With the holiday season upon us, we’ll need to withstand a solid month of Christmas music playlists with little variation from previous years.
One thing is unavoidable the day after Thanksgiving: the onset of an entire month of Christmas music.
At the moment, radio stations and store loudspeakers are already playing the same Christmas classics heard every year, on an endless repeat with extremely scant variation. For most people, this is simply the norm. These songs are the fabric of their holiday seasons and are fully accepted as background music.
But every year, this wave of passed-down music raises an interesting question: Where is the line between traditional and tiresome?
In the scope of American popular music, you’d be hard pressed to find many, if any established artists who have not at one time in their careers recorded a holiday-themed song, or even an entire album of songs. Everyone from the likes of Elvis Presley to Hilary Duff has made an attempt at joining the cherished canon of Christmas music.
Even Bob Dylan, an artist who has done some of the most valuable songwriting in rock history, recently released a Christmas album of his own, Christmas in the Heart, to the bewilderment of music fans everywhere. On his 34th studio album, the prolific songwriter merely covers the classics, adding his distinctly raspy voice and folk stylings.
Breaking into the Christmas music canon is no easy task. The seemingly solidified repertoire has had few new additions over the past century. Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” John Lennon’s “Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)” and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” all may be recognizable tunes, but they are also relatively new in comparison to many other seasonal favorites.
Many of the most famous songs, like “Jingle Bells,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “The First Noel,” were written before 1900. Other classics were written in the mid-20th century, many popularized through the medium of film, including “Silver Bells,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
This month, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), published a list of the top 25 most performed holiday songs of the past decade. Of the 25 songs listed, the newest was Band Aid’s 1984 benefit single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
The organization also cited that “White Christmas” is the most recorded Christmas song, with more than 500 different versions in several languages.
A simple search of “Santa Claus” on a music streaming Web site like Grooveshark will yield hundreds of artists as diverse as the many genres they encompass. The problem, perhaps, is that there is far less variety in the Santa-themed songs.
There are no more commonly covered songs than those that fall into the Christmas category, yet there are rarely many individual covers that stand apart, from a creative standpoint.
While many artists do take a more creative route, writing and recording their own brand new holiday songs, their efforts are generally, largely ignored by music fans outside that artist’s own circle of fans. Radio play, sadly, seems only reserved for the songs with which listeners are already familiar.
So it may be no surprise when even Bob Dylan’s new versions of these songs don’t make it onto most radio playlists. Instead, we’ll need to settle for what we heard last year around this time.
Regifting presents is holiday taboo, so why is the repackaging of songs so acceptable?
Kevin Brosky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.