Wednesday 19 December 2012

Not Too Silent Night

Christmas comes too early you say? Christmas music is pouring forth from radios before it should? It was different when you were a kid?

Funny, people were saying the same thing 60 years ago.

You can thank—or blame, depending on your point of view—two people for the reason you can’t seemingly escape from festive tunes of snowmen, candy canes, Santa, sleighs and the like. Associated Press movie reporter Bob Thomas explained it all in his column that began appearing in papers on December 3, 1952.

Annual Barrage of Christmas Ditties Hitting the Air Waves
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 3 (AP)—Here it is only the beginning of December and already the jukes and jocks are dinning our ears with Christmas songs.
The juke boxes and the disc jockeys hare a full quota of Yuletide carols, some centuries old and some brand new. The new ones will be as abundant as ever this year, because members of the music industry are always hopeful that they will find another “White Christmas.”
I can remember when the only Christmas songs we sang were the ones we learned in Sunday school. I seem also to remember when Christmas was celebrated on or about Dec. 25.
Of course, there had been some modern Christmas songs, but practically all you heard were oldies like “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells.” All that changed in 1942. That was the year Bing Crosby crooned Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” in a film called “Holiday Inn.”
That was a sentimental year, with men going off to war. The song seemed to hit everybody’s heart and stay there. Sales records are hazy in the music business, but most experts agree that Bing’s “White Christmas” platter is the top seller of all time. Estimates range as high as eight million.
Two million copies of the sheet music were sold in the first year of “White Christmas,” and 800,000 are reportedly sold each year.
That is the reason that each year song writers rack their brains for new Christmas songs. And music publishers and record companies plug the daylights out of them, hoping for another “White Christmas.”
I found some research on this subject at Capitol Records, which this year is going all out for a tune called “Hang Your Wishes on a Tree.” It’s a new song written by Marian Boyle and Eddie Gale and recorded by Les Baxter.
“It’s a good song,” observed Capitol executive Dave Dexter, “That’s the only thing that worries me—it might be too good.”
He told me that the song was selected from an estimated 500 to 600 Christmas ditties submitted to the record company this year. That gives you an idea of the chances of getting a song recorded, much less have it become a hit.
“The song-writing business is the toughest in the world to crack,” Dexter explained. “I think it was Irving Berlin who said that three out of every five American adults write songs at some time during their lives.”
Another viewpoint on the Christmas song industry is offered by Herb Montel, whose firm published “Hang Tour Wishes on a Tree.”
“Every publisher would like a big Christmas song,” he commented. “It’s just like having an annuity policy. Yet every publisher tries to discourage writers from writing them because the competition is so great.”

There were some popular Christmas songs before Der Bingle’s seasonal serenade. But there weren’t many. One was called “Santa Claus’ Workshop” and was written in 1910 by William T. Phillips. You can hear it below.

1 comment:

  1. Does anybody actually write Christmas songs anymore. other than parody stuff like "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer"? The last holiday song that made it into the traditional holiday rotation seems to be Paul McCartney's Christmas song, while others that get in now are just riffs on older songs, like Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". Contemporary artists still do Christmas songs and CDs. They just don't break any new songs and are content to remake what's already been proven popular.

    And aside from the advent of records and recording artists like der Bingle, the advent of talking pictures and musicals seem to have really been a major push for the Christmas song genre in the wake of World War II. Mixing sentimental scenes with sentimental music at a time when people were less cynical about that kind of combination helped get more of those songs into the public eye, while with the advent of television, radio stations needed something to replace the network shows that were gravitating to TV. Music was a way to get people back, and Christmas songs at holiday time were a natural fit (albeit over the past 60 years the start of 'holiday time' seems to have expanded all the way to All Saints Day on Nov. 1).