The decline of secular Christmas music

My wife tells me that most of the music played on the radio stations doing 24/7 Christmas music is pretty insufferable. Bad jazzy renditions. Edgy nonsense. Sheryl Crow.

There’s a reason for this.

Consider this list of of classics that I compiled as they came to mind. The year of the (arguably) definitive recording is in parentheses.

  • White Christmas: 1940 (Bing Crosby: 1947)
  • Christmas Song: 1944 (Nat King Cole: 1961)
  • Silver Bells: 1951 (Bing Crosby: 1951)
  • Jingle Bells: 1857 (Frank Sinatra: 1957. Notable: Elvis Presley)
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: 1944 (Judy Garland: 1944. Notable: Frank Sinatra 1957)
  • Let It Snow: 1945
  • Jingle Bell Rock: 1957 (Bobby Helms: 1957)
  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer: 1949 (Gene Autry: 1949)
  • A Holly Jolly Christmas: 1962 (Burl Ives: 1965)
  • The Christmas Waltz: 1957 (Frank Sinatra: 1957, Gordon Jenkins version)
  • Blue Christmas: 1948 (Elvis Presley: 1957)
  • Christmas Time is Here: 1965 (Vince Guaraldi Trio: 1965)
  • Rockin Around the Christmas Tree: 1958 (Brenda Lee: 1958)
  • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town: 1934 (Gene Autry: 1950?. Notable: Fred Astaire)
  • Frosty the Snowman: 1950 (Gene Autry: 1950. Notable: Jimmy Durante)
  • I’ll Be Home for Christmas: 1943 (Bing Crosby: 1943. Notable: Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra)
  • It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: 1963 (Andy Williams: 1963)
  • Home for the Holidays: 1954. (Perry Como: 1954)
  • Happy Holidays: 1942. (Andy Williams: 1963)
  • Here Comes Santa Claus: 1947. (Elvis Presley: 1957)
  • Sleigh Ride: 1946. (Johnny Mathis: 1958)

Note that almost all of them were written between 1940 and 1965. This tells you a lot about the fall of popular music as a whole.

Oh yeah, you say? How about “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time” and Lennon’s “Happy Xmas?” To which I respond, hey, if those weak sisters are playing at your house, then there’s nothing I can do for you.

I kid… sort of. It’s no coincidence that the popular Christmas standards hit when popular music songwriting was at its finest. It was the era of the Great American Songbook. Even the early rock period drew on older musical forms.

Alas, “easy listening” big band swing was long ago replaced by the treacly “adult contemporary” music that now floods the airwaves. Mature sensibilities were long ago replaced by the 18-34 demographic.

This is why you hear an hour of junk on most stations before they play a good Christmas song. You have to wait for something from the old school.

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