By John Lentz, Senior Music Director | FirstCom Music
As the pages of the calendar turn closer to Christmas day, we will begin hearing the wonderful sounds of Christmas/holiday music. Each holiday season radio/cable/satellite stations begin mixing in Christmas songs into their playlists to celebrate the season. Some stations exclusively program Christmas songs to the delight (and chagrin) of many. There is a mammoth selection of Christmas music to choose from as scores of established recording acts have released Christmas songs and albums during their careers. Moreover, when one listens to a mainstream Christmas song rotation, the artists on those recordings represent a timeless slice of American popular music. Artists who have not had a hit record in decades still dominate the Christmas airwaves with iconic gems whose shelf life appears to be unending. Artists like Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee, Gene Autry, Leroy Anderson, Bobby Helms, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Nat “King” Cole, Jose Feliciano, Burl Ives, Perry Como, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison have legendary recordings that have been played every Christmas season since their release. Even some “modern” artists whose careers peaked years ago, like Whitney Houston, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Wham!, the Eurythmics and The Carpenters have Christmas songs played each year that are now considered classics. Novelty Christmas songs like “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” and “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” continue to get airplay even though the artist may have had a forgettable (or non-existent) recording career outside of holiday releases.
This leaves little room to play new Christmas recordings as stations know that tradition rules during the holidays and breaking new Christmas music is difficult when there are so many other classics available. However, there are some contemporary artists who have released holiday tunes during the past several years that are now being included in playlists along with the classics. Artists like Kenny G, Mariah Carey, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and of course, the kings of modern Christmas music, Mannheim Steamroller, have released new compositions and renditions of Christmas favorites that are becoming classics in their own right.
What all of these Christmas songs have in common is that they never go out of style. Once a classic, always a classic is the rule of thumb for Christmas programming. It is not uncommon to hear “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby from 1942 followed by “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra from 1996 followed by “Merry Christmas Darling” by The Carpenters from 1970. The Christmas playlist can contain rock, adult contemporary, lush ballads, novelty tracks, country, jazz and other styles played back to back without fear of tune out. It is the only radio format that can make that claim.
Songwriters and artists who are looking to write and/or record that perfect song ought to consider a Christmas tune. If it becomes a hit, it is highly likely that it will be a hit forever on the eternal Christmas playlist.