People seem to love a list these days. And this merry time of year is perfect for a holiday music countdown. The problem is that every source’s top 10 list tends to differ. The amount of opinion emanating from those articles forces me to question their veracity. That being said, rather than spouting off my favorite Christmas songs or propping up music by friends or highest bidders, I am going right to the only indisputable tell // cold hard cash. Considering how most folks purchase music now and being the champion of digital media that I am, let us see how our favorite yuletide tunes match up with the top selling Christmas songs on iTunes thus far this year.
- Blue Christmas. We begin our sleigh ride through the annals of annual melody with a country icon, but perhaps not who you were thinking. LeAnn Rimes captures the tenth spot. Available on her recent album One Christmas:Chapter One, from October 2014. Rimes says the holiday EP’s will be spread over three years so she can keep making new Christmas music. I won’t go into detail about the song because, spoiler alert, it shows up again a few spots down.
- Hard Candy Christmas. Penned by Carol Hall this song was originally composed for the musical The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. For the movie version, in which Dolly Parton played Miss Mona, the verses were shared by various “comfort women” with Dolly singing the chorus. Her solo version hit the airwaves in 1982 and it is that single that made number nine on our list. That same year June Carter Cash sang a version on the Johnny Cash Christmas tv special.
- Angels We Have Heard On High. Though in the public domain as a timeless carol it is thought to be based on Les Anges dans nos campagnes, or Angels In Our Countryside, by an unknown French composer. The most common English rendition pops up in 1862 translated by a Roman Catholic bishop in England. The version lauded on this list is a bit newer and comes to us via the cast of hit show Glee. It appears on the the 2010 release “Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album”.
- Silver Bells. Another country icon makes an appearance as Brad Paisley’s version of this holiday standard graces our list. Released by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards in 1950 the song was originally performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell for the movie “The Lemon Drop Kid”. Of all the modern artists to cover Silver Bells, Brad’s is my personal favorite.
- Happy Christmas(War Is Over). Maroon 5’s cover of the iconic John Lennon peace inspiring tune falls at the halfway point in our rankings. Released in 1971 by John and Yoko accompanied by the Harlem Community Choir these lyrics take the reverence, pacifism and altruistic nature of Christmas spirit and wrap it around the real world. Always being sceptical of a Lennon cover I must say Adam Levine delivers a divine rendition. A message we still hear echoing around the world today, “war is over, if you want it”.
- Blue Christmas. Of course no all time top music compilation is complete without Elvis, but the king was not the first country crooner to tug at our mistletoe with this seasonal standard. In 1949 Ernest Tubb was one of four acts to cover the song written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson. Presley’s version hit the musical ether in 1957 on the Elvis’ Christmas Album LP. The Elvis version was not a standard cover though. He and the Jordanaires adjusted some of the feel and expression inserting “blue notes”, notes sung slightly off pitch and usually lower, providing some double entendre to the title.
- El Burrito De Belen. Never having heard this song before it reiterated to me how culturally diverse Christmas is. Coming to us from Venezuela the title translates to “The Donkey Of Bethlehem”. The top selling version this year is the original recording by La Rondallita, a South American children’s group from 1976. There is not too much history on the tune but I think the lyric speaks for itself, “Hurry up little donkey, we have to go. Hurry little donkey, we’re going to see Jesus”.
- O Christmas Tree. Well, the cast of Glee is having a very merry, and prosperous, yule this year. Before they got hold, it was a German folk song known as “O Tannenbaum”. Tannenbaum translates to “fir tree” and is not a direct reference to Christmas or a decorated pine. In 1824 composer Ernst Anschütz helped make it a carol by adding two verses to the traditional verse. As the Christmas tree custom established over the 19th century the song became associated with the holiday. Available on the aforementioned “Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album”.
- Feliz Navidad. The classic bi-lingual ditty written and made famous by latin pop star Jose Feliciano debuted in 1970. Alongside international acclaim the song was also recognized by ASCAP as one of the top 25 played Christmas songs of all time.
- Carol Of The Bells. A little disappointing that the number one spot is shrouded in ambiguity. As a pre-Christian Ukrainian folk song the tune celebrated the coming of the new year in April. Post Christendom the new year was moved to January. The composition first made it’s way to the U.S. in 1921 at Carnegie Hall. Peter Wilhousky copyrighted an english version in the 1930’s and began performing it during the Christmas season. The confusion comes because I cannot for the life of me find which version of the song is the one that tops our list. The artist is cited as “Choral”. An itunes search rendered many variations including Robert Shaw Chorale, Kenny Rogers and my favorite Mannheim Steamroller. LeAnn Rimes recently performed the carol on the CMA’s country Christmas tv special. If you want to check out a great version with a contemporary edge I recommend the PTX version.
Well, that’s it kiddos. I hope some of your favorites made the list. If not, don’t discourage. The lineup volleys daily all season. Just another testimony to the fact that lists are meaningless. But just in case you are wondering where some of the others fall. “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, by Dean Martin fell at 12. “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas”, by Bing Crosby came in at 31. “The Chipmunk Song” took 50. Burl Ives’ “Holly Jolly Christmas is at 95 and holding down number 100 is “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”, from Dean again.