Of all the decorations we have to enjoy during the Christmas season, the soundtrack that has developed to support it is perhaps one of the most meaningful. In a world that’s constantly changing, there’s something reassuring about the fact that the music we dust off every year seems timeless — just like the message of the birth of Jesus Christ on the first Christmas.
We sing long-time favorite hymns and carols as part of our religious observance, but the secular side of the celebration has familiar tunes as well. Mediaguide tracks more than 2,600 radio stations to facilitate the distribution of royalty payments to songwriters, composers and publishers, and it has again issued its “top 25” list of the most popular holiday songs over the past 25 years.
And again, the list illustrates the timeless nature of our preferred Christmas listening, even though some outstanding new recordings of Christmas music have been issued in the past few years.
For example, the No. 1 tune on Mediaguide’s list is “Winter Wonderland,” written in 1934. It is also tied for oldest honors with the No. 4 tune, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.”
“Winter Wonderland” was an instant hit for legendary bandleader Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians who took it to the No. 2 spot on the Billboard charts that year, and 1946 recordings by the Andrews Sisters and Perry Como established the song as a Yuletide favorite. But versions by the Eurythmics, Jewel and Air Supply are popular today. The same is true for other songs on the top 25 list.
In recent years, “The Christmas Song,” otherwise known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” by Mel Torm/ and Robert Wells has ruled as No. 1. The most popular version is still by Nat “King” Cole. But it has slipped to No. 2 this year. Cole recorded this song four times, the first being in 1946, but the version we hear most often today was done in 1961.
It takes a while to break into the top 25, as most songs on the list appear to be quite secure in their positions. The newest song is “Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Feed the World),” recorded in 1984. And it’s hanging on at No. 24.
The most recorded holiday song is “White Christmas,” with well over 500 versions in dozens of languages. The Irving Berlin tune checks in at No. 5 on the most-played list, and Bing Crosby’s version is still the one we want to hear.
Here’s the top 25 list, as shown on the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Web site, www.ascap.com:
1. “Winter Wonderland” written by Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith; 2. “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” written by Mel Torm/ and Robert Wells; 3. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin; 4. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” written by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie; 5. “White Christmas” written by Irving Berlin; 6. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne; 7. “Jingle Bell Rock” written by Joseph Carleton Beal and James Ross Boothe; 8. “Sleigh Ride” written by Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish; 9. “Little Drummer Boy” written by Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati and Harry Simeone; 10. “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” written by Johnny Marks; 11. “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” written by Edward Pola and George Wyle; 12. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” written by Walter Kent, Kim Gannon and Buck Ram; 13. “Silver Bells” written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans; 14. “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree “ written by Johnny Marks; 15. “Feliz Navidad” written by Jos/ Feliciano; 16. “Frosty The Snowman” written by Steve Nelson, Walter E. Rollins; 17. “A Holly Jolly Christmas” written by Johnny Marks; 18. “Blue Christmas” written by Billy Hayes, Jay W. Johnson; 19. “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” written by Meredith Willson; 20. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” written by Tommie Connor; 21. “Here Comes Santa Claus” written by Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman; 22. “(There’s No Place Like) Home For The Holidays” written by Bob Allen and Al Stillman; 23. “Carol Of The Bells” written by Peter J. Wilhousky and Mykola Leontovich; 24. “Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Feed the World)” written by Midge Ure and Bob Geldof; and 25. “Wonderful Christmastime” written by Paul McCartney.
However you like sing it, have a very merry Christmas.
Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.