It’s that time of year. Gather your chestnuts, your mistletoe, what have you. The holiday season is a cozy yet stressful time. My personal favorite part of this season is that an entire genre of music is now acceptable to listen to, whether you celebrate the aforementioned holiday or not. Here, I will go through some of the classic December-time songs and go through a bit of their historical and cultural significance.
1. “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin
Berlin was born as one of eight siblings in western Siberia and began working as a “song plugger” after his family moved to the U.S. in 1893. This entailed performing new songs at various bars and venues for sheet music companies to test-run. In his late teens, Berlin began composing music of his own. Later, in the year 1940, he introduced the song titled “White Christmas” to those around him as a satire, meant to be shown to accompany people sitting around a pool.
2. “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley
Originally written and recorded by Doye O’Dell (a famous Western film actor) in the year 1948, it was made popular by Ernest Tubb’s version. For his ‘57 Christmas Album, Elvis Presley chose to record and feature this song and popularized it most prominently. It is known to feature what is called “blue notes”, or notes that are minor placed where major notes are expected, frequently found in jazz music.
3. “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole
This song was written by duo Mel Tormé and Bob Wells. Wells wrote a small poem in the heat of summer about winter to “cool himself off”. Tormé saw potential and began turning it into a song. It was played for Nat King Cole’s manager the same day. This is known to be the first notable Christmas song introduced by a black singer.
4. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” by Elmo & Patsy
Husband and wife, Elmo & Patsy, had a pretty great musical comedy gig going in San Francisco in 1978. After performing at a hotel in Lake Tahoe, musician Randy Brooks approached them with the pitch for a funny new Christmas jingle. Once self-recorded and distributed by Elmo, the song cycled through radio DJs and record companies. Although, it was not at first successful. Elmo (who was a veterinarian at the time) sold his animal hospital in order to finance a homemade music video to promote the song. MTV picked it up, and then the song surpassed Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”
Also, check out our Holiday Pops performance on December 13th, featuring Duke Ellington’s jazz interpretations of some classics, along with other favorite holiday music!