Billboard’s Holiday 100 over the past decade shows people stick to what they know and love

Some of the most popular Christmas songs today are mostly decades old.
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Some of the most popular Christmas songs today are mostly decades old.

Credit: Promo

Credit: Promo

From tunes by Mariah Carey to Wham! to Burl Ives to Brenda Lee, the same songs remain at the top

While the Billboard Hot 100 is known to highlight current music and a shift in styles and acts over time, the Holiday 100 is where songs decades old come back year after year in reassuring fashion.

The chart is only a decade old so I thought it would be fun to compare the first chart from December 8, 2011, and the current chart. Billboard magazine in 2011 for the first time on its holiday chart included downloads, streaming and airplay from all monitored radio stations, not just those radio stations that played Christmas. (Note: Billboard online only provides the top 50 from the 2011 chart.)

Eight of the top 10 songs on both charts are identical.

Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe” came out in October 2011 and was at No. 2 that December, fueled by the freshness of the song and Bieber’s popularity at the time. It reached No. 1 for a brief moment that Christmas and has now become part of the Christmas canon. It’s ranked at a respectable 34 this week.

The other song that dropped out of the top 10 was John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” an anti-war song from 1971 that has become a standard but isn’t quite as popular as it used to be. It opened the Billboard Holiday 100 at No. 9 (its peak position) and was at No. 33 this week.

Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is an unusual track because it was a 58-year-old classic that was not even on the Holiday 100 in 2011. It didn’t enter the chart until 2014 and then kept climbing year after year, reaching No. 7 last week before slipping to No. 8 this week.

Oddly, another song from the same Phil Spector 1963 album “A Christmas Gift For You” is in the current top 10 but wasn’t even on the chart in 2011: “Sleigh Ride” by the Ronettes. The original instrumental version of the song by Leroy Anderson was at No. 20 in 2011 but is now all the way down to 73.

Despite these minor changes, the other eight songs in the top 10 remain dominant: Mariah Carey’s ubiquitous 1994 hit “All I Want for Christmas is You,” Georgia native Brenda Lee’s 1958 classic “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” (1957), Burl Ives’ “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (1964), Wham!’s “Last Christmas” (1984), Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” (1961), Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (1963), and Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” (1970).

The average age of a song in the top 10 in 2011 was already 37.7 years, even counting the new Bieber song. But the top 10 this week features zero songs from the past quarter century and now averages a whopping 53.5 years old or the same age as an older Gen Xer.

There are certain standards that are sung by literally hundreds of artists over the years. Take “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Michael Bublé in 2011 came out with his version and it hit No. 36 on that first chart, behind older versions by Bing Crosby from 1951 (No. 18) and Johnny Mathis from 1986 (No. 27.) But Bublé’s version has become the favorite, having gone as high as No. 8 and is currently No. 11 this week. Weirdly, the Perry Como 1984 version is now at No. 25 (after not appearing at all in 2011) while the Mathis version has fallen to No. 47 and Crosby all the way down to 65.

Several songs have lost significant power over the years, including Faith Hill’s “Where Are You Christmas?” (16 to 44), Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (22 to 67), Hall & Oates’ version of “Jingle Bell Rock” (24 to off the chart), “O Holy Night” by Josh Groban (26 to off the chart), “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” by the Carpenters (34 to off the chart), “Do You Hear What I Hear?” by Whitney Houston (35 to off the chart), “Merry Christmas Darling” by the Carpenters (38 to 77), Amy Grant’s ‘Winter Wonderland” (39 to off the chart), David Foster’s “Carol of the Bells” (40 to 93) and Eurythmics’ “Winter Wonderland” (44 to off the chart).

It appears tunes from the 1950s and 1960s are generally holding up better than those released in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has also lost steam the past decade with its two biggest hits “Christmas Canon” (12 to 59) and “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” (13 to 43) slipping down the chart.

A few older songs have gained strength since 2011 including Dean Martin’s 1959 “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow” (31 to 12), Eartha Kitt’s 1953 “Santa Baby” (44 to 26), the Beach Boys’ 1963 “Little Saint Nick” (45 to 24), Jackson 5′s 1970 “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (49 to 22) and Chuck Berry’s 1959 “Run Rudolph Run” (now at 18).

People are generally resistant to original Christmas songs, but a couple released since 2011 have become current top 20 favorites: the 2013 Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” (14) and Ariana Grande’s 2014 hit “Santa Tell Me” (17).

And despite criticism of the lyrics of the 1940s song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” two versions are in the Holiday 100 this week: the Dean Martin take at 45 and the Idina Menzel/Bublé duet at 90.

Almost all the Holiday 100 songs are secular. The top Christmas tune that is overtly religious is Nat King Cole’s “O Come Ye Faithful” at No. 50.

Billboard also offered up a Top 100 holiday songs of all time, compiling all the data from the past 10 years. No surprise: Mariah Carey remains at the top.

What’s notable is how strong the Pentatonix version of “Mary, Did You Know” did overall at No. 13. It hit the top of the charts in 2014, the year it came out. It’s now at No. 61. The a cappella group’s version of “Hallelujah,” which peaked at No. 2 in 2014, is more popular now than “Mary, Did You Know” and averaged out at No. 26 for the decade.

Some songs that made the all-time list but are not on the current Holiday 100 include “The Chipmunk Song” by David Seville and the Chipmunks, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” by Gayla Peevey and “The Christmas Shoes” by Newsong.

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