As you make your way around our site you’ll see that Christmas music has emanated from every genre of music, but that said it is pop music that has the most representation in people’s favourite Christmas song lists. Pop Christmas songs have been with us since the emergence of pop music in the 1950’s and over a relatively short period of time have given us plenty of Christmas classics. In retrospect you could probably bracket Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ in any list of pop music but as a concept pop music was not recognised on its release date in 1941. With the Beatles turning a mass market onto pop music you would have expected great festive things from that quarter. And although the fab 4 dabbled in Christmas releases, via their fanclub single output, throughout the 1960’s the material itself didn’t add up to a whole lot apart from ‘Christmas Time Is Here (Again)’ which came out in December 1967.
If you were to pinpoint the emergence of pop music as a contender for producing the best Christmas songs then it would be ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ from 1957, which remains the bestselling festive release of all time. With songs like ‘Blue Christmas’, ‘Santa Claus Is Back In Town’ and ‘White Christmas’ (the version of which irked Irving Berlin so much that he pleaded with radio stations to boycott it). Elvis was at the peak of his powers and his association with the season meant that the popularity of Christmas music was always going to soar, and so it proved.
As you’d expect some of the most celebrated pop Christmas songs and albums arrived in the 1960’s. In fact it was Christmas music’s golden age as classic after classic Christmas album arrived throughout the decade. And with each celebrated album came those classic Christmas songs that we still hold dear today. Although he had recorded ‘The Christmas Song’ in 1946 it was Nat King Cole’s 1961 version (arriving a year after his full length album ‘The Magic of Christmas’) that has remained with us today. With a velvet croon and a rich orchestral backing there are few Christmas pop songs that can top this short and sweet number.
1963 produced the genius that was ‘A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector’, a candidate for most people's favourite Christmas album of all time. Together with the Ronettes, the Crystals and Darlene Love Phil Spector created the classic Christmas sound and with it emerged songs great new originals like Love’s ‘Christmas, Baby Please Come Home’. The very same year Andy Williams released the most famous of his 7 seasonal releases ‘Andy Williams’ Christmas Album’, which was crowned by the effortless pop swing of ‘The Most Wonderful Time of The Year’.
The Beach Boys ‘Little St. Nick’ has long been associated with the Beach Boys contribution to Christmas but it is taken from an album released in 1964, ‘The Beach Boys Christmas Album’, which has arguably even better songs. Must have seemed like such a strange one back then to have pop music’s most celebrated Californians changing tact and taking on the (winter) holidays. 2 years later Dean Martin recorded the definitive version of ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ for his own ‘The Dean Martin Christmas Album’. Like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra before him this was a crooner who was to have a long affinity with the season and his recordings are rich in festive pop pickings.
After the highs of the sixties (!) it was always going to be a tough task for the decade that followed in its wake but things started out so brightly with 1970 seeing the arrival of the ‘Jackson 5 Christmas Album’. With Michael Jackson on lead vocal for many of the tracks the Jackson 5 would make ‘I Saw Mommy Kissin’ Santa Claus’ their own as well as giving a host of other Christmas songs like ‘Up On The Housetop’ and ‘Frosty The Snowman’ their distinctly upbeat pop style. A year later saw ex-Beatles man John Lennon record ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’ with his wife Yoko Ono and despite its age it is still held up as one of the best exponents of joyful Christmas songsmithery. As the 1970’s drew to a close, the Carpenters turned their attention to Christmas with ‘Christmas Portrait’, a typical pop laced recording from the siblings which included their most well known festive song ‘Merry Christmas, Darling’. It was sad but still a mesmeric piece of Christmas music. The seventies closed with another ex-member of the Beatles getting on the Christmas gravy train and Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ has enjoyed just as much popularity as John Lennon’s song before it.
The 1980’s was another great decade for pop Christmas songs and although it didn’t produce that many great Christmas albums how could any Christmas party go without Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ (1984), Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ (1984) or the Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ (1987)? The latter has long been held up as one of the Christmas greats which is some achievement given its themes of alcohol abuse and romance on the rocks. ‘A Very Special Christmas’ would arrive the very same year as the Pogues masterpiece and has since gone to become a very successful series of Christmas compilations. But the 1987 original remains the best with classic cuts from the likes of Whitney Houston (Do You Hear What I Hear?), Madonna (‘Santa Baby’) and Bon Jovi (‘Back Door Santa’).
The eighties was perhaps the last great decade for pop Christmas songs despite the odd bright spark along the way since then. And Mariah Carey’s ‘Merry Christmas’ album from 1994 is certainly that given the heart and soul she poured into each of its tracks. Of course special mention must go to the one true contemporary Christmas classic we have in ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, a jazzed up Phil Spector sounding happython. In terms of big sellers Celine Dion’s 1998 ‘These Are Special Times’ takes some beating and she proved that when pop Christmas music is done right it is a joy to behold with her version of ‘Adeste Fideles’ and a duet with Andrea Bocelli called ‘The Prayer’ stealing what was a particularly inspiring show.
Moving on to the 2000’s and there are a sprinkling of pop Christmas songs that should stand the test of time. One such is Josh Groban’s ‘Believe’ which came out on the soundtrack to one of the decade’s best Christmas movies ‘The Polar Express’. With Groban's classical voice ‘Believe’ gave mainstream music a new champion and certainly boasted more than its fair share of Christmas magic. The Killers may have started out as indie heroes but as they moved to a mainstream audience so did their annual Christmas records which includes the merited 2012 edition called ‘I Feel It In My Bones’ which had a traditional festive chorus no less. Elsewhere Michael Buble’s ‘Christmas’ album was a big seller and with his bubbly pop vocals giving songs such as ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ a new coat of paint it is easy to see why. Justin Bieber similarily set hearts racing (and tills ringing) in 2011 for his ‘Mistletoe’ which included the standard Bieber song characteristics within the environs of a yuletide setting.