Christmas music and songs - the oldest ones are the best!

This is the season when spades of cringe-worthy Christmas tunes are on constant rotation in supermarkets, department stores and coffee shops. It is virtually impossible to leave the house without hearing them - over six weeks of inescapable Christmas music!

The sounds of the season are pretty much the same from year to year: Jingle Bells, Jingle Bell Rock, Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree, Frosty the Snowman, Baby, It's Cold Outside, White Christmas, I could go on…..and on.

For some, these old chestnuts may inspire them and get them in the spirit of the season. For others, however, it may be too much, forcing them to make a fast exit, leaving their gingerbread lattes behind. I feel for the employees. The tunes created to get us in the Christmas spirit must become akin to Chinese water torture for them after the first week of November.

But for music, it’s actually a unique time of year when a radio playlist can span not only decades but centuries, what other season has its own soundtrack? But why does Christmas music keep coming back year after year after year? For the most part, the old classics hold their ground while newer tunes come and go. It’s not like there’s a lack of Christmas albums going around, and yet, most of these feature only remakes of classic Christmas tunes, and maybe one or two new songs, at the most. Hearing a fresh take on an overplayed Christmas tune is refreshing for a while until you hear again the following year.

Christmas music can pretty much be divided up into three types: religious hymns, carols and then secular songs and pop songs that focus on reindeer, winter, romance and Santa Claus.

Although Christmas songs were sung during the Middle Ages, most carols in use now are less than 200 years old. Popular Christmas carols such as ‘Deck the Halls’, ’Away in a Manger,’ ‘Silent Night,’ ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem,’ were all written in the 1800’s. One of the oldest enduring secular carols ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas,’ originated in sixteenth-century England. On Christmas Eve, ‘Carolers’ would traditionally sing at the front door of wealthiest people in the community in the hope of being rewarded. In the traditional version of the song, a ‘Figgy Pudding’ is the hoped for reward.

By the 1930s, tunes such as ‘Jingle Bells,’ and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town,’ were already becoming firm seasonal favourites but it was during the 1940s that we first heard the Christmas classics such as ‘White Christmas’, ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)’.

Christmas had officially come to the rock ‘n’ roll era during the 1950s with ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ and ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree’. The ‘Elvis Christmas Album’ topped the charts in 1957 for a month and included the classic ‘Blue Christmas.’

The 1960s saw the likes of The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Everly Brothers and The Temptations release music that captured the spirit of the season, however it was the 1970s that was undoubtedly and indisputably the golden era of the Christmas Hit Single. In 1973 alone, Slade released ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ and Wizzard ‘I Wish it could be Christmas Everyday’. This decade also produced ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’ ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ along with releases from Mud, The Wombles, David Bowie and Bing Crosby, Boney M and Johnny Mathis to name just a few.

1984 was the banner year for 1980's Christmas music with the charity single ‘Do They Know It's Christmas?’ becoming an instant hit, (reaching number one in 14 countries) and Wham’ releasing ‘Last Christmas’. Can I just take a moment here to also mention my personal favourite The Pretenders ‘2000 Miles’ released in 1983.

The 1990’s kicked off with Cliff Richard’s ‘Saviours' Day’, however, other than East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’ the Christmas songs of the 90’s were dominated by the Spice Girls with three consecutive Christmas number ones from 1996-98.

The ‘naughties’ saw a little bit of a Christmas song drought and we’ve all long forgotten any of the new Christmas songs released this decade, except perhaps The Darkness' Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End) with their authentic homage to the festive '70s glam-rock era.

Since the beginning of this decade, we’ve been treated annually to the breathy tones of a female softly singing a cover version for the John Lewis Christmas ad but no big new hits. I wonder how long does it take before a new Christmas song catches on? Truth is, it's seems it’s not that easy to write an enduring Christmas song and that it’s also true to say that what 'your granny always tell ya, the old songs are the best'!

Maybe the thought of hearing ‘Santa Baby’ one more time makes you nauseous, but you have to admit, you wouldn't really be feeling the Christmas spirit without all the music, would you? Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without the music we all know and love.

Merry Christmas from the Percussion Play Team

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