[Main image from Bored Panda apparently, though it pops up all over the internet]
Christmas listening is firmly stuck in the past. The top Christmas songs each year are often decades old, recordings from back in the 50s are still popular, the likes of Phil Spector’s Christmas album “A Christmas gift for you” are the definitive versions of many songs for people. Even modern Christmas albums such as those from Norah Jones and Jamie Cullum aren’t complete without a smattering of cover versions of old classics.
We’re always looking to relive the great Christmases past and the same emotive soundtrack is an easy way to get those same emotions going. Christmas celebrations are steeped in nostalgia and much as those of us now seek to re listen to the songs we enjoyed in our Christmas youth those very Christmases were soundtracked by the nostalgia of the generation before. So the same songs have been passed down.
Plus we also only wheel these songs out once a year so we don’t fatigue of them in the same way we do other music. Whilst January may bring a groan at the 1000th listening of Mariah’s standard “All I want for Christmas” many of the people groaning will be ready to welcome the song back the following December having banished it from their playlists for 11 months (yes 11 months, no Christmas songs in November thank you!) I’d also guess that most people are happier to step out of their usual listening habits and embrace a few more songs that maybe they wouldn’t in the normal listening silos.
Which leaves us with all the same old music, often you hear that as a complaint. All new Christmas songs are rubbish. The last big one was Mariah in the 90s and no one has added anything worthwhile since. I guess this is a Scrooge-ian relative of the “all modern music is rubbish”. If you do believe this you probably aren’t looking hard enough, or you’re hearing nonsense like Justin Bieber’s atrocity and using that as the basis and missing the greats like Ariana Grande’s “Santa tell me”. It’s also the ease with which a Christmas song or album is rolled out as a money spinner, add some bells and horns, do the same old covers and some hastily written rubbish song, probably trading on the belief that people will listen to anything with Christmas in the title. We may venture out from our normal listening styles but most people are probably (hopefully!?) still discerning
When done well the Christmas album is a brilliant listen, the aforementioned albums from Norah Jones and Jamie Cullum offer some great new Christmas songs alongside some reimaginings of Christmas classics. It’s one of my favourite things in the festive period seeking out the new covers, the new songs and seeing what will make it into my listening for future years.
It easy to think that Christmas listening is stuck very far in the past of recorded music but if you look at those popular playlists there’s probably a more even spread across the years than you might think. I’d wager that as we head into the future that will continue and we’ll see a very slow shift in the age of the songs that are listening to, with maybe the average age staying roughly the same.
The combination of our all of Christmas listening habits, the once a year, the dropping of genre snobbery, the nostalgia factor, all combine to this musical weirdness that is our collective Christmas listening
But it’s always good to remember that there are some great songs in our Christmases yet to come and I’m very much looking forward to seeking them out