MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
Christmas songs have been a European and particularly American tradition for centuries, and Northern Hemisphere images of snow, sleigh bells, pine trees, reindeers, Jack Frost, mistletoe, chestnuts roasting on open fires, abound – nary a barbie, bikini, gum tree, seafood platter, or kangaroo in sight, but let’s get into the festive spirit Down Under anyway.
In Australia the arrival of Christmas ushers in the summer holidays, families head for bush or beachside leisure spots for camping, caravanning, surfing, outdoor BBQs and several weeks of family fun and relaxation. An Australian Christmas retains many of the features familiar to our counterparts in the UK, USA and Europe – Christmas trees, decorations, door wreaths, light displays, singing of carols, Santa Claus, gift-giving, Christmas pudding, celebration crackers, good cheer, and lots of seafood.
Carols by Candlelight are performed in each capital city, and the Salvation Army releases an annual album of Christmas favorites recorded by local performers to raise funds for the homeless, but there is not a great tradition of seasonal albums being released by locals, although Adelaide’s Sia Furler’s 2017 album Everyday Is Christmas was a notable exception, and included many new original Xmas classics
Christmas songs have evolved over time from the pagan rituals dedicated to all of the four seasons, to the religious hymns of Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, Good King Wenceslas, The Little Dummer Boy, to embrace the Great American Songbook of Christmas classics in the period just before and after WW2. Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney, Eartha Kitt, Mahalia Jackson and others all recorded classic versions of seasonal hits, often taken from the scores of popular movies and live musical theatre. Bing Crosby has had so many hit songs at Christmas that it seemed as if this season was an annual benefit for the old crooner, contributing massively to his personal global record sales of over 300 million copies.
The 1950’s saw the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll and early rock/rockabilly songs hit the charts in December – Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee), Jingle Bell Rock (Bobby Helms), Run Rudolph Run (Chuck Berry), Blue Christmas (Elvis Presley), along with the silky sounds of Nat King Cole (The Christmas Song) Harry Belafonte (Mary’s Boy Child) and Johnny Mathis (It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas).
By the 1960’s the tradition of singers releasing Christmas albums was now getting into full swing, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, Roy Orbison, even Phil Spector, and many more, jumped on the sleigh ride to seasonal success. But local Christmas hits were thin on the ground here in Australia, Rolf Harris produced a genuine seasonal hit with Six White Boomers in 1960, but our local Carols By Candlelight and Christmas Pageants continued to feature covers of unrelentingly snowy songs from Europe and North America.
The major shift in Christmas music over the decades has been the emergence of more secular songs at the expense of traditional hymns, so that songs like White Christmas (Bing Crosby), Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Darlene Love), Last Christmas (Wham), All I Want For Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey), It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year (Andy Williams), and Step Into Christmas (Elton John), are far and away the biggest-selling seasonal hits; but there has also been a more perverse genre of Christmas songs to emerge that are far removed from the tinsel-tree cuteness and the glorification of religion, of past songs.
Merry Christmas (War Is Over) (John Lennon and Yoko Ono), 7 O’Clock News/ Silent Night (Simon and Garfunkel), A Fairytale of New York (The Pogues with Kirsty McColl), Bad Sharon (Robbie Williams and Tyson Fury), Back Door Santa (Otis Redding), Christmas Duel (Cyndi Lauper and the Hives), How To Make Gravy (Paul Kelly) were all memorable. Others tapped into seasonal pathos and were often cringeworthy, The Christmas Shoes (Bob Carlisle), Faith In Santa (Herman Lammers), Another Lonely Christmas (Prince) and Christmas Carol (Skip Ewing) were all notable tearjerkers. Then there were those that were hard to define – Santa Came On a Nuclear Missile (Heather Noel), Santa Claus Is a Black Man (Teddy and Akim Vann), and Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas) (Free Design).
So what makes a good Christmas song? Well it should be heartfelt, meaningful, preferably original, and remind us that Christmas is about goodwill, charity, and family. So on that note I will leave you with a collection of Christmas songs and carols for your enjoyment, beginning with the seasonal hits from the decades from 1940-2020, and followed by a collection of our most popular carols, over the next two weeks.
Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year from 4TR to all our readers, thank you for your fantastic support during the year, and particularly in these difficult pandemic times, your interest has been truly inspiring. I look forward to re-commencing posts to the blog site in late January 2021.