In the never ending search for the ‘Classic’ Christmas song, I had a few criteria I used as guidelines…
1) Staying power – How well each song stood the test of time, yet not necessarily recording quality (which in some cases is less than today’s standards, yet still a classic).
2) Frequency – Songs which most often re-emerge in commercials, TV Shows, Movies and other popular media.
3) Recognizabiliy – Particular songs are obviously more recognizable than others, while particular artists interpretations are often so closely associated with the song that we almost identify the song as ‘theirs’.
For example, I kind of looked at it this way… If Christmas were a movie – and I were to have some say over the selections to set that classic Christmas spirit to music – which songs would I choose?
Craig and I were discussing what each of us felt really makes a classic Christmas song, well, “classic”, and – for the most part – he agreed.
The following eight songs are not my personal top eight, or favorite seasonal tunes, but merely the eight that I felt were “the classics”. Each song embodies decades of Christmas as it is reflected by popular music, in some cases for almost a century.
“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby
So many versions of this song over the years since it’s first release, some of which I may actually prefer (The Drifters is a great one), yet regardless, this song will always belong to America’s troubadour, the late great Bing Crosby. It is the most recognizable version, and having sold something like a bazillion copies over the years (it still stands as the greatest selling single of all time), it’s hard to deny that, although written by Irving Berlin, this tune belongs to Bing.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry
The Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry had quite a few Christmas hits, including Here Comes Santa Claus (which he wrote) and Frosty The Snowman, but charted the highest with his version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
“It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams
Written in 1963, and originally recorded by Andy Williams, this song has gained in popularity over the years. Although recorded by many artists from Johnny Mathis and Garth Brooks to Harry Connick Jr., yet the most recognizable (and commercial) version remains that of Andy Williams.
“Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives
Well, kind of. Burl Ives made it big with this song, which he sang as Sam the Snowman in the Rankin-Bass stop motion classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Coincidentally, both songs – Holly Jolly Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – were written by songwriter Johnny Marks.
“Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms
Rockabilly goes Christmas with this 1957 release by Bobby Helms. It’s been played every year ever since, with countless remakes, and makes for one of the most ‘partying’ Christmas classics.
“Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee
Remember that guy Johnny Marks, who wrote Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Holly Jolly Christmas? Well, he wrote this one too. Originally released in 1958, then 1959, it didn’t actually chart until 1960 when Brenda Lee herself became more popular. The only female artist sung tune on our list, this is by far one of the most up-beat and festive of the bunch.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” by Frank Sinatra
Originally recorded and released by Judy Garland, Frank’s version became more popular, and more widely recognized, hence why his made the list. Sinatra, being the demanding type, had a few of the lyrics changed from the original recording to suit his version.
“A Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole
The version we used here is the original, but not the most widely recognized. Nat ended up re-recording and re-releasing this tune three times, each time adding more instrumentation. The second – and more popular version – Nat added a small string section, and it almost instantly became a hit. Perhaps more of a Christmas Eve song than Christmas day, this song embodies all things Christmastime.
Photo Courtesy of David Difuntorum – www.daviddifuntorum.com