I’m dreaming of a bestseller: what makes Christmas songs stick? | Music

When composer Irving Berlin finished writing White Christmas in 1940, he reportedly told his music secretary:

If musical greatness is measured by record sales, he was right. Recorded by Bing Crosby and released on his 1942 compilation album Merry Christmas, White Christmas became the best-selling single of all time. The song is still one of his most listened to on December 24th and his 25th, more than 80 years later.

The longevity of a White Christmas is not a one-off. The Guardian takes a look at every Christmas song in the UK Top 100 since 1952 and picks his 100 most popular songs on Spotify. Two-thirds were released at least 30 years ago.

A timeline showing release dates for Christmas songs.

But why are we still listening to the same old tunes? Christmas is “a time to go back to where we were born,” he says, and that influences music.

Bennett categorized a list of 100 Christmas songs using the same method he used in his 2017 paper, looking at lyrical and musical themes.

The most frequent lyrical categories are homely themes related to family, fireplaces, gifts under the tree, coming home for Christmas, or party related such as dancing, mistletoe, and being with friends. Common festive musical tropes included sleigh bells (found in 46% of songs) and tubular bells (found in 21%).

A return to the mid-20th century

The Christmas song genre is also rooted in nostalgia. Over half of our songs are from his mid-20th century popular genre, and about a quarter are from American record producer Phil Spector’s 1963 album “A Christmas Gift for You.” (Spector was later convicted of murder). 2000s).

Subsequent artists and songs refer to the mid-20th century. All I Want For Christmas is You by Mariah Carey, released in 1994. “He’s not doing mid-’90s pop. He’s doing ’60s pop with mid-’90s recording quality.”

Last year’s release of Ed Sheeran and Elton John’s Merry Christmas also hinted at Spector’s sound, and modern king of Christmas songs, Michael Bublé, used modern production techniques to create a 1950s big band sound. reminds me of

Graphic showing the most popular genres of Christmas songs

The dominance of older genres means that the more popular contemporary genres are being left behind.

“One of the attractions of Christmas music is the lack of hip-hop. says Bennett.

There was an attempt to create a hip-hop Christmas classic. Perhaps most notably Run DMC’s Christmas in Hollis, released in 1987 and included on the list. However, these are rarely successful.

One successful new take on a Christmas classic is The Jackson 5’s version of santa claus is coming to town“It’s pure pop disco,” says Bennett. “We’re updating old songs with modern arrangements. It’s the exact opposite of Mariah Carey’s approach of adding retro arrangements to new songs.”

same song, different artist

Another sign of the lasting influence of nostalgia on Christmas music is the fact that many of the same songs are covered over and over again by different musicians. White Christmas has over 20,000 versions of him on Spotify.

However, some covers are more innovative than others. Using Spotify’s music classification algorithm, the popular version of Silent Night was found to be more similar than versions of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town or Mary’s Boy Child.

A Chart Showing the Musical Properties of Christmas Songs

There is a musical explanation for this. Silent Night is his waltz in 3/4 time, but Bennett says it’s difficult to increase the tempo or add energy to the waltz. Waltzes are generally rare in pop music, but not so uncommon in his Christmas songs (accounting for 6% of his songs on the list, and an additional 8% in 12/8 time signature).

The rise of festival female artists

Christmas songs are a reminder of the past, but the data also show some changes over the decades.

Modern songs are increasingly sung by female artists. This is due to the rise of solo her artists across the music industry in recent decades and the decline of male-dominated band music.

“Record labels these days are comfortable investing in solo artists as opposed to bands. It means the financial risk of investing in an artist is low and many of the solo artists are women,” says Bennett.

A chart showing the artists behind Christmas songs, by gender

Spotify’s data also shows that “danceability” has improved over the years, with songs interpreted by female singers topping the score. Spotify categorizes danceability based on “a combination of musical elements such as tempo, rhythmic stability, beat strength, and overall regularity.”

Also, “energy” increased, but “acousticity” decreased. This is not so surprising. The rise of recording technology and digital music means that these changes reflect the wider arc of contemporary music.

But it’s worth noting, “We still listen to ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s songs around Christmas time, but not much at other times of the year. will teach you something.”

“It’s a reminder that these old songs are still culturally relevant, no matter who sings them.”

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