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Music Chronicle
post Dec 13 2020, 10:39 AM
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The Music Chronicle reviews Christmas Perennials in the Digital Age

With Christmas coming early this year, and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” finally reaching the number one slot, 26 years after release, the Music Chronicle has taken a look at those hardy seasonal perennials – the hits which keep coming back.


A very brief history

The return of Christmas songs every year is one of the oldest chart phenomena. In Steve Waters’ book The Missing Charts, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is revealed to have been the yuletide chart topper in the year of its release, 1942. But such was its popularity, it was ranked #2 for Christmas 1943, 1944 and 1945 before securing the top spot again for Christmas in 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950 and 1951.

The early 1980s saw a burst of Christmas re-entries, as the most popular singles of the 1970s enjoyed regular re-releases. Slade were the biggest beneficiaries of this, with “Merry Xmas Everybody” returning to the Top 75 in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986, whilst John & Yoko, Wizzard, Greg Lake and Mud all saw renewed attention paid to their offerings.

But in November 1985 the release of Now – The Christmas Album, which collected together all of those 70s hits plus “White Christmas” and the 11 month-old smashes by Band Aid and Wham!, meant that buying a re-released single was unnecessary and uneconomic. A succession of updates and rivals such as The Best Christmas Album In The World…Ever, It’s Christmas !, and The No.1 Christmas Album, meant that re-entries and re-issues of Christmas favourites were rare throughout the CD era.

But the landscape changed again with the advent of single track downloads, and, a decade later, streaming. It is the period from 2004 to 2020 that is reviewed here.


The Festive Perennials Chart

The Music Chronicle has taken the OCC weekly singles chart which is most heavily laden with Christmas songs for every year from 2004 to 2020, and created a Festive Perennials Chart. 21st century tracks which are appearing for the first time are excluded, and only join the Chart the first year they re-enter the OCC listings. This review is only interested in the songs which prove popular over a number of years, not one-off hits.

For 2004-2006 we have used the singles chart and also the download chart, to get a meaningful number of songs. For 2007 to 2013, we have used the combined singles Top 200, and for 2014 to 2020 we have used the published Top 100. Use of the Top 200 has given a peak of 36 hits in 2007 and 2013, whilst the Top 100 has so far maxed out at 53 hits in 2019, although that could be surpassed in the next fortnight. Note that ACR/SCR is irrelevant, because of the exclusion of first time hits, meaning every track in the Festive Perennials Chart is on ACR, and therefore in the right relative position.

The purpose of creating a Festive Perennials Chart, is that it enables a review to be conducted on a level playing field. There are plenty of best sellers list (based on purchases only). And any all-time list compiled using chart sales would be heavily weighted towards those tracks which have performed the best in the past couple of years.

49 different tracks have appeared in the Festive Perennials Chart in a minimum of four separate years. Three tracks appeared in all 17 years.




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Music Chronicle
post Dec 13 2020, 10:40 AM
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List 1 – Ranked by Appearances & then Peak

The table below lists the 49 tracks with 4 or more appearances, ranked first by the number of years they have appeared since 2004, and then by the highest position they have attained in the Festive Perennials Chart.





• Mariah Carey and Wham! share first place on this list, having appeared every year, and both been a Festive Perennials #1. (Mariah in 2004, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020; Wham! in 2017).

• Slade have also appeared every year, peaking at #2 in 2006.

• The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl did not make the Top 100 of the singles chart or the Top 40 of the download chart in 2004, but have been ever-present since 2005. They occupied the #1 position every year from 2005 to 2012, and then again in 2014. Shakin’ Stevens was also absent in 2004, but has not been outside the Top 8 since. His 2020 position of #4 equals his previous best.

• Band Aid and Chris Rea were both listed in 2004 (at #2 and #6 respectively), but missed out in 2005.

• Wizzard, Brenda Lee, John & Yoko and Boney M did not make it in 2004 or 2005, but appeared in 2006, and have been there ever since. The Darkness lost out as a result of cutting the OCC reference chart from the Top 200 to the Top 100, missing out in 2014 and 2015 only.

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Music Chronicle
post Dec 13 2020, 10:41 AM
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List 2 – Ranked by Average Position

This table ranks those same 49 songs by their average position on the Festive Perennials Chart. This allows more recent tracks to rise up the list, and doesn’t penalise tracks which missed out in the early years.





• Mariah takes the number one spot again, but this time not shared. The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl rise to second, just 0.04 behind Mariah. Indeed, if they were to overtake Wham! in next week’s OCC chart, they will also overtake Mariah on this list.

• Wham!’s average is marginally better than 3. The only year when they weren’t in the Festive Perennials Top 3 was 2010.

• There isn’t much distance between Shakin’ Stevens, Wizzard and Band Aid in 4th, 5th and 6th. Michael Buble’s current average is 8.0, but he is at #5 this week, and was 5th in 2018, so his average is decreasing whilst those around him are going in the opposite direction. Trends like this are illustrated by the graphs below.

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Music Chronicle
post Dec 13 2020, 10:42 AM
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Trends – 1980s & 1990s Tracks

It is singles from the 1980s and 1990s which have dominated the festive landscape during the digital era. The graph below shows the year-by-year performance of the Top 8 from this period.





• It clearly shows how Mariah has overtaken the Pogues & Kirsty in the middle of the 2010s. Wham! have also overhauled the Pogues & Kirsty in the wake of George Michael’s premature death.

• Shakin’ Stevens’ song’s popularity has suffered a fall, and then a rise again, ranking as the 4th most popular Festive Perennial in four of the past six years. The long-term trend for Band Aid is upward, peaking at #4 in 2017 and 2018. But Chris Rea is now in long-term decline, having risen to take 4th position in 2011 and 2012.

• East 17 and Jona Lewie are perennially popular also-rans.
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Music Chronicle
post Dec 13 2020, 10:43 AM
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Trends – 1970s Tracks

The graph illustrating the performance of the eight most popular tracks from the 1970s is pretty clear. With the honourable exception of Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas”, the 70s hits are in decline, relative to other festive favourites. (Note that the scale has been extended on this chart, to take in 40 places on the Festive Perennials Chart, rather than the 30 needed for the 80s/90s tracks).





• Slade peaked at #2 in 2006, but are currently #15. Wizzard’s best was 3rd in 2010, but they are #13 this week. Boney M are in danger of dropping out of the Top 40 for the first time. Greg Lake has missed out altogether in five of the past six years.

• Elton John has bucked the trend. “Step Into Christmas” may only have been a modest hit in 1973, but it peaked at #6 on the Festive Songs list last year, no doubt helped by the Rocket Man film.

• Paul McCartney and John Lennon have maintained some consistency, and are to be found between #10 and #20 in most years.

• This is pure speculation, but is the downward trend partly a consequence of the aging of people who grew up with these songs ? Someone who was in their early teens in 1973 was in their 40s when downloading took off, and hence quite likely to be receptive to the new technology. But, by the late 10s, they were in approaching their 60s, and perhaps less enthusiastic converts to streaming. Hence, relatively speaking, 70s hits have declined in popularity compared to 80s and 90s hits, as their strongest advocates continue to listen to their iPods, rather than calling on their Alexas for Christmas playlists.


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Music Chronicle
post Dec 13 2020, 10:43 AM
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Trends – Golden Oldies

Trying to decipher trends from this graph is a serious challenge.





• But what stands out is the ascent of Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”. Having debuted at #15 in 2006, and then floundered to #24 in 2007, this song has been placed in the Top 12 ever since, peaking at #5 in 2017.

• The rest seem to fluctuate quite randomly. But it should be remembered that there are typically only a few hundred chart sales between adjacent positions on the Festive Perennials list by the time we get down to the tracks below #20.

• What is more remarkable, in our opinion, is the enduring popularity of all of these songs. Every one of them has been re-recorded by other artists many times since the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and yet it is these older versions which endure. This cannot be attributable to people who grew up with them picking them out for downloading and streaming, and must be due to new generations of people latching on to the nostalgic, sentimental sounds at a time of year when people look for home comforts and enjoy traditions.


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Music Chronicle
post Dec 13 2020, 10:44 AM
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Trends – 21st Century Perennials

If tracks from the 1970s are in decline, then this graph clearly shows that the 21st century has yielded some new classics, whose popularity is undoubtedly in the ascendancy.





• Michael Bublé’s take on “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” seems to be going from strength to strength in a manner that is not replicated by any of the other tracks from his Christmas album. (Although both “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” are one OCC Top 100 appearance away from becoming the 50th and 51st tracks to appear four times as digital era Festive re-entries).

• Leona Lewis has certainly recorded a new Christmas classic, but Ariana Grande and Kelly Clarkson have both surpassed her song’s chart performance recently. What is notable about all three of these tracks is that they are new songs. Bublé aside, it seems the British public is not at all responsive to contemporary stars churning out Christmas albums where they unimaginatively plough through the same old standards. But, there is definitely a market for newly minted seasonal singles if they are strong enough, and properly promoted. Time will tell whether Sia’s “Santa’s Coming For Us”, Katy Perry’s “Cozy Little Christmas” and Taylor Swift’s “Christmas Tree Farm” join these ranks.

• Both Coldplay and Justin Bieber looked like they might have created modern Noel classics, but their songs have both drifted in recent years.

• The Darkness’ tongue-in-cheek single is fading out of fashion.

• There hasn’t been much to choose between the showing of Eartha Kitt’s 1953 original of “Santa Baby” and Kylie’s 2000 makeover in recent years. Between 2016 and 2019 they were always within 10 places of each other on the Festive Perennials Chart, with Eartha claiming honours lst year, but Kylie ahead this week.



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steve201
post Dec 13 2020, 10:49 AM
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That’s a really good overview to read
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