December 20, 2004
The soundtrack of Christmas revisited

The Chron has an op-ed today on the subject of Christmas music and why it's the same thing every year.


Consider that in the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers' annual ranking of the 25 most-performed holiday songs, oldies but goodies dominate. The tune that claimed this year's No. 1 spot, The Christmas Song (a.k.a. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), hails from the mid-1940s. Not far behind it are two songs Winter Wonderland (No. 3) and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (No. 4) that go back even further, to 1934. Other decades-old favorites in the Top 10 include Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, White Christmas, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let it Snow! and I'll Be Home for Christmas.

The closest you'll come to something "contemporary" is a pair of songs from the '70s: Jose Feliciano's Feliz Navidad and Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime. The latter, at No. 22, barely made the cut pretty shabby for a former Beatle.

[...]

Plenty of new Christmas songs are written and recorded every year by established artists (this season, for example, has offerings by the country singer LeAnn Rimes, the roots-minded vocalist Chris Isaak and the modern-rock group Barenaked Ladies). But these tunes hardly ever work their way into the public ear through avenues like shopping-mall background music, soundtracks to television holiday specials or, perhaps most significant, the playlists of the many radio stations that switch to an all-holiday format after Thanksgiving.

Part of the problem is that the rules of the modern-day recording industry dictate that a song must indeed be "worked" that is, positioned with stations over weeks, if not months. The Christmas season doesn't afford such a generous allotment of time, so labels simply spare themselves the effort.

But even if a label were to make the big push, it would still find itself catering to a small piece of the pie. That's because audiences these days are deeply divided by genre. When Bing Crosby sang Irving Berlin's White Christmas in 1942, he could be sure that his crooning would be heard all over the country. Billboard magazine, which began tracking popular songs in earnest in the '30s, didn't even introduce a separate country music chart until 1944. The trade journal now has more than 40 charts, covering everything from rock to rap, classical crossover to contemporary jazz.


There was a features article last year on the same topic. I think this year's piece comes a little closer to addressing the real issue, which in my opinion is not so much the splintering of radio as it is the diversification of American culture overall. Not much else to add here, though I wonder if maybe someday the various satellite radio services will offer a seasonal "Christmas Music You Probably Haven't Heard Before But Just Might Like" service as a lure for their subscribers. Who knows, maybe that's where the next Bing Crosby will emanate.

UPDATE: Matt in the comments suggests digital cable for some exposure to non-retreaded Christmas music. That's a fine idea, but I should warn you, that's where I heard this stuff. Caveat auscultator and all that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 20, 2004 to Music | TrackBack
Comments

Try Digital Cable!

You can also try digital cable! Music Choice (musicchoice.com) has a channel called "Sounds of the Seasons" that plays seasonal music, including Cajun/Zydeco for Mardi Gras, Celtic for St. Patrick's Day, and Latino for Cinco de Mayo. Naturally, it runs Xmas music just about as soon as Halloween is over - from November 3rd to December 30th. You can listen to it on Time Warner Cable on channel 841 in Austin, or channel 817 in Houston. For a schedule, check out http://backstage.musicchoice.com/schedules/descriptions2.html
Posted by: Matt on December 20, 2004 11:35 AM

Matt, I had that on (briefly) last night, and went down to find my Time-Life Treasury of Christmas Music CDs very quickly. The straw that broke, etc. was a horrible new caterwauling something-or-other from Britney Spears.

Posted by: Linkmeister on December 20, 2004 6:04 PM

LOVE ALL THE MUSIC YOU PLAY, BUT WOULD LOVE TO HEAR SOME JACKIE & ROY, ELLA, FRANK, TONY BENNETT,JOHNNY HARTMAN, CHRIS CONNER AND OF COURSE JANE MONHEIT. THANKS

Posted by: jack on June 1, 2005 7:45 PM

THIS IS A GREAT CHANNEL FOR XMAS MUSIC MUCH VARIETY BUT U HAVENT GOT ON MY FAVORITE WHICH IS ROY ORBISON " PRETTY PAPER,PRETTY PENCILS"WHICH I WOUILD LOVE TO HEAR AND SO WOULD MANY OTHERS

Posted by: CHARLENE YORKS on December 3, 2006 1:26 PM

I would like to hear more of Clay Akens.

Posted by: Jane Ward on December 20, 2006 9:15 PM