Saturday, December 22, 2018

Five By Five: Christmas Songs

5 facts about 5 songs . . . 


  • This song of holiday nostalgia was written by Irving Berlin for the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, where Bing Crosby sings it from the perspective of a New Yorker stranded in sunny California during Christmas. That’s the link above to the film clip. By 1954, this song was a holiday favourite, and that year Paramount Pictures released a movie called White Christmas to tie in with it. Crosby starred in the film along with Danny Kaye, and performed this song again. 
  • The song enjoyed a sales resurgence every Christmas after it was first released in 1942. It went to #1 that year in America, and again reached the top spot in 1945 and 1947. The song appeared on various Billboard charts every year until 1963 when it finally dropped off the Hot 100. 
  • It is the biggest-selling Christmas song of all time and was the biggest-selling song of all time, going back and forth with Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock," until Elton John released his tribute to Princess Diana - "Candle In The Wind." 
  • According to Mark Steyn's “A Song for the Season”, "White Christmas" owes much of its enduring popularity to World War II, specifically the attack on Pearl Harbor that led to US involvement, because the song adopted a significance beyond the reaches of Hollywood: "Had America entered the war in Europe in 1939, 'White Christmas' might have been just a hit-record from a so-so movie. Instead, 1942 was the American serviceman's first Christmas away, in the Pacific, under glorious sunny skies that only made home seem even more distant." 
  • Christmas was a painful time for Irving Berlin and his second wife, Ellin Mackay, who found their infant son dead in his bassinet early Christmas morning in 1928. 


  • "The Little Drummer Boy" was originally known as "Carol of the Drum" and was written by the American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941. She based it upon a traditional Czech carol. The Czech original of the carol has never been identified. 
  • "Carol of the Drum" appealed to the Austrian Trapp Family Singers, who first brought the song to wider prominence when they recorded it for Decca Records in 1951 on their first album for Decca. 
  • This was released around Christmas every year from 1958-1962. It made the US Top 40 all five years and became a holiday classic. 
  • According to Alexandra Petri, columnist for the Washington Post, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is uncomfortable on the subject of consent, “Merry Christmas/War Is Over” is saccharine and cloying, and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” is laying the groundwork for a surveillance state, but the worst Christmas song of all is “Little Drummer Boy.” She describes it as a story in which the boy is invited to a baby shower for someone he doesn’t know and where gifts are clearly expected, arriving without gifts and deciding instead to do an annoying drum solo. Not only that, he interrupts his narrative continually with “Pa rum pum pum pum”. 
  • The story depicted in the song is somewhat similar to a 12th-century French legend where a juggler juggles before the statue of the Virgin Mary, and the statue, according to which version of the legend one reads, either smiles at him or throws him a rose. 


  • "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" was released in 1971 as a single by John & Yoko, and the Plastic Ono Band. The lyrics, by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, are set to the traditional English ballad "Skewball". 
  • John and Yoko spent a lot of time in the late '60s and early '70s working to promote peace. In 1969, they put up billboards in major cities around the world that said, "War is over! (If you want it)." Two years later this slogan became the basis for this song when Lennon decided to make a Christmas record with an anti-war message. John also claimed another inspiration for writing the song: he said he was "sick of 'White Christmas.'" 
  • The children's voices are the Harlem Community Choir, who were brought in to sing on this track. They are credited on the single. 
  • Though now a Christmas standard, Lennon originally penned this as a protest song about the Vietnam War, and the idea "that we're just as responsible as the man who pushes the button. As long as people imagine that somebody's doing it to them and that they have no control, then they have no control." 
  • John Lennon was shot and killed less than three weeks before Christmas in 1980. The song was re-released in the UK on December 20 of that year, reaching #2. 


  • Performed by American singer and songwriter Mariah Carey, she co-wrote and co-produced the song with Walter Afanasief. 
  • "All I Want For Christmas Is You" was not released as a single, serving instead to drive sales of Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas album. 
  • Probably not high up these days of Jamie Packer’s List of Favourite Christmas Songs. 
  • This song is sung by Olivia Olson (Sam’s object of affection) at the Christmas concert in Love Actually. She does all her own singing in "All I Want for Christmas is You". She had such an amazing voice that Director Richard Curtis had it edited so that it sounded more like a child singing. 
  • In December 2006 this became the first ringtone to achieve a RIAA Gold certification for sales of over 500,000. The next year, the ringtone was certified Platinum for a million, then Double Platinum for 2 million in 2009. 


  • One of the reasons that I have included this Christmas song is that I love the 2010 clip of our own singing budgie Kylie Minogue performing it at the Rockefeller Centre. See it at: 
  • Originally released by Eartha Kitt in 1953, the song is a tongue-in-cheek look at a Christmas list addressed to Santa Claus by a woman who wants extravagant gifts. 
  • Along with "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," this was one of the first Christmas novelty songs. Christmas songs written at the time tended to be nostalgic looks at the holiday or kid's songs, but this one took a different approach, with Kitt singing about how she's been good all year and expects some very expensive gifts to appear, including a fur coat, a new coat and even a yacht. 
  • In 1987 Madonna recorded it for the charity album A Very Special Christmas. Madonna's version brought the song back into the spotlight and it has been a Christmas standard ever since. 

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