Q: Is “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby still the top selling Christmas single of all time? What about singles created in the past 20 years — any standouts? Which song is the most popular (not a single recording but the song itself)?
B.C., of Edwardsville
A: Yes, when it comes to delivering musical presents, Bing Crosby still has no rival at playing Santa Claus — at Christmas or any other time of year.
On May, 29, 1942, the legendary crooner stepped into the recording studio with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers. Just 18 minutes later, they had put the wraps on a song that 70 years later would earn the Guinness record for best-selling single of all time. Its estimated sales of 50 million copies worldwide leaves “Candle in the Wind 1997,” the Elton John/Bernie Taupin tribute to Princess Diana, in the dust with its 33 million, according to a current entry on the Guinness website.
But you know what? In the past few days, Mariah Carey has accomplished something Bing never did despite his lofty numbers. After 23 years, the pop songstress’s recording of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” finally cracked the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100, a list that includes all singles currently being bought and played, not just seasonal music.
In the chart’s history, only four other Christmas songs have accomplished that feat, starting in 1957 with “The Chipmunk Song,” the only Yuletide tune to hit No. 1 (and stay there for four weeks). The others were Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” (1981), New Kids on the Block’s “This One’s for the Children” (1989-1990) and Kenny G’s “Auld Lang Syne” (2000).
Now after years of chugging up the list, Carey’s tune, first released on her 1994 “Merry Christmas” album, moved into the No. 9 slot on the Dec. 30 ranking. (You may have noticed it is the only Top 10 song that actually has “Christmas” in the title.) According to Billboard methodology, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” topped out at No. 12 in 1962.
Perhaps Bing wouldn’t have been surprised — at least, not at first. After the final take of “White Christmas” in the studio, he is reported merely to have said, “I don’t think we have any problems with that one, Irving (writer Irving Berlin).”
The early public response was surprisingly tepid as well. Released on July 30, 1942, as part of an album of six 78-rpm discs from the film “Holiday Inn,” it was initially overshadowed by “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” But by the beginning of November, it led the “Your Hit Parade” chart and was quickly on its way to becoming a classic. So much so, that it even hit No. 1 on the Harlem Hit Parade for three weeks. Re-released by Decca, it soared up the charts again in 1945 and 1946, and it’s been a must-play ever since.
Carey’s song took a much slower ride up the charts because it initially was not released as a single. Finally, when album cuts became eligible for the Hot 100 in 1998, it debuted at a less-than-stellar 83 for one week. When streaming was added to the statistical formula in 2012, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” became a perennial powerhouse.
More musical notes for your Christmas stocking:
▪ Not so ‘Silent’: In 2014, Time magazine crunched numbers from the U.S. Copyright Office to see which Christmas carol had been recorded on the most albums since 1978, the earliest date for digitized registrations. The results weren’t even close. “Silent Night” found its way onto 733 copyrighted recordings, nearly twice as many as runner-ups “Joy to the World” (391) and “O Holy Night” (374). Rounding out the top 10 were “What Child Is This?” (329), “Away in a Manger” (300), “Ave Maria” (270), “Jingle Bells” and “The Christmas Song” (254), “Little Drummer Boy” (213) and “We Three Kings” (180).
▪ World class: As Santa makes his way around the globe on Christmas Eve, this is what he’ll be listening to, according to Spotify’s list of the top five streamed songs around the world. From the bottom up, there’s Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me,” Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe,” Michael Bublé’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” Wham!’s “Last Christmas” and Carey’s “All I Want ...” For more modern sounds, try “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” with Kristen Bell, et al., Why Don’t We’s “Hey, Good Lookin’” and Chris Brown’s “This Christmas.”
▪ Record setting: If you want to go checking your list to see how your collection stacks up against the most popular, here are Billboard’s top 10 albums of all time in reverse order as of last December: Johnny Mathis’ “Merry Christmas”; Barbra Streisand’s “A Christmas Album”; Celine Dion’s “These Are Special Times”; Carey’s “Merry Christmas”; Josh Groban’s “Noel”; Mannheim Steamroller’s “A Fresh Aire Christmas” and “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas”; Nat King Cole’s “The Magic of Christmas”; Kenny G.’s “Miracles”; and Elvis Presley’s “Elvis’ Christmas Album.”
▪ Now playing: Finally, the top five on the current Billboard Holiday 100 in reverse order: Burl Ives’ “A Holly, Jolly Christmas”; Nat King Cole’s “A Christmas Song”; Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”; Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”; and Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” You can find the complete list at www.billboard.com/charts/hot-holiday-songs — and , no, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” is not on it.
According to Billboard, what is the “official” Christmas anthem of Illinois?
Answer to Monday’s trivia: On July 15, 1996, cable TV subscribers expecting to watch another day of NBC’s America’s Talking network instead were greeted by the debut of a brand-new comprehensive news channel: MSNBC. It was a strategic partnership of NBC and Microsoft, who shared the cost of a $200 million newsroom in Secaucus, N.J. The first show was anchored by Jodi Applegate and included news, interviews and commentary. Other luminaries included Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, John Gibson and John Seigenthaler. America’s Talking, which offered a wide-range of programs from psychology to music and celebrities, failed to catch on during its 18-month run and was carried by few cable systems.