The allure of great Christmas songs


Guest Writer Tom Schultz, Morning Host, 97.1 The Wave

So, I was doing some pre-pre-pre Holiday shopping the other day (I usually prefer to wait for the excitement of last minute shopping) and I heard one of the store employees loudly singing along with “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway coming from the overhead speakers. Now as a principle, I encourage this type of behavior from store employees but also store patrons as well. Good or bad, and according to Buddy the Elf, “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear….it’s just like talking, except longer and louder, and you move your voice up and down”. The world would be a much better place if more people sang with each other instead of shouting at each other.

This young man’s harmonic outburst was infectious. I too began to sing along (although not nearly as loud) To my astonishment I found myself in a slightly better mood and in the holiday mood. The sounds combined with the decorations put me right into the spirit of the season. It got me wondering…what is the allure, the mystique of the Christmas/Holiday/Winter song? Why do most of us instantly want to start singing along?

I suppose you could say the perfect Christmas song is an example of a well crafted pop song. They share all the same qualities. Consider some of the all time great holiday songs and you will hear a familiar pattern. Each song has a simple, repeatable set of chords and verses. The music is simple at it its core but can be layered with other sounds to fill it out like a Christmas tree. The lyrics are easy to remember and uncomplicated (“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way”…not too hard to recite would you say?). And most songs are just under 3 minutes long…exactly the formula record executives and radio programmers are looking for in a hit single.

You can classify Holiday songs into three categories. The first is the straight up Christmas song or carol. It’s fun to sing and directly features the holiday in it’s lyrics…think “Holly Jolly Christmas”. The second is more traditional Christmas carol. Generally slower and more pensive and get to the heart of the holiday, the reason for the season “Silent Night” juxtaposed with “Joy To The World”. And lastly, the ever popular Winter song that makes its way into the holiday playlist even though it never really mentions Christmas but perpetuates the snowy holiday myth, i.e. “Winter Wonderland” and “Frosty The Snowman” come to mind.

Billboard magazine, as well as other countless websites, keeps track of the most popular Holiday songs. The list is based on radio airplay and online streaming and sales. Obviously it is not the end all of all favorite songs. It just just lists the top songs of most people. The most recent Top 10 are listed here:

Billboard’s Top 10 Holiday Songs
1) Mariah Carey-All I Want For Christmas Is You
2) Brenda Lee-Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
3) Andy Williams-It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
4) Nat King Cole-The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)
5) Burl Ives-A Holly Jolly Christmas
6) Wham!-Last Christmas
7) Jose Feliciano-Feliz Navidad
8) Bobby Helms-Jingle Bell Rock
9) Dean Martin-Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow
10) Gene Autry-Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Now this list may or may not contain your favorite Holiday classic. It includes some of mine but not all. I’m a big fan of the Boston Pops version of “Sleigh Ride”, but alas it is not to be seen in the top ten. But it doesn’t matter, because if you like or love it, if you hum it softly at work, if you whistle it while trimming the tree or you sing it loudly in a department store for everyone to hear…that is the spirit of the holiday. And that’s what a good Christmas song does.

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