My Grandmother Had The Best Christmas Music

If you’ve paid attention to my posted lists of my favorite Christmas music in previous years, you’ll see that it is heavily weighted towards music from long before I was born.  One thing I share with a lot of aging baby boomers (the folks who raised me) is that three names come to the forefront when thinking about Christmas: Jesus, Santa Claus, and Bing Crosby–though not necessarily in that order.

Crosby and Irving Berlin–the latter being the Jewish genius behind so many great, sentimental, World War 2 Christmas songs, most of which were showcased in the inter-connected movies Holiday Inn and (later) partial remake White Christmas.  The song “White Christmas,” written by Berlin and sung by Crosby, is far and away the best selling single of all time at 50,000,000+copies.  You read that right.  Fifty million plus–and that’s just the Crosby version.  Hundreds of artists have covered it since.  In my mind, White Christmas is forever tied to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” another Crosby song, sung from the perspective of an American soldier at war overseas, that tapped eloquently into the zeitgeist of the era. The opening scene, of White Christmas, with Bing Crosby singing the song to the exhausted troops, thousands of miles from home, artillery exploding in the background, focus on that line “…if only in my dreams.”

And therein lies the seed of why these songs were so popular and why they remain so.  America, in the course of a decade, emerged from a bitter depression and plunged into a desperate and all-consuming war–a war that not only effected every household in the nation, but gave pause to consider the implications of failure.  By 1948, it is safe to say that virtually all Americans knew deprivation, desperation, uncertainly, fear, and loss–as well as exultant joy, pride, confidence, and accomplishment.  The music of the time, heady at one moment, deeply sentimental the next, reflected that–and it’s fair to say that the era profoundly effected how we celebrate Christmas as well.

ASCUP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers has validated my own sentiments, released its list of the top 30 most performed holiday songs of all time.  Sadly, Mariah Carey is mentioned.

Top 30 All-Time Christmas Songs

1. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (1934)
2. “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” (1946)
3. “White Christmas” (1941)
4. “Winter Wonderland” (1934)
5. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (1944)
6. “Sleigh Ride” (1948)
7. “Jingle Bell Rock” (1958)
8. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1949)
9. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (1945)
10. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (1943)
11. “Little Drummer Boy” (1958)
12. “Silver Bells” (1950)
13. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (1958)
14. “Frosty the Snowman” (1950)
15. “Blue Christmas” (1949)
16. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (1963)
17. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (1951)
18. “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)” (1947)
19. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (1962)
20. “Carol of the Bells” (1936)
21. “Feliz Navidad” (1970)
22. “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” (1964)
23. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (1952)
24. “Last Christmas” (1984)
25. “Home for the Holidays” (1954)
26. “Wonderful Christmastime” (1979)
27. “Happy Holidays” (from Holiday Inn) (1942)
28. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (1994)
29. “Santa Baby” (1953)
30. “This Christmas” (1970)

It’s unfair to say that all the best holiday music came from the post-war years–I’ve got a Reverend Horton Heat album that says differently–but it’s no surprise the those songs top the lists.  Imagine if all we had for the season was George Michael singing “Last Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas”–two songs, and performers, I utterly despise.