A very long time ago, radio stations put occasional Christmas records into the rotation in December, but that’s a thing of the past. A few stations began playing Christmas music full time on some of the weekends, and their ratings soared (this is long before streaming made it easy to hear what every you wanted to). It wasn’t too long before we started getting wall to wall Christmas music on some stations as soon as Thanksgiving, and SiriusXM radio now has year-round Christmas music on at least one channel.
While the expansion of Christmas music may sound like a good idea, that isn’t quite what we got. Instead of stations playing hundreds of different Christmas records we get what seems to be the same ten or so songs by various artists over and over and over.
Sure, it’s nice to hear George Michael sing Last Christmas again (okay, the label says “Wham”), but a half hour later we hear the song “performed” by the Glee crowd or Ariana Grande or even Taylor Swift. Then here comes Little Drummer Boy by Joan Jett or Justin Bieber or the Temptations or somebody else at least once per hour. Lots of cover versions of the Christmas Song (“Chestnuts Roasting”), White Christmas, Blue Christmas, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and maybe even a few now politically-incorrect versions of Baby It’s Cold Outside (and, sadly, a few newer versions that are adapted to be politically correct — sigh). I can barely stand to listen for even an hour thanks to the endless repetition.
It didn’t take long to make up a list of songs that have been “misplaced” and no longer seem to be on the air. The hard part was winnowing down the list to a manageable number. In no particular order, here are a few songs that might help you remember a Christmas past:
Whatever Happened To Christmas by Frank Sinatra. This 1969 song was on the Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas album; the real surprise is that Jimmy Webb wrote the song.
Christmas Mem’ries by Rosemary Clooney. Rosemary sang and danced her way through the movie White Christmas in 1954 (which was a remake of 1942’s Holiday Inn, renamed due to the popularity of Bing Crosby’s biggest record). This version of memories of the past was written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and put to music by Don Costa by 1975.
This Time of the Year by Brook Benton. A 1959 television performance of Brook lip-syncing the song, one of the 67 records that Brook got onto the Hot 100 pop charts.
Little Toy Trains by Roger Miller. While he may have continued climbing the Country charts for a few more decades, this record came near the end of Roger’s success on the pop charts.
Christmas Night In Harlem by Louis Armstrong. At about the midpoint of his career, Louis recorded this Christmas song in 1955. The original hit version of the song was by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra in 1934, but that version contains some lyrics that aren’t quite acceptable in these modern times.
Snowy White Snow and Jingle Bells by Vaughn Monroe. From 1945 to 1952 Vaughn usually had 4 or 5 hit records each year; the only exception was 1950, the year he released this Christmas song. Perhaps three top ten records in the next five months was the present Santa left under his tree!
It’s Gonna Be a Lonely Christmas by The Orioles. This 1948 release by one of the first doo-wop groups shows much of the promise that bloomed later in their career (you are most likely familiar with their biggest hit, Crying in the Chapel, which was later covered by Elvis).
The Marvelous Toy by the Chad Mitchell Trio. The song was written (and later recorded) by Tom Paxton, who was briefly accepted as a member of the group but forced to move on when his voice apparently didn’t blend in well enough. Other members of the group at one time or another included Harry Belafonte and John Denver, but the hit record was recorded in 1963 by Chad Mitchell, Mike Kobluk, and Joe Frazier. Numerous versions have been recorded since then, but the radio pretty much ignores them.
Merry Christmas, Baby by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers. This is the original 1947 version of the song, featuring vocals by Charles Brown. The 1962 version that Charles recorded as a solo record didn’t get much traction, but the next two years the two different versions of the record (as well as a third version) went into heavy rotation at Christmas and all the modern covers followed after that.
The River by Joni Mitchell. Not many Christmas songs get released in June, but this entry was on the album Blue, which was released that month in 1971. That album is widely considered to be her best. The River appears to have been written about her breakup with Graham Nash (of the Hollies and Crosby, Stills, and Nash) and is one of the saddest of the Christmas songs.
A 5 Pound Box of Money by Pearl Bailey. I really don’t need to hear Santa Baby once an hour by Ertha Kitt and Madonna and Glee and Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift and… hmm, isn’t this list starting to sound familiar? Here’s a similar plea from Peal Bailey from 1959 that concentrates on one simple gift request.
A Howdy Doody Christmas by The Fontane Sisters and Howdy Doody. Okay, I got to sit in the Peanut Gallery once upon a time, so how can I ignore Howdy Doody’s 1957 entry into the Christmas Hall of Fame?
May Every Day Be Christmas by Louis Jordan. If the radio isn’t going to play Baby It’s Cold Outside by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, perhaps the record he cut two years later can gain some traction.
Santa’s Beard by the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys Christmas Album in 1964 contained their most played Christmas song, the Little Saint Nick, as well as a stack of covers of classic hits, but this song about searching for the real Santa Claus seems all but forgotten.
There are, of course, many, many more – I’ll pick out another stack of tracks next Christmas!