This photo collection shows cringe-worthy and just plain awkward Christmas album covers from the past. Music associated with Christmas may be purely instrumental, or, in the case of carols or songs, may employ lyrics whose subject matter ranges from the nativity of Jesus Christ, to gift-giving and merrymaking, to cultural figures such as Santa Claus, among other topics. Many songs simply have a winter or seasonal theme, or have been adopted into the canon for other reasons.
While most Christmas songs prior to 1930 were of a traditional religious character, the Great Depression era of the 1930s brought a stream of songs of American origin, most of which did not explicitly reference the Christian nature of the holiday, but rather the more secular traditional Western themes and customs associated with Christmas.
These included songs aimed at children such as “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, as well as sentimental ballad-type songs performed by famous crooners of the era, such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “White Christmas”, the latter of which remains the best-selling single of all time.
According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 2016, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”, written by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie in 1934, is the most played holiday song of the last 50 years.
It was first performed live by Eddie Cantor on his radio show in November 1934. Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra recorded their version in 1935, followed later by a range of artists including Frank Sinatra in 1948, the Supremes, the Jackson 5, the Beach Boys, and Glenn Campbell. Bruce Springsteen recorded a rock rendition in December 1975.
Long-time Christmas classics from prior to the “rock era” still dominate the holiday charts – such as “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Sleigh Ride” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.
Songs from the rock era to enter the top tier of the season’s canon include “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey and Walter Afanasieff, and “Last Christmas” by George Michael.
The most popular set of these titles—heard over airwaves, on the internet, in shopping malls, in elevators and lobbies, even on the street during the Christmas season—have been composed and performed from the 1930s onward.
In addition to Bing Crosby, major acts that have popularized and successfully covered a number of the titles in the top 30 most performed Christmas songs in 2015 include Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Andy Williams, and the Jackson 5.
Since the mid-1950s, much of the Christmas music produced for popular audiences has explicitly romantic overtones, only using Christmas as a setting.
The 1950s also featured the introduction of novelty songs that used the holiday as a target for satire and source for comedy.
Exceptions such as “The Christmas Shoes” (2000) have re-introduced Christian themes as complementary to the secular Western themes, and myriad traditional carol cover versions by various artists have explored virtually all music genres.
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Pinterest / Flickr).