Skip to main content

Christmas and Holiday Songs


The most covered Christmas Carols and Holiday Songs



Most people love them, some loathe them and the rest perhaps are somewhat indifferent. Wherever you sit on the spectrum, this music is unavoidable at this time of year. From the traditional carol to the old favorites and the new there is never a shortage of choice and escaping it takes a lot of effort. So if you want to read a story about Christmas and Holiday Songs, I've got you covered. 😉

Just the numbers, for the most covered songs of all time according to Secondhandsongs.com we see 8 out of the top 10 are Christmas carols or songs.

  1. Silent Night, 2758 versions
  2. Summertime, 1898 versions
  3. White Christmas, 1555 versions
  4. Silent Night, 1454 versions
  5. Oh, Holy Night, 1442 versions
  6. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, 1414
  7. The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You), 1320 versions
  8. A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves, 1299 versions
  9. Winter Wonderland, 1092 versions
  10. Jingle Bells, 1076 versions
"Yesterday" the top covered "Pop Song" sits at #26 overall, currently with 785 versions, if you exclude Christmas songs and adaptations it moves up to #6 overall.

As noted above only two songs of the most covered of all time are not Christmas songs. #8 is more commonly known as "Greensleeves" or "Green Sleeves" and dates back to 1580. Also known as the song (or any for that matter) I couldn't learn on the guitar, hence the blogging and not the playing! 

So you can see when it comes to cover songs there is no question, Christmas leads the way. I've blogged about "Summertime" being the most covered song and there is good evidence to support it, but the Secondhandsongs.com database puts it at #2 and "Silent Night" or "Silent Night! Holy Night!" at #1.

The original title being "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" is at the top with 2758 versions. Music composed by Franz Gruber, a school teacher and church organist and Lyrics written by a newly ordained Priest, Father Joseph Mohr in their native German language. It was first performed in 1818 in the small hamlet where it was written at St Nicholas parish, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.

The English translation was written by Father John Freeman Young (Trinity Church, New York City). I believe the highest charted version was from Bing Crosby which hit #54 in 1960. Chances are one or more of your favorite artists have recorded this song, which has been sung in more than a dozen different languages.



And speaking of Bing Crosby, this legend is also the undisputed champion of the Christmas song as he was the first to sing the next most covered Christmas song "White Christmas"currently at 1555 versions. First performed in the movie "Holiday Inn" Bing Crosby (also the first record in 1942) with Martha Mears voice dubbed in for actor Marjorie Reynolds. Written by one greatest composers of all time, Irving Berlin. He arrived in New York at the age of 5 from what is now Belarus, after his family fled persecution and a pogrom that resulted in their house being burned to the ground. His name was Israel Isidore Beilin, and the family changed their last names to 'Baline' as was the custom, once settled after landing on Ellis Island. Leaving school at age 13 he made money by singing in local bars and when his first song was published earning him 36 cents, his name was printed in error as 'I. Berlin'. His other seasonal songs include "Happy Holiday" and "Snow" also from 'Holiday Inn'. More on him when I blog on the most covered composers of all time. Here are some great covers of "White Christmas"; Frank Sinatra (1944), Michael BublĂ© with Shania Twain (2015), an instrumental by Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy (2016), The Drifters (1954), Kelly Clarkson (2013).

Oh, Holy Night at 1442 versions is the next most covered song. Originally it was "Minuit, chrĂ©tiens", written in French as you may have guessed, the music written by Adolphe Charles Adam, and lyrics by Placide Cappeau in 1847. The English version, "Oh, Holy Night" (circa 1908) is by John Sullivan Dwight a minister and noted hymnal translator. The first recorded version to really gain attention was from the great Mario Lanza in 1950. Johnny Mathis (1958), Nat King Cole (1960), "O Holy Night / Ave Maria" by Idina Menzel (2019).

Following down the list we then have "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" at 1414 versions it was written by Hugh Martin with Ralph Blane. It's a wonderful song from the 1944 movie 'Meet Me in St. Louis' and sung by the incomparable Judy Garland. Covers by Ella Fitzgerald (1960), Glen Campbell (1968), Carpenters (1978) and Sam Smith (2014).

"The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)", recognized by many as the "chestnuts roasting on a an open fire" song. Written by Robert Wells and primarily Mel TormĂ© in 1945 on blistering hot summer day. Covered 1320 times. First recorded by 'The King Cole Trio with String Choir', that being the great Nat King Cole. Michael BublĂ© (2003), Aga Zaryan & Freddy Cole (2018) and the man himself, the Velvet Fog, Mel TormĂ© from 1955.


To divert from the list I'd need to talk about the most popular Christmas song this year, and for many years now, "All I Want for Christmas Is You" performed by Mariah Carey and written with the Grammy Award winning Walter Afanasieff, released Nov. 1, 1994. It currently sits at #1 on Billboard's Hot 100, and it's just the second 'Holiday' song to do that, The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late),  written and performed by Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (known by his stage name David Seville). It hit #1 in 1959. Carey's song has sold over 15 million copies and is the top streamed song during this Holiday season. At 213 versions, it will be a while before it hits the top 10 for holiday cover songs but it's a rival for "White Christmas" and the "The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)" in the long term in both sales and enduring popularity.

So, this year Hanukkah starts on December 22 and ends December 30. In 2024 it will start on December 25, which I understand is pretty unusual for the two calendars to coincide. Why when talking about Christmas songs would I mention Hanukkah? I don't happen to be Jewish myself, but the people who wrote many of the most well known Christmas songs were: Irving Berlin and Mel TormĂ©, I've already mentioned but there is also; "I'll be Home For Christmas" Composed by Walter Kent, "Winter Wonderland" written by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith, "Let It Snow" written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, "Silver Bells" written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. And then there is Johnny Marks, the undisputed King of Christmas songs who wrote the words and music for; "Most Wonderful Day of the Year", "Silver and Gold", "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer", "Run Rudolph Run", "A Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" among others. I read an article once from a Jewish writer on this topic, though I can't seem to track it down now, as I recall she was lamenting the fact that these writers gave the gentiles all these wonderful Holiday songs and all the Jewish people got was "I Have A Little Dreidel".  Happy Hanukkah!, and a Happy Holiday season no matter how, if or what you celebrate.


Trivia

The genius behind the Chipmunks was born Rostom Sipan Bagdasarian (January 27, 1919 -January 16, 1972), who changed his name to Ross Bagdasarian. He chose the stage name "Seville" as he was stationed there (Spain) during his service in WWII. The additional voices for the Chipmunks were; Janice Karman, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. and Steve Vining. They recorded it and then sped up the playback and recorded that to get the high voices. Aside from the silly song "Witch Doctor", in 1939 he also co-wrote with his cousin, the Pulitzer Prize winning William Saroyan "Come On-A My House". The song was not used until 1950 in an off-Broadway musical "The Son". The first recording was a #1 hit for Rosemary Clooney in 1951. Covered about 40 times.

Merry Christmas Eric, didn't think I'd get around to it!

References; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_PageSecondhandsongs.com
https://www.interfaithfamily.com/arts_and_entertainment/popular_culture/the_jews_who_wrote_christmas_songs_2010/https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/chart-beat/8546418/mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas-is-you-number-onehttps://www.buzzfeed.com/skarlan/10-classic-christmas-songs-written-by-jewish-songw-82j3

If you like my blog, please consider filling in the follow by email link at the top right hand of the page. Remember to confirm the subscription when you get the first email. Confidentiality is assured unless you are a close friend or family member then all bets are off. While I can compile data from my blog it's not tracking in terms of anyone's identity. For past blog posts click on the menu at the top right corner. Pass it along to a friend who might enjoy it as well or post it to your timeline on FB. And many thanks as always for reading my blog!



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

One Hit Wonders (not!)

One Hit Wonders (not!)

Yesterday (Sept. 26) was the 50th Anniversary of Abbey Road, the Beatles last recording session together and the second last album before Let it Be was issued May 8, 1970. And also Happy belated One Hit Wonder Day! (Sept. 25th) so I thought it would make a good blog topic.


The simplest definition I found is from music journalist Wayne Jancik "an act that has won a position on a national, pop, Top 40 record chart just once." This from the 'The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders' (1998). So we aren't talking one #1 hit. It's not a term I like as it implies (and some truth to that) these artists have had just a brief moment in the spotlight, perhaps undeservedly so and then fallen off the music map. I know other and deeper definitions are a bit more broad and go beyond the absolute single hit idea. They also consider many artists that have still maintained a quality career and just not reproduced another 'top 40 hit' song and or ma…

Old Country New Country

Old Country/New Country


What exactly I am about to attempt to demonstrate I confess I'm not 100% certain, but what I do know is that there has been a bit of a downward sliding scale regarding the enduring quality of mainstream Country Music songs. Apologies in advance for rambling and ranting at various points. This is not a history of Country Music but my opinion on the current state of things in general with the genre.

It's murky waters that I'm swimming in here as there is an evolution involved in any music genre so direct comparisons are perhaps inappropriate. I am somewhat aware of the influence the so called Country Music "establishment" has had on this evolution. One need only look at examples like Taylor Swift, Shania Twain and Garth Brooks and others who were criticized and in some cases "shunned" for their unconventional approaches who are now celebrated as part of that same 'establishment'. So there is some hypocrisy at play in my op…

Sweet Soul Music

Sweet Soul Music

Arthur Conley co-wrote this song with Otis Redding and it's a tribute to some of the early greats of Soul Music. The song's melody (and words for that matter) borrowed heavily from the Sam Cooke song "Yeah Man" and a subsequent lawsuit brought by A.W. Alexander who managed Cooke's songs after his untimely death added his name to the song credits. The resulting song however was a huge hit for Conley and it reached #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 and R&B Chart in 1967 and #7 in the UK where Soul Music was gaining popularity particularly amongst a subset of British youth. The lyrics reference the co-writer Otis Redding, James Brown and songs by The Miracles, Lou Rawls, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett, some of the key figures in early Soul Music. "Sweet Soul Music" covered 30 times, The Jam (1977).

Soul music is a fusion of R&B, Gospel and Jazz. Know generally for it's more upbeat tempo it's fun to listen to and great for d…

Rock artists sing the Blues

Rock artists sing the Blues

I have talked about this frequently throughout my posts but more particularly in the series on the Delta Blues and the History of R&R parts 1-4. Truth be told, most of the greatests 'Rock' artists owe much of their inspiration to the Blues. Rock bands and solo artists have cut many sides early and throughout their careers of blues songs. Thanks to artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley who were obviously very well known and successful, their covers of some of the great blues songs served as a conduit and exposed them to artists and listeners alike. Here are some 'Blues' that inspired Rock artists, a few of these songs are more well known than others.


Confessin' the Blues by The Rolling Stones was recorded  June 11, 1964 and released on a 7" record of five songs on August 14. Written by Walter Brown (vocals) and Jay McShann (piano and bandleader) originally released in June of 1941. Covered about 35 times including Chuck Berr…

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #76-100

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #76-100

Ok here is the last of my list, I could go on and as a matter of fact I will, just not with another set of 25 plus "to infinity and beyond!" I have to say it was easy to come up with more songs as this final list started at 43. But it was very difficult to decide which ones would make the final cut, so these last 25 songs became a list with a number of great ones left for another day.




76. "Flip Flop and Fly" is a song by the same collection that brought us the classic "Shake Rattle and Roll" written by Jesse Stone (credited to his pseudonym Charles E. Calhoun) and Lou Willie Turner, sung by Big Joe Turner (1955). The first time I heard this was at a club in my hometown I'll say around 1979 or so, performed by the talented Canadian Blues band Downchild Blues Band, later known as just 'Downchild'. Still the best cover for me although I've heard many fine ones out of some over 70 versions, this is a standa…

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #51-75

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #51-75

There has been a very positive response to the first two 'Greatest' posts. So the list continues and the songs become no less in their timeless quality compared to numbers one through fifty. I will post a #76-100 edition in the near future and that will be out of my system. But what if I do lists by genre, just thinking out loud, sorry but I will keep blogging on various topics as long as people continue to click.

51. "I Put a Spell on You" written and originally recorded by Screamin' Jay Hawkins in 1956. There have been many really good covers of this song but Nina Simone (1965) was just the second person to cover this song. I just can't get over how overlooked this artist was in her time, a high class version that turns the song on it's ear to give it an entirely different sound.


52. "Strange Fruit" was a courageous recording by the legendary Billie Holliday from 1939. A song written as a poem by another …

Radiohead

Radiohead



When talking about the band I have to confess I'm out of my depth so I will tread lightly. We should however get right to their beginnings and major influence, that being the 'Talking Heads' and their namesake song "Radio Head". The band had been called 'On a Friday' but their record label requested they change it before signing a contract (with EMI records) in 1991.
Radiohead are one of the most successful and influential Rock bands since their debut album "Pablo Honey' (Jerky Boys) in February of 1993. All their songs are credited to the entire band Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway and Thom Yorke. And there's the 'sixth member' producer Nigel Godrich who's done all their albums since 1994. Their song "Creep" charted top 40 across the world and it's depressing tone eventually wore the band down to the point they stopped playing it live for a long period of time. The songs melo…

Music Myths and other Silly Things

Music Myths and other Silly Things

Who doesn't like a good story? There are many great ones and some not so much about music. I try and put a little story into my blogs and during the course of my research I have run across some that are quite curious. Some of these myths about songs and artists have innocent enough beginnings and been perpetuated or at least not denied by the artists themselves, others come from malcontents and the misinformed.



Here is one that falls in the category of a silly thing; Bob Dylan and the 'Stealers Wheel' song "Stuck in the Middle with You", released in April, 1973.

1. Bob Dylan did not write this nor did he sing this song, nor is this song about Bob Dylan.

2. If you do a search for 'Dylan and Stuck in the Middle" you will get results like the following:
Home » Artists » Bob Dylan » Stuck In The Middle With YouBob Dylan - "Stuck In The Middle With You" lyricsBob Dylan: CD's Sheet Music Tablature, Stuck in the …

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #1-25

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs

Nothing quite grabs the attention more than a list of the greatest this or that, so at 85 posts about cover songs I thought it about time to get to it. As I advised with my other 'Greatest' posts we all have our favorites so anytime there is a list, something or someone 'great' gets left off. And the debate ensues, why is this and that at #11 not #4 and vise versa. My list therefore, shall be no different for it is not scientific but subjective and it is biased by my own tastes and exposure to music. Having said that it's hard for me to have missed many of the truly great cover songs of all time, indeed I think I've talked about quite a few:


"Respect" from the writer and original recording Otis Redding and a cover she made her own, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. More about the song and Aretha in these posts. Before I get to some cover's I've not mentioned, here are more songs from my previous issues that are …

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #26-50

The next 25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #26-50

In part one I listed 25 of the greatest cover songs and to date it's been my most viewed blog post. There are so many more I wanted to add to the list so depending on the response, I'm prepared to follow with 51-75 and 76-100 in the future.

This list in part comes from many of the songs that I have already posted in the past 15 months or so since I started blogging. As for how songs make it on my list there are a few criteria, while I don't dismiss music from more recent years a song has to have stood the test of time for me, hence much of the list are songs of some vintage and just plain old, like the writer. Next, the original song itself must have some character and some degree of popularity. And preferably the artist and or songwriters are of interest as well. I have read other lists of great cover songs from books, articles and google searches and you'll find much similarity, but some of them contain songs I just don…