen to today. These ten tracks span nearly a hundred years of music and are a nice background to whatever you’re doing.
Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”
This is a recording of the American composer Gershwin playing his best piece on a player piano. From the first roll of the keys through the memorable repeating theme, this piece is a lot more than the starting point of American music—it is a pleasure to hear.
Thao & Mirah’s “Little Cup”
The complete opposite of Gershwin, this song came out this year from a duo hardly likely to influence anyone. However, Mirah’s smooth vocals and the “oh oh oooooh” is about as charming and relaxing as anything between then and now.
The Beatles’ “I Will”
The white album features a lot of chaos, and this track stands out as one of the few that capture the sweetness and sincerity of the early days of the Beatles. This is one of the Beatles tracks where you can forget about who the Beatles are and what they accomplished and just enjoy a sweet song.
Pavement’s “Zurich is Stained”
Pavement is incredibly good at making songs that so perfectly reflect emotions. The longing and sadness of the singer’s voice is mirrored in the instrumentation and lyrics and the melancholy is rather cathartically pleasant, albeit a little strange.
King Crimson’s “I Talk to the Wind”
The instrumentation and vocals on this track are so smooth you just want to float off into a cloud. This track closes side A because of just how well it drifts away into the atmosphere.
Miles Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader”
The piano is catchy, the percussion perfectly in balance, the trumpet smooth, and everything about this track reflects the genre marvelously—“cool jazz.” Whether you know nothing or everything about jazz, this track is just tasty.
The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning”
This particular song can be traced as the starting point of a host of genres based around chill music, including dream pop, shoegaze, and even chillwave. Lou Reed nails the feeling of calm joy and expectancy that would be sought after for years to come.
Family’s “My Friend the Sun”
This playlist could have consisted entirely of tracks about the sun, but this one stands out as so hopeful and immediately accessible. Roger Chapman sings with a perfectly kind and venerable voice that “although there’s been rain, and it’s coming again, change has to be here—obviously!”
Nada Surf’s “Blonde on Blonde”
This song is about listening to Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. You don’t have to like Dylan or that album (although you should) to like this track. Just replace Blonde on Blonde with your favorite feel good album from a previous decade (mine is Pet Sounds) and let this track describe the nostalgia of listening to that album perfectly suited to the holiday season.
U2’s “Running to Stand Still”
One of the beautiful things about chill music (chill being a feel not a genre) is how it “talks without speaking,” and while blaring guitars and loud vocals can be powerful, some mornings you don’t need that to feel emotions just as poignant. This track rises and falls and I hope that it, and every other track here, brought some measure of happiness and peace to your winter break activities.