Christmas Songs: The Origins Behind 7 Festive Favourites

By Adam MaidmentMusicngear Contributing Editor

Article photo - Christmas Songs: The Origins Behind 7 Festive Favourites

One of the most exciting parts of the Christmas season (bar the presents, food and family time) is, undeniably, the festive music. We all have our favourites, whether it’s Mariah Carey, Elvis Presley, Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra, or even the Crazy Frog (!!), and they never fail to put us in a Christmas cheer.

Each year, the same songs return to our playlists to get us all riled up for the season of good will but besides the twinkling tones and instant karaoke-worthy lyrics, what do we actually know about our favourite festive hits? Well, lucky for you, we’ve dug a little deeper into some of the biggest Christmas hits and found out just how they came to be so well-loved.

 

Article photo - Christmas Songs: The Origins Behind 7 Festive FavouritesMariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You

"All I Want For Christmas Is You" is about longing for spending Christmas with a loved one, with a punch bowl full of upbeat decades-spanning references and dance-worthy beats.

Described as being “one of the last great additions to the Christmas pop canon,” the track became an instant hit when it was released in 1994 and has returned to the charts every year since. In fact, the song holds the title of the 11th best selling single in the world racking up over 16 million sales.

During composition of the track in sunny August 1994, Carey decided to decorate her house for Christmas in order to properly immerse herself in the festive spirit. Her efforts paid off as it gave us a Christmas classic that never gets old and is also reported to have earnt the star over $60 million in royalties.

 

Article photo - Christmas Songs: The Origins Behind 7 Festive FavouritesBing Crosby - White Christmas

16 million sales may be a lot, but Bing Crosby has nothing on Mariah. Written by Irving Berlin, ‘White Christmas’ is officially the best selling single in the world with a whopping 50 million sales. With over 500 different recorded versions, including covers in several languages, ‘White Christmas’ is also the most-recorded Christmas song ever.

Originally performed as part of an NBC radio show in 1941, the song was first released in July 1942 as part of the soundtrack for the movie 'Holiday Inn'. The melancholic and reminiscent lyrics struck a chord with listeners, especially with troops and their families during World War II, and would spend eleven weeks at the top of the US charts.

‘White Christmas’ won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1943, spanned a movie of the same name starring Crosby, and is acknowledged by the Recording Industry Association of America as the second best song of the century (behind only Judy Garland’s ‘Over the Rainbow).

 

Article photo - Christmas Songs: The Origins Behind 7 Festive FavouritesWham! - Last Christmas

George Michael was more than just a performer on ‘Last Christmas’, he also produced, wrote, and played every instrument on the track too.

The melody for the track was concocted during a visit to Michael’s parents before being recorded in a London studio in August 1984. Despite its title and sleigh bells-tinged instrumental, the track has little to do with Christmas and is more about a failed relationship and bumping into them a year later.

Studio engineer Chris Porter described the track as working so well due to “the happiness of the rhythm track, but against that you’ve got the sadness of the unrequited love.”

Last year, ‘Last Christmas’ rocked up over two million streams on Spotify in the UK alone across just two days: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. All profits from the original recording were donated to Ethiopian famine relief.

 

Article photo - Christmas Songs: The Origins Behind 7 Festive FavouritesSlade - Merry Xmas Everybody

British rock band Slade unleashed their Christmas anthem on the public in December 1973, where it became a number one hit in the UK.

Recorded in a studio in New York, the vocals for the song were actually captured in the studio’s corridor as it provided the right echo sound the band wanted. Lead singer Noddy Holder said he wanted the track to reflect a traditional British family and record something that would cheer them up during the economic crisis at the time.

Before release, it was reported that the track had received 500,000 pre-orders and went on to become the fastest selling single in the UK at the time. It's believed the song generates £500,000 of royalties each year, while PRS for Music suggested that 42% of the world’s population could have listened to the song.

 

Eartha Kitt - Santa Baby

"Santa Baby" is a flirty number addressed to one Santa Claus with a Christmas list of requests including Tiffany jewelry and yachts.

Written by Joan Javits and Philip Springer, the track was originally released in 1953 by Eartha Kitt and was an instant hit, reaching the top 5 on the Billboard US charts. However, over the next few years, the song was decline in popularity with many seeing the song as a bit of a novelty.
In the 1988, the song received a resurgence in popularity when Madonna covered the track as part of a charity album in aid of the Special Olympics. From then on, the track cemented its position as one of the great Christmas classics and has since been covered by the likes of Kylie Minogue, Michael Buble, and even Miss Piggy.

 

The Pogues - Fairytale of New York

An alternative Christmas song for the ages, the origins of ‘Fairytale of New York’ are a little sketchy. One theory suggests that the song was born when Elvis Costello, who was a producer for the band at the time, made a bet that the band would be unable to record a successful Christmas hit.

Original versions of the song was recorded in 1985 but band and record troubles meant the song wouldn’t actually see the light of day until Christmas 1987 when the released version was far different and more visioned.

Told via a monologue from a drunken man, the song goes back into the past as the narrator reminisces about Christmas pasts and how alcoholism and drug addiction resulted in arguments and bickering with a couple over the festive holidays.

As of January 2018, the song had spent 83 weeks on the official UK Top 75 charts, making it the fifth most charted of all time. It’s reappearance this Christmas will only add further weeks to its tally.

 

Article photo - Christmas Songs: The Origins Behind 7 Festive FavouritesBrenda Lee - Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Released in 1958, ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ initially sold just 5,000 copies and was expected to be long-forgotten. However, a year later as Brenda Lee’s fame start to rapidly rise, the single was released again and reignited interest in the track.

Recorded when Lee was just 13 years old, the track was written by Johnny Marks who had become Christmas hit royalty after writing other iconic songs such as ‘Rudolf, The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’.

Marking 60 years since release, ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ is now the 4th most downloaded Christmas song with over 25 million copies sold.

 

What’s your favourite Christmas hit? Tweet us at @MusicNGear to let us know!

Article photo - Christmas Songs: The Origins Behind 7 Festive Favourites

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About Adam Maidment

Adam Maidment is a content writer with a keen interest in entertainment, music and pop culture. His music tastes are as varied as his interests, ranging from Kate Bush, CHVRCHES, Santigold, Friendly Fires, and Childish Gambino. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/helloitsadam

Contact Adam Maidment at adam.maidment@musicngear.com