Colder weather and winter are both unique in that they’re seasons that create a dichotomy of emotions. On the one hand, it’s darker most of the time, and the bitter cold can make going out seem like a chore.
On the other hand, many of us have fond memories of days inside by the fire with warm soup or hot chocolate, braving the cold to play in the snow, or enjoying the winter holidays. The power of these emotions is often reflected in music—the good, the bad, and the in-between.
1. Sweater Weather – The Neighborhood
Sweater Weather is a soft-pop song with thought-provoking, illustrative lyrics and a mixture of artificial production and warm, authentic instruments.
The staccato percussion introduction immediately grabs the listener’s attention, closely followed by a thoughtful, warm melody about companionship and love in the cold.
Although the lyrics say, “It’s too cold for you here,” that only means that the world is too cold for the individual—the warmth of others together is just enough to stave off the melancholy of winter.
2. Back to December – Taylor Swift
Winter is also a time of remembrance to reflect on the things in our lives we’ve lost or forgotten. “Back to December” is an excellent example of this. The narrator reflects on a bittersweet memory in which she ended a relationship that she now misses, and the regret is palpable.
Winter, with its bitter air and skeletal trees, is a time characteristic of regret and sorrow, and this is an excellent representation of that feeling.
3. 20 Years of Snow – Regina Spektor
20 Years of Snow starts with a vibrant introduction, with several string instruments playing conflicting patterns over each other. It creates a sense of gentle chaos interrupted by a flurry of piano, reminiscent of a flurry of snowfall.
Over the instrumentals, Regina Spektor’s aged, dark vocals weave another layer; the warmth in her tone is at odds with the chill of the piano, like watching a snowstorm from the warmth of a fire. The psychedelic lyrics only add another unpredictable layer to the sound.
4. Colder Weather – Zac Brown Band
This lax country song opens with an easy, chordal piano, similar to that of a song you’d hear in church. The nostalgic vocals only heighten this feeling, a melancholy melody exacerbating the feeling of loss.
The sense of defeat specific to loss by our own actions is one of the most painful things, and it’s well illustrated in this song.
The clerical atmosphere and thick harmonies speak to resigned sadness and the chill of solitude of our own design as we sit in the desolation of dead winter.
5. I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm – Dean Martin
This throwback is completely at odds with “Colder Weather,” and is more reminiscent of “Sweater Weather.” This hit has earned its reputation, with popular covers by dozens of famous artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Frank Sinatra.
The narrator doesn’t care about billowing winds, bitter cold, or any storm—why would he when his love is with him? It’s a song that embodies the security of being with someone you love even as the world rages—be it through the trials of daily life or in a snowstorm.
6. Let It Go – Idina Menzel
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include “Let It Go” from Frozen. This immensely popular Disney song starts much like a mournful ballad—after all, Elsa has just exposed herself as an ice princess, which was something she was always instructed to keep buried, and her shame is palpable.
The reaction to her solitude changes as she journeys into a frozen wasteland, realizing that while the loneliness is difficult, it’s also a kind of freedom.
“Let It Go” deviates from the solely remorseful tone of winter, citing the strength of individuals who can persevere through the coldest, darkest times.
7. While I Shovel the Snow – The Walkman
A lonely guitar eases us into this ballad, gently introducing the vocals a few seconds later. The singer’s melody is like a lullaby; the profound lyrics speak to an indiscernible passage of time—one that only stops when you realize how much of it has passed.
This moment of realization falls in the silence of winter, but instead of taking the time to dwell on things lost and past, the narrator speaks to the simple joy of living “the slow life” and appreciating the moment instead of mourning those lost.
8. Coldest Winter – Kanye West
Colder Weather, from his album 808s and Heartbreaks, features synthetic instrumentation and simple, story-like lyrics, which describes a heartbreak as common as it is painful.
The repetitive, soulful melody chimes over a heavy bass drum that pounds like a heartbeat, considering the love they’ve lost and wondering how they can ever move on. It’s difficult to regain broken trust, and it can be a sad, cold thing to be without the warmth of love we know.
9. January Hymn – The Decemberists
January Hymn starts with an upbeat guitar solo that falls into background vocals. The main vocalist begins a simplistic melody, lyrics painting a powerful picture as he does.
January Hymn does have a bit of longing recollection, but it also draws upon winter for some powerful imagery. It talks about the bitter cold, icy winds, and the snow burying the grass.
Winter scenery can be powerful. It has the power to evoke feelings of peace, feelings of desolation, and feelings of tranquility or sorrow. It’s no wonder that its power is often used in music, as well.
10. A Hazy Shade of Winter – Simon and Garfunkel
Simon and Garfunkel are one of the most iconic duos in music history, and there’s no wonder why. “A Hazy Shade of Winter” is a rock song with a slew of collaborating instruments, over which Simon and Garfunkel’s characteristic harmony fits quite well.
Although there’s a sadness, it speaks beyond the melancholy with a metaphor that promises spring and better days.
It’s a song that urges the listener to “hang onto your hopes” even in the hardest parts of life and to persevere into brighter days.
11. Cold Weather Blues – Muddy Waters
This folk song sounds like something out of a saloon from the Old West, with its slurring guitar and powerful, agile vocals. The vocalist’s intense voice is characteristic of winter with its quiet power, slowly overtaking even the most vibrant summer.
Its lyrics leave listeners stuck in winter, mulling over everything that has gone wrong instead of looking toward better things.
The ending, with its repetition of “let this winter pass on by,” is a cold comfort, and sounds more like a quiet plea than a statement of determination to make it through.
12. The A Team – Ed Sheeran
“The A Team” is a quietly tragic song. It details the life of a call girl who, in trying to make a better life for herself, succumbs to the challenges of poverty—including the bitter cold.
It’s a resigned depiction of the people in life we don’t notice until it’s too late—the homeless, the impoverished, the orphaned, and others. A quiet guitar and an off-beat rhythm illustrate the unsteadiness of life without warmth—physical or emotional.
13. Footprints in the Snow – Bill Monroe
In this upbeat jog, wintertime is an integral part of the narrator’s main memory of his lover—when he first found her, following her snowy footprints. The beginning of the song admits that many prefer the warmth of summer.
However, the narrator’s emotional connection to snow is rooted in those footprints and the love they symbolize—something that even the birth of spring could never give him. Unfortunately, his lover has passed on, which is why the wintertime memories are so important to him.
14. A Long December – Counting Crows
This song is full of heavy instrumentation and church-like chords, with matching lyrics of hope for a time beyond winter. Like “Back to December,” the song lyrics depict times in which we reflect on the loss of our own actions.
It’s a song that longs for the future and the possibility of forgiveness not only from others but from ourselves. This is a much more difficult endeavor, but it’s worth it, nonetheless.
15. Winter Things – Ariana Grande
“Winter Things” is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect—it sounds like something you might hear on the beach, which is the point! It’s supposed to conflict with our typical ideas of winter, drawing on its whimsicality and its traditions.
The lyrics speak to an uncharacteristic heat in winter, which puts a damper on a few traditional winter activities (namely those with snow). Still, the narrator is determined to make the most of their wintertime with their lover.
16. Wintertime Love – The Doors
This song is right out of something you’d hear in a medieval ballroom. Its rhythmic triple meter almost demands that the listeners dance, and the melody is just as compelling.
There’s a kind of dichotomy in the lyrics between the winter surrounding the narrator and their lover and the warmth of love that tries to keep it at bay; it’s almost like a melody of love trying to keep the inevitable cold of winter away.
17. Valley Winter Song – Fountains of Wayne
This song, like so many others on this list, is about looking forward to the passage of winter into better times. This time, though, the affliction is not the narrator but one of their loved ones.
The song itself is a characteristic melody and instrumentation for Fountains of Wayne, but the lyrics are calm.
There’s a hint of unease, the kind that comes from watching a loved one struggle and knowing you’re mostly helpless, but this “Valley Winter Song” and the promise of a better future is all they can offer.
18. Angel in the Snow – Elliot Smith
Though the song is short, it’s anything but sweet. The dissonant guitar creates an unsteady foundation for the melody, and the lyrics and instrumental together seem like an unheard love confession.
It’s a quietly desperate thing that sounds like a plea to save someone from their own self-destructive behavior. It’s an effort to preserve companionship in the solitude of winter, even as the cold presses in.
19. Winter Sounds – Of Monsters and Men
This song’s lyrics are somehow the embodiment of a visceral kind of internal struggle. It’s something within, something that we cannot run from or escape—it’s “overwhelming.”
Overwhelming is the perfect word for deep winter. All-consuming in nature, it swallows summer and fall, ice creeping across every horizon. The powerful rock instrumentation and the singer’s unwavering voice are trees standing tall even in the buffeting icy winds.
20. My December – Linkin Park
The hollow echo of a dark piano begins before the narrator’s voice starts, repetitive in its lyrics. It produces a cold scene, something lonely, and creates an imperfect solace in the dead of winter.
This imperfection comes from the rest of the lyrics—the longing for something foundational that is missing, and while it is contentment, the missing piece is so monumental that it completely unmoors the narrator’s peace.
Winter is a fiercely powerful phenomenon that creeps in with barely a whisper. It’s a gradual tidal wave that swallows the life of spring and autumn and consumes the warmth of summer, and the metaphor is just as strong.
Winter as a symbol is versatile. It can be a darkness, a pocket of depression that seems impossible to overcome, or it can be a frozen stillness that reminds us of the things we’ve lost. It can also be a beautiful reminder of the promise of spring and hope for a better future.
As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the meaning of winter is determined by the listener. We can let it freeze us with the earth and root us in place, or we can let it spur us into action, hopeful and determined to persevere until the sun melts the ice and time moves again.