The Christmastime music that had significant impact on the American popular music charts in the 1950s and 1960s typically wasn't overly religious; rather, it tends to be specifically about Christmas or contains a wintertime theme.
Even in recent years, many of the songs heard on the radio, in shopping malls and other venues during the Christmas season are songs originally composed and performed in the 1930s and the decades that immediately followed.
Many such songs are sentimental and nostalgic in tone, hearkening back to simpler times, and many others are of the novelty variety, with reference to such things as Santa Claus, reindeer, gift-giving and a number of novelty themes.
This article takes a look at 15 Christmastime songs that were among the highest-charting tunes on the Billboard Magazine's popular music listings in the U.S. during the '50s and '60s, and most of them are familiar and performed by well-known recording artists. Until 1962, holiday songs were included in the Billboard Hot 100, but beginning in 1963, the magazine started listing holiday songs in a separate Christmas singles chart.
Some of the songs were first released in the 1940s, but they are included only if they also had significant popularity in the two subsequent decades. Although most of the songs were recorded by quite a few artists, only the highest-charting pop versions are listed, and the year that accompanies each title is the first year that the song became a major chart item.
Even though such tunes as "Jingle Bells" and "Sleigh Ride" are heard repeatedly this time of year, they didn't make the list because they didn't chart as highly as one might expect. Similarly, a number of Christmas hymns -- such as "Silent Night" and "Adeste Fideles" -- didn't make the list, although some versions of them were lesser items on the pop charts. To hear any of the songs, simply click on the title.
- 1. "WHITE CHRISTMAS" (Bing Crosby, No. 1, 1942) is not only the top Christmastime record of all-time, but it's the best-selling single of all-time. When first released in late 1942, it spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on the national pop charts, and it was a chart item every year for more than two decades. Written by Irving Berlin, the original version featured the Ken Darby Singers and John Scott Trotter's Orchestra. The song, which debuted in the 1942 film "Holiday Inn", is estimated to have sold more than 50 million copies over the years, and there have been well over 500 versions in dozens of languages. The vocalist, born in Tacoma, Wash., was one of the most-popular entertainers of the 20th Century.
- 2. "THE CHIPMUNK SONG" (No. 1, 1958) became the most popular novelty Christmas single released in the U.S. Created by Ross Bagdasarian (a k a David Seville), the recording spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958, and it reached No. 5 on the R&B listings. The single continued to chart for many seasons thereafter, and it made the Top 40 again in 1961 and 1962 for The Chipmunks (Alvin, Simon and Theodore), named after three Liberty Records executives.
- 3. "RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER" (Gene Autry, 1949) spent eight weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Children's Records chart, in addition to topping the pop singles and C&W charts. Although songwriter Johnny Marks was Jewish, he penned many Christmas songs, and among his other credits was "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree." Autry recorded an updated version of the song in 1957, featuring orchestration by Carl Cotner, and other notable covers were made by Bing Crosby (1950), Red Foley (1951), The Cadillacs (1957), Paul Anka (1960) and The Chipmunks (1960).
- 4. "I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS" (Jimmy Boyd, No. 1, 1952) was composed by British songwriter Tommie Connor, and in addition to topping the U.S. pop charts, it went to No. 7 on the C&W listings and No. 3 in the UK. This world-famous single -- which has sold more than 60 million copies since its original release -- was sung by a youngster from McComb, Miss., when he was 13 years old. Boyd's name became known internationally, and the record went to No. 1 on the U.S. charts again the following year.
- 5. "ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS MY TWO FRONT TEETH" (Spike Jones & His City Slickers, No. 1, 1948) spent three weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Most Played chart in 1948, and it also topped the same listing the following year. before attaining the No. 14 spot on Billboard's Children's Records chart in 1950. The song was written by Donald Yetter Gardner, and the voice of the young lead singer was that of George Rock. Later versions were done by numerous others, including Ray Stevens, Nat King Cole, The Platters and The Chipmunks.
- 6. "THE CHRISTMAS SONG" (Nat King Cole, No. 3, 1946) -- sometimes subtitled "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire" -- was written by Mel Torme and Robert Wells in 1944, and it remains one of the most-recorded among all Christmas songs. Re-releases by Nat King Cole were later issued in 1953 and 1961. Other renditions were recorded by Herb Alpert, James Brown, The Carpenters and Natalie Cole.
- 7. "JINGLE BELL ROCK" (Bobby Helms, No. 6, 1957) was performed by a C&W singer-guitarist from Bloomington, Ind., featuring backing vocals by the Anita Kerr Singers. Written by Joe Beale and Jim Boothe, other significant singles were later issued by Bobby Rydell & Chubby Checker (1961), Chet Atkins (1961), Brenda Lee (1964) and Hall & Oates (1983).
- 8. "NUTTIN' FOR CHRISTMAS" (Barry Gordon, No. 6, 1955) was easily the hottest Christmas tune of 1955. The biggest hit version was by 7-year-old Barry Gordon, of Brookline, Mass., who had made his TV debut at age 3 on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour. Written by Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett, three other versions made the national Top 40: by Joe Ward (No. 20), Ricky Zahnd (No. 21) and The Fontane Sisters (No. 36).
- 9. "FROSTY THE SNOWMAN" (Gene Autry, No. 7, 1950) is a popular holiday song written by Walter "Jack" Rollins and Steve Nelson, and this version -- recorded by Gene Autry and The Cass County Boys -- was the original. It came one year after The Singing Cowboy's smash hit with "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer." Other significant versions were released by Nat King Cole (1950), Guy Lombardo (1950), Red Foley (1951) and The Ronettes (1963).
- 10. "AMEN" (The Impressions, No. 7, 1964) was one of 17 Top 40 singles for the Chicago group fronted by Curtis Mayfield. The song was featured in the film "Lillies Of The Valley" starring Sidney Poitier, and it was also a minor Billboard chart hit for Floyd Price (No. 124). An updated version by The Impressions reached No. 44 on Billboard's Soul Singles chart in 1970.
- 11. "DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR" (Bing Crosby, No. 2 Christmas Singles, 1963) was originally recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1962, but this rendition -- featuring backing by Ralph Carmichael's chorus and orchestra -- has sold tens of millions of copies and has been covered by hundreds of artists. The song was composed by the husband-wife team of Noel Regney (lyrics) and Gloria Shayne Baker (music).
- 12. "ROCKING AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE" (Brenda Lee, No. 14, 1960) was written by Johnny Marks and recorded in 1958, but it didn't become a hit until two years later. "Little Miss Dynamite" was only 13 years old when the single was cut, and the effective instrumental backing included the guitar expertise of Hank Garland and a notable solo sax break by Boots Randolph. It continued to chart for many seasons, reaching as high as No. 3 on Billboard's Christmas singles chart in 1965.
- 13. "LITTLE SAINT NICK" (The Beach Boys, No. 3 Christmas singles, 1963) was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and after released as a single on Dec. 9, 1963, it peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's Christmas singles chart and reached No. 69 on the Cashbox Magazine survey. Despite a toned-down holiday season in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, the single wound up as a million-seller.
- 14. "THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY" (Harry Simeone Chorale, No. 13, 1958), one of the most-recorded modern carols, was written in 1941 by Katherine K. Davis. This single also charted at No. 15 the following year, and it made the Top 40 for several years thereafter. A rendition by Lou Rawls reached No. 2 on Billboard's Christmas singles chart in 1967, and other versions included those by Johnny Cash (1959) and Joan Baez (1966).
- 15. "PRETTY PAPER" (Roy Orbison, No. 15, 1963) was written by Willie Nelson, and the recording was arranged by Bill Justis, with orchestra and chorus conducted by Ivor Raymonde. It was one of the 23 Top 40 hits released by the famous singer from Vernon, Texas. The single also charted at No. 27 on the Billboard Christmas singles chart in 1964.
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