Tired of the Christmas music piped relentlessly into the void of public buildings? Bored from hearing the same old songs over and over again? How about a refresher course on the once-popular and now little-known songs of yesteryear? Like Nat King Cole singing “The Little Boy That Santa Forgot” (1937)? Or Bing Cosby singing the heart-rending lyrics of “I’ll be home for Christmas” (1943)?
The Popular Music of Christmas Past
In music, we find everything from religious to sentimental secular and downright hilarious. In 1937, Michael Carr, Tommie Connor and Jimmy Leach collaborated on a touching Christmas song, “The Little Boy That Santa Forgot.” Many great performers sang it over the years, but Nat King Cole’s version is perhaps the most sentimental rendition.
He’s the little boy that Santa Claus forgot,
And goodness knows, he didn’t want a lot.
The lyrics speak volumes for the downtrodden and forgotten children of Christmas. Does it sound familiar? Actually, it’s not entirely forgotten in popular culture. Jim Belushi sang a portion of this song for the 1996 film Jingle All the Way, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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The Popular Music of Christmas Present
From the sentimental to the humorous, there are quite a few old novelty Christmas songs that have stood the test of time. Bing Crosby originally sang and recorded “I’ll be home for Christmas” (1943). Its sentimentality intensifies when one appreciates the full meaning of this song to the many men and women fighting the Nazis.
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
If only in my dreams.
So many of those brave people never made it home, for any more Christmases. Yet, they would sing this song deep from the heart and feel as if they were with loved ones, even though they were thousands of miles and an ocean away. The song continues to make the eyes water, the lyrics having deep meaning for people around the world.
A more humorous song from about the same time is Donald Yetter Gardner’s “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” (1944). It’s still popular today as children relate to the loss of their baby teeth.
All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,
my two front teeth,
my two front teeth,
see my two front teeth.
Gee, if I could only
have my two front teeth,
then I could wish you
This song maintains its popularity, promoted by Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Three Stooges, and, of course, Sesame Street.
A more recent old novelty song is “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” (1979), written by Randy Brooks. In spite of its humorous theme, it also contains a warning that is timeless:
I’ve warned all my friends and neighbours
Better watch out for yourselves
They should never give a license
To a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves.
Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walkin’ home from our house, Christmas Eve
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe!
Popular heart throbs of each generation create their own Christmas songs or reuse songs from the past. Nasri and Adam Messinger wrote the song, “Mistletoe” (2011), which quickly became a popular hit when Canadian singer, Justin Bieber, who included it in his Christmas album, Under the Mistletoe (2011). It almost made the top 10 list in the United States with its touching love lyrics:
It’s the most beautiful time of the year,
Lights fill the streets spreading so much cheer,
I should be playing in the winter snow,
But I’mma be under the mistletoe.
The Popular Music of Christmas Yet to Come
As popular musicians continue to make their mark on the music world and to attract a listening audience, the lure of Christmas music will continue to produce new classic favourites. How will these songs of the future stand the test of time? No one knows yet.
For Mitchell Kezin, it was the lure of Christmas music from the past that attracted him and started him on a journey of musical discovery that resulted in a personal documentary film, “Jingle Bell Rocks!” A visit to a vintage record store and the discovery of an old vinyl record of classic Christmas music started Kezin on his journey.
Vinyl Records: Music Before CDs
Vinyl records, created long before CDs, inspired him. There’s a treasure trove of music, Christmas and other popular favourites, locked away on these old vinyls, just waiting for someone to re-awaken their hidden treasures.
It’s through looking at our past and re-visiting the favourites of our grandparents that we will learn to appreciate the musical themes of Christmas. Kitschy, quirky, sentimental and sometimes funny, these songs often warm the listener with the spirit of the season.