Of all music genres, Christmas music is the most subjective. One’s affinity for a certain song has very little to do with the quality of the music or the artist. Instead, it’s based almost entirely on the song’s connection with a certain Christmas or series of Christmases. Just as there are tweeners today that believe Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” is the best holiday song ever, there were kids in the ’60s who thought the Singing Dogs’ “Jingle Bells” was barking up the right Christmas tree. It doesn’t take extensive or expensive research to determine people associate most with Christmas songs from their wonder years.
While it’s fair to say most people like Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song,” it’s one of the few holiday tunes that cut a wide swath across generations. Those who grew up in the ’40s or early ’50s are no doubt partial to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” while the generation just behind leans toward the Drifters version of the same song. Those early rockers also latched on to Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” while the next generation no doubt preferred the subsequent Chubby Checker/Bobby Rydell or Hall & Oates takes on the standard. Depending on your age, you no doubt prefer “Silent Night” as recorded by Perry Como, the Temptations or Stevie Nicks. And tune out the other two.
Because novelty songs are seldom re-recorded, they have an even tougher time crossing generations. Whether you love or detest “The Chipmunk Song,” “Snoopy’s Christmas,” “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” or, for that matter, “The Christmas Shoes,” pretty much depends on how old you were when they first became popular.
For instance, I connect with “Snoopy’s Christmas,” not because of any love for the Royal Guardsmen or “Peanuts,” but rather because it was all over the radio my first Christmas away from home. John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas” has a similar place on my holiday play list because it was released on the first and only Christmas I spent out of state.
Currently, there are two all-Christmas stations in Pittsburgh and they both attempt to cover everything from Crosby to Clarkson. Soccer moms especially flock to 3WS and WSHH in December, if only because most other stations all but ignore holiday music. It could be so much better, though.
Pay-to-listen radio got it right by splitting the tunes into classic, contemporary and country Christmas stations, among others. The free radio dial would do well to do the same.
For its limited exposure of Christmas music, WDVE at least sticks to its rock genre. The music fits and connects well with the songs that comes before and after it. The all-Christmas stations, though, are all over the place and the music is interchangeable. Why not opt for distinctive?
How about splitting the difference with a classic Christmas station (1940 - 1979) with tunes ranging from Der Bingle to the Carpenters and a contemporary station (1980 - now) rolling from Manheim Steamroller to current Christmas favorites? And, yes, they both could play the Bing Crosby-David Bowie duet of “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.”
And, by the way, an all-country and/or all-R&B Christmas station would do terrific in this area, too, and perhaps reel in some male listeners that the current mish-mash stations can’t capture.
The top 10 Christmas singles haven’t changed much over the years. Eight of those 10 tunes would work well on the classic Christmas station. The other two – Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and Trans Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Eve” wouldn’t even be missed.
The contemporary station, meanwhile, wouldn’t feel the loss of those other eight songs. Fresh versions of all of those tunes exist, and the station could fill any perceived void by drawing heavily from the top-selling Christmas albums of all time (seven of the top 10 were released after 1983.)
Of course, careful blending of the selections would still be in order.
While I sampled both all-Christmas stations for purposes of writing this column, I’ve pretty much opted for my own mix-CDs and various iPod playlists, depending on the mood. I imagine many others have done the same.
Suffice it to say that the thought of a Burl Ives-Bruce Springsteen-Josh Groban-Gene Autry-Madonna mashup is enough to put the “Bah, humbug” in anyone.
Top radio Christmas songs
1. All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey (1994)
2. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee (1958)
3. Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms (1957)
4. Christmas Song – Nat King Cole (1946)
5. Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives (1965)
6. Feliz Navidad – Jose Feliciano (1970)
7. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams (1963)
8. White Christmas – Bing Crosby (1942)
9. Christmas Eve – Trans Siberian Orchestra (1995)
10. Happy Xmas – John & Yoko (1971)
Top-selling Christmas albums
1. Elvis Christmas Album – Elvis Presley (1970)
2. Miracles Holiday Album – Kenny G (1994)
3. Now That’s What I Call Christmas – Various (2001)
4. A Fresh Aire Christmas – Trans Siberian Orchestra (1988)
5. Manheim Steamroller Christmas – Trans Siberian Orchestra (1984)
6. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole (1963)
7. Noel – Josh Groban (2007)
8. These Are Special Times – Celine Dion (1998)
9. Merry Christmas – Mariah Carey (1994)
10. A Christmas Album – Barbra Streisand (1967)