Popular Christmas songs outside the most popular eras?
December 19, 2022 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Which genuinely popular and well-known Christmas songs are not from the most popular Christmas songwriting eras?

There are lots of very frequently played Christmas songs that date to the late 1940s and 1950s, such as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "White Christmas", "Frosty the Snowman"... and so on. The golden era of popular Christmas songwriting.

In the UK, there's also a second era of pop/rock songs from the 1970s and early 1980s, which include offerings by Slade, Wizzard, McCartney, and Shakin' Stevens.

But which ones don't? By this I mean, which genuinely well-known and played on the radio and in shopping malls Christmas songs fall outside one of these two eras? Covers don't count, nor do obscure offerings.

This question was prompted by listening to Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas is you" and reflecting that the early 90s were not a classic era for Christmas songs.
posted by plonkee to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" was originally released in 1963.
posted by praemunire at 1:20 PM on December 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

And of course "Fairytale of New York" was released in 1988.
posted by praemunire at 1:22 PM on December 19, 2022 [5 favorites]

Wham's Last Christmas comes to mind, released in 1986.

Less popular, sure, but Run-DMC's Christmas in Hollis from 1987.

And of course the aforementioned Fairytale of New York, which I guess you could argue is far more popular in the UK than the US if we're using that metric.
posted by General Malaise at 1:25 PM on December 19, 2022

Lou Monte's Dominick the Donkey was released in 1960, for whatever measure of popular you want to use.
posted by General Malaise at 1:28 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

This Christmas by Donny Hathaway, an American soul classic from 1970.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:32 PM on December 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

A lot of the most recognizable Christmas music was written in the 1850s. I'm not sure that is what you are looking for though, since arguably the 1850s is when Christmas as we know it today was invented, so it is itself probably a best-known Christmas song writing era. Nonetheless, here goes. These songs were written from 1850 to 1875: Jingle Bells, We Three Kings of Orient Are, Up on the Housetop, Go Tell it on the Mountain, What Child is This, O Little Town of Bethlehem, The Holy and the Ivy.
posted by OrangeDisk at 1:34 PM on December 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

"Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney
posted by Daily Alice at 1:35 PM on December 19, 2022

Christmas in Hollis by Run DMC from 1987.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:36 PM on December 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

Feliz Navidad by Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Jose Feliciano, 1970.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:38 PM on December 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

Linus and Lucy by Vince Guaraldi (1964) wasn't written to be a Christmas song but now it is.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:43 PM on December 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

Well, I'm just gonna drop this trivia here then. The first OutKast single, "Player's Ball," was from a LaFace records Xmas compilation. It is a Christmas song, if you look at the lyrics and listen for the sleigh bells. (Though sleigh bells used to be in all kinds of rap songs.)
posted by kensington314 at 1:44 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

The original Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer was a story in 1939 and a song in 1949.
posted by Melismata at 1:45 PM on December 19, 2022

Christmas All Over Again by Tom Petty 1992
posted by kimdog at 1:45 PM on December 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon was released in 1971.

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Bob Geldof & Midge Ure was released in 1985.

"Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" by Elmo & Patsy was released in... 1979? Whoa. I had that pegged as another mid-80s novelty song.
posted by emelenjr at 1:48 PM on December 19, 2022

Grandma got ran over by a reindeer is from 1979
posted by hydra77 at 1:48 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

A lot of artists record Christmas albums, either to capitalize on popularity or to rekindle their popularity a la Bill Knighy in Love Actually. But you don't know about them, because they're often terrible. For example, Ringo Starr released an entire Christmas album (with the Ramones-ian title "I Wanna Be Santa Claus") in 1999, featuring several original compositions. I'd be surprised if you'd ever heard of any of them. Wikipedia notes it was "not a commercial success". The New Kids on the Block, 'N Sync, and Justin Bieber have all released Christmas albums with never-before-heard (I'm avoiding the term "original" here) songs. The Backstreet Boys just released one a month and a half ago, with two songs they'd written themselves, with help. Of these, 'N Sync's "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays" is probably the best-known song, certainly the most likely to be played in a shopping mall. But the point is that there are new Christmas songs written every year.

The real question, I think, is why so many canonical Christmas songs date to the late 40s and 50s. I think that has something to do with improved technology and, especially, distribution of recorded music, increased prevalence of broadcast media, and increased consumer spending after the war. That quickly established a canon, and then the Baby Boomers reacted against that during the 70s. (As with everything relating to Baby Boomers, that's an overgeneralization, but it's a tidy answer.) Then, as both the Boomers got older and embraced capitalism, and younger generations reacted against the Boomers, there was a swing back to writing Christmas songs. By that point, songwriting ability had dwindled get off my lawn, I mean, the 40s/50s canon had been established for 30+ years, and it was hard to break in. Modern songs that get added to the canon tend to be either really good ("All I Want for Christmas Is You") or really bad ("Last Christmas"), but either way, they're songs that people react to, which is not the case for the majority of contemporary Christmas songs, which, I as opened by noting, are largely cash grabs.

If you want a more literal answer, "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses, 1981.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:53 PM on December 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

What Christmas Means to Me- Stevie Wonder 1967
posted by kimdog at 1:56 PM on December 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

God Rest you Merry, Gentlemen is very traditional and dates from very early on indeed. I guess one could argue it isn't all that popular however.
posted by Alensin at 2:00 PM on December 19, 2022

Best answer: Little Saint Nick by the Beach Boys is from 1963, written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love. The former of whom presumably composed the melody, instrumentation, and lyrics. The latter presumably added oohs and womp-a-bomps.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:04 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Can you clarify whether you're asking about songs that were recorded during those periods, or songs that were written and originally recorded during those periods?

There are lots of popular Christmas carols that were written centuries ago, that are still regularly played on the radio. Jingle Bells was written in 1857. I saw Three Ships dates from the 17th century, etc.

If you mean original writing, I'd point to Charlie Brown's Christmas having some lasting all-time hits.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 2:08 PM on December 19, 2022

Best answer: Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight) by The Ramones, 1989.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:09 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Memphis soul queen Carla Thomas's 'Gee Whiz It's Christmas' is from 1963.
posted by box at 2:10 PM on December 19, 2022

Best answer: Do You Hear What I Hear is from 1963.
posted by lhauser at 2:35 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, 1966
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:44 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We Need a Little Christmas (Haul Out the Holly) is from 1966
posted by vakker at 4:31 PM on December 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

River by Joni Mitchell is from 1971. It’s from her album Blue, not a Christmas album or anything, but I do consider it a Christmas song because the very first few lines say “It’s coming on Christmas/They’re cutting down trees/They’re putting up reindeer/And singing songs of joy and peace.” I hear it all the time during the lead up to the holidays.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:58 PM on December 19, 2022

Silent Night

O Tannebaum

O Come O Come Emmanuel

I Saw Three Ships

Good King Wenceslas

(if I'm reading this right. Also, I don't like Xmas)
posted by ovvl at 6:27 PM on December 19, 2022

Jingle Bells, Batman smells has obscure origins but definitely took off during the Simpsons era of the early 90s.
posted by basalganglia at 6:38 PM on December 19, 2022

The First Noel (pre-19th century).

We Wish You a Merry Christmas (pre-20th century). I was surprised to discover how old this one was - I always thought it was pretty modern!
posted by spiderbeforesunset at 7:41 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Twelve Days of Christmas (1780s)
posted by spiderbeforesunset at 7:43 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Joy To The World is from the 1710s.

What Child Is This is from the 1860s.
posted by oywiththepoodles at 9:36 PM on December 19, 2022

Best answer: A few post-2000 ones that IMO have entered the radio and shopping mall canon:
Britney Spears, My Only Wish (This Year)
Ariana Grande, Santa Tell Me

Arguably Justin Bieber’s Mistletoe as well.
posted by chaiyai at 9:42 PM on December 19, 2022

Best answer: Oh! And Coldplay’s Christmas Lights.
posted by chaiyai at 9:44 PM on December 19, 2022

Sia's 2017 Everyday Is Christmas album
Christmas Tree Farm, Taylor Swift, 2019
The Jonas Brothers: Like It’s Christmas, 2019; I Need You Christmas, 2020
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:33 AM on December 20, 2022

1963's Pretty Paper, written by Willie Nelson and performed by Roy Orbison
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:46 AM on December 20, 2022

"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" dates to 1739.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:56 AM on December 20, 2022

Here is a list of 50 newish Christmas songs - as just one example consider You Deserve It All by John Legend. This is a world of well crafted songs performed by, often, well known artists. So, in theory, some of them would be picking up the baton from "All I Want for Christmas is You" - I think maybe the problem is that the world's attention of music is now much more diffuse.
posted by rongorongo at 2:26 AM on December 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

This article may be of interest. I can send you a gift copy if needed.
posted by theora55 at 9:29 AM on December 20, 2022

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