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Music is an intrinsic part of the Christmas spirit. Carols are sung pretty much the world over and anyone who’s been shopping during December in the past 50 years is sure to relate sleigh bells to a specific month of the year.
But these are old stereotypes – in the past few decades, many songs have been written which are now engrained into the psyche of the public. How do they do it? When did this obsession with Christmas pop music begin?
Let’s have a look…
Popular Christmas Music
Popular artists have been making festive music for years and years now, from Paul McCartney to Gwen Stefani. They don’t have to be religious; In fact, popular Christmas music tends not to be religious, rather focusing on fictional fat men, gift-giving and nasally-outstanding reindeer to attract a wider audience.
Some so-called Christmas music doesn’t even relate directly to Christmas, but have been adopted by the public. This list includes the massive “Winter Wonderland”, “Let it Snow” and “Jingle Bells”, which was originally written for Thanksgiving!
But while music that sings about Christmas is certainly festive, one undeniably large element of Christmas music is the…
Christmas Number One
This is a pretty much exclusively British phenomenon – where every year, the position of number one in the charts is even more prized than normal during the week before Christmas day. Quite possibly because the winning single will sell a considerable amount more. The songs for the most part aren’t anything to do with Christmas, instead either being a huge hit around the time or a novelty song such as “Mr Blobby”.
That said, Band Aid has been the biggest selling Christmas number one with “Do they know it’s Christmas?” after selling over 3.5 million copies with all of the proceeds being donated to charity.
Charity plays a big part in Christmas number ones, with several incarnations of Band Aid, as well as Queen’s second entry into the Christmas number one position with “Bohemian Rhapsody” racking up millions for various charities.
Another method that people are introduced to Christmas music is…
Christmas Movie Soundtracks
A large number of songs have been initially popularised by movies. “White Christmas” in the movie of the same name, “Holly Jolly Christmas” in an animated special “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Let it Snow!” in “Die Hard” and “Jingle Bell Rock” in “Lethal Weapon” for some examples.
But it’s not just movies that popularise Christmas songs – let’s go back to some of…
The Bigger Christmas Pop Hits
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest hits and see their story.
Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody
This track saved the band Slade – after their drummer, Don Powell, was involved in a car crash, the band was on tenuous ground, but after grouping together and pushing through Powell’s short-term memory loss they wrote Merry Xmas Everybody as the first song they’d recorded layer-by-layer in the studio as opposed to live.
So it was that Slade went on to make horrendous amounts of money and the British Public was “treated” to Noddy Holder’s scream of “IT’S CHRIIIIIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAS!” every year since.
Paul McCartney – Wonderful Christmastime
As the other Beatles John and George had tried their hand at festive singles, Paul didn’t want to be left out and created his massive hit “Wonderful Christmastime”. Incidentally, the synth riff was played on a Prophet-5, one of the most popular synths of the time.
Wham! – Last Christmas
The Pop duo Wham! brought out their hit “Last Christmas” for an expected battle for Christmas number one against “Frankie goes to Hollywood”. However, the “Band Aid” project which Wham! was a part of took the top spot. It became the biggest selling single ever to not reach the number one spot with over a million sales.
How much money?
So with all this popularity and coveting of the number one position, how much do these songwriters and performers make? Well, it’s difficult to say, but apparently 1/3 of the money the music industry makes is during the run up to Christmas.
One example I could find was the tune “I’ll be Home for Christmas”, which apparently is number 9 in ASCAP’s “Most performed holiday songs” list. In 2002-2003, it earned over $18,000 in royalties for the composer. Not bad considering it was written in 1943!
The Bing Crosby version of “White Christmas” is the biggest selling single of all time, with the Guinness book of records attributing over 100 million sales to it. It was initially a poor seller, but has been so consistent in the charts ever since that it’s taken the all-time top spot.
So if you’re looking to make some serious money in music, perhaps you should start thinking about what your Christmas hit should be!