Favorite Christmas Songs of the major English speaking countries of the world – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Wales, UK – Great Britain, United States – USA
Angels We Have Heard on High
Away in a Manger
Deck the Halls
First Noel, The
Go Tell It on the Mountain
Good Christian Men, Rejoice
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Here Comes Santa Claus
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Joy to the World
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Little Drummer Boy, The
O Christmas Tree
O Come, All Ye Faithful
O Holy Night
O Little Town of Bethlehem
The First Noel
We Three Kings
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
What Child Is This?
More recently popular Christmas songs, often introduced through film or other entertainment medium, are specifically about Christmas, but are typically not overtly religious and therefore do not qualify as Christmas carols. The archetypal example is 1942’s “White Christmas”, although many other holiday songs have become perennial favorites in the United States, such as Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
Most-performed “holiday” songs
According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the following are the Top 25 most-performed “holiday” songs written by ASCAP members for the first five years of the 21st century. The list does not include songs out of copyright (like “Jingle Bells”) or written by members of Broadcast Music, Incorporated, known as BMI.
1.”The Christmas Song” (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) – Mel Tormé, Robert Wells
2.”Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” – Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie
3.”Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin
4.”Winter Wonderland” – Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith
5.”White Christmas” – Irving Berlin
6.”Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” – Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne
7.”Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” – Johnny Marks
8.”Jingle Bell Rock” – Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe
9.”I’ll Be Home for Christmas” – Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, Buck Ram
10.”The Little Drummer Boy” – Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati, Harry Simeone
11.”Sleigh Ride” – Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish
12.”It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – Edward Pola, George Wyle
13.”Silver Bells” – Jay Livingston, Ray Evans
14.”Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” – Johnny Marks
15.”Feliz Navidad” – José Feliciano
16.”Blue Christmas” – Billy Hayes, Jay W. Johnson
17.”Frosty the Snowman” – Steve Nelson, Walter E. Rollins
18.”A Holly Jolly Christmas” – Johnny Marks
19.”I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – Tommie Connor
20.”Here Comes Santa Claus” (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) – Gene Autry, Oakley Haldeman
21.”It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas” – Meredith Willson
22.”(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays” – Bob Allen, Al Stillman
23.”Carol of the Bells” – Peter J. Wilhousky, Mykola Leontovich
24.”Santa Baby” – Joan Ellen Javits, Philip Springer, Tony Springer
25.”Wonderful Christmastime” – Paul McCartney
26.”Happy Xmas (War is Over)” – John and Yoko, The Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir
“For Americans and many others around the world, these classic lyrics and melodies are inseparable from the celebration of the holiday season – brightening lives year after year, and serving as a cornerstone of the ASCAP repertory.”
Marilyn Bergman, ASCAP President and ChairmanOf these, the oldest songs are “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Winter Wonderland” which were both published in 1934. The newest song is Mark Lowry’s “Mary, Did You Know” from 1984. Songs introduced through motion pictures in the top 25 are: “White Christmas” from Holiday Inn (1942), “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), and “Silver Bells” in The Lemon Drop Kid (1950).
Johnny Marks has three top Christmas songs, the most for any writer—”Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, and “A Holly Jolly Christmas”. By far the most recorded Christmas song is “White Christmas” with well over 500 versions in dozens of languages.
While the ASCAP list is relatively popular in the United Kingdom and Ireland, it remains largely overshadowed by a collection of chart hits recorded in a bid to be crowned the UK Christmas number one single during the 1970s and 80s. The vast majority of these songs played heavily to a party or novelty feel and were recorded by a full range of artists from major global stars, artists that were enjoying great success in the UK at the time, bands that otherwise scored only a handful of minor hits and a host of novelty acts that recorded only one song. These songs have gone on to dominate the UK and Ireland Christmas music traditions and have largely overshadowed their often less party orientated ASCAP songs, although Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime has managed to span both groups.
According to a 2007 poll, the UK’s most popular Christmas song is Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade, a band who were incredibly popular in the 1970s.
Adopted Christmas music
Much of what is known as Christmas music today was adopted from music initially created for other purposes. Retroactively these were applied to Christmas, or came to be associated with the holiday in some way.
Many secular songs are regarded as “Christmas” songs due to the time of year they are most often listen heard or sung, despite never mentioning anything about the holiday. These songs include favorites such as “Winter Wonderland”, “Let it Snow”, and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. “Sleigh Ride”’s standard lyrics mention not a Christmas party but a birthday party. The now hugely popular Christmas standard “Jingle Bells” was originally written to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Many of these songs fall into the generic “winter” classification, as they carry no Christmas connotation at all. To popularize a winter-themed song, especially in the United States, without its being regarded as a “Christmas” song, would be difficult. In fact, winter-themed songs are generally not played on the radio in the U.S. during the larger part of the winter after the Christmas season has ended, in marked contrast to their counterparts, summer hits, which receive airplay throughout their season. They may receive limited radio airplay on some stations, particularly after a significant snow event.
In the United Kingdom, the terms “Christmas number one single” and “Christmas number two single” denote songs released around the time of the Christmas holiday and that reach the top of the UK Singles Chart. Though some of these songs do tend to develop an association with Christmas or the holiday season, such an association tends to be much shorter lived than the more traditionally themed Christmas songs such as “Merry Xmas Everybody”, “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday”, “Mistletoe and Wine” and “”Merry Christmas Everyone”, and the songs may have nothing to do with Christmas or even winter. Some songs will be “tweaked” to make them more related to Christmas. This is almost exclusively a British cultural phenomenon, and some notable examples include Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, and Wham!’s “Last Christmas”. Since the debut of the TV series The X Factor, which ends in December, the debut song from that series’ winner generally is released at a time conducive to it becoming the Christmas number one, and most of the songs are unrelated to Christmas. (In response, in 2009, a song by Rage Against the Machine entitled “Killing in the Name” was promoted, through an Internet campaign, to the Christmas number one position for the express purpose of preventing the winner of The X Factor from attaining the post. A related campaign is seeking to promote John Cage’s silent “4’33″” to the Christmas number one spot.
The phenomenon is not limited to popular music: classical music, too, has been adopted to the Christmas canon. Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker comprises a set of secular orchestral pieces often performed at Christmastime. Perhaps the most famous Christmas music of all, Handel’s “Messiah”, was written for an Easter performance in 1742 in Ireland, and performed from 1750 until Handel’s death for the Foundling Hospital for orphans around Eastertime.
Another form of popular Christmas song are those musical parodies performed solely for comical effect, usually classified as “novelty songs”. These range from those sung by children, or largely for their enjoyment, to those with a distinctly adult theme.
“All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” written by Donald Yetter Gardner in 1944 and introduced by Spike Jones and his City Slickers in 1948.
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” sung by 13-year old Jimmy Boyd in 1952.
“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” written by John Rox and performed by 10 year-old Gayla Peevey in 1953.
“Nuttin’ For Christmas” by Art Mooney and Barry Gordon, who was seven years old when he sang the song in 1955.
“The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks in 1958.
“Monster’s Holiday” recorded by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, written by Paul Harrison, released December 1962.
“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” originally done for the 1966 cartoon special How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The lyrics were written by Dr. Seuss, the music was by Albert Hague, and the lyrics were performed by Thurl Ravenscroft. Many different versions have been recorded since.
“Snoopy’s Christmas” performed by The Royal Guardsmen in 1967; a follow-up to their earlier song “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” recorded in 1966.
“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” by Elmo & Patsy which came out in 1979.
“Rusty Chevrolet” by Da Yoopers in 1987, a parody of Jingle Bells.
“Santa Claus and His Old Lady” recorded by Cheech and Chong in 1971.
“A Christmas Carol” by Tom Lehrer, a parody of Christmas carols purporting to show the true spirit of Christmas – the commercial spirit.
“Green Chri$tma$, a similarly-themed parody by Stan Freberg.
“Don’t Shoot Me Santa” was released by The Killers in 2007, benefiting various AIDS charities.
“Christmas Tree” by Lady Gaga featuring Space Cowboy was released in 2008.
Numerous “The Twelve Days of Christmas” parodies, including one by Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) which came out in 1982, and another by the a capella group Straight No Chaser which was first performed in 1997.
“Once Upon A Christmas” by composer Robert Maitland released in 2010, featuring Cariss Crosbie,paying respect to the Christmas style of Motown and Phil Spector.”
The number of Christmas novelty songs is so immense that radio host Dr. Demento devotes an entire month of weekly two-hour episodes to the format each year, and the novelty songs receive frequent requests at radio stations across the country.
Radio broadcasting of Christmas music has been around for several decades. Traditionally, U.S. radio stations (particularly those with such formats as adult contemporary, top 40, adult standards, or easy listening) began adding some Christmas-themed selections to their regular playlists shortly after Thanksgiving each year. Some exclusively aired 36–48 hours of continuous Christmas music between December 24–25. Since the mid-1990s, it has become increasingly common for stations to switch their programming to continuous Christmas music around December 1. This practice became more profound after 9/11, when many radio stations across the United States sought a sort of musical “comfort food”.
The 24/7 all-Christmas format has been generally successful due in large part to Christmas creep. Many radio stations began airing an all-Christmas format by Thanksgiving, starting as early as the Friday one week prior. Several stations have even started the format as early as November 1 (a few, such as KOSI, WNIC, WMYX and WRIT, have earned a reputation for this), although this is generally the exception rather than the norm. Stations that change formats before Thanksgiving sometimes experience backlash from listeners, because this is well outside the traditional Christmas and holiday season.
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