The most covered Christmas Carols and Holiday Songs
Most people love them, some loathe them and the rest perhaps are somewhat indifferent. Wherever you sit on the spectrum, this music is unavoidable at this time of year. From the traditional carol to the old favorites and the new there is never a shortage of choice and escaping it takes a lot of effort. So if you want to read a story about Christmas and Holiday Songs, I’ve got you covered. 😉
Just the numbers, for the most covered songs of all time according to Secondhandsongs.com we see 8 out of the top 10 are Christmas carols or songs.
- Silent Night, 2758 versions
- Summertime, 1898 versions
- White Christmas, 1555 versions
- Silent Night, 1454 versions
- Oh, Holy Night, 1442 versions (German)
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, 1414
- The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You), 1320 versions
- A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves, 1299 versions
- Winter Wonderland, 1092 versions
- Jingle Bells, 1076 versions
So you can see when it comes to cover songs there is no question, Christmas leads the way. I’ve blogged about “Summertime” being the most covered song and there is good evidence to support it, but the Secondhandsongs.com database puts it at #2 and “Silent Night” or “Silent Night! Holy Night!” at #1.
The original title being “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” is at the top with 2758 versions. Music composed by Franz Gruber, a school teacher and church organist and Lyrics written by a newly ordained Priest, Father Joseph Mohr in their native German language. It was first performed in 1818 in the small hamlet where it was written at St Nicholas parish, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.
The English translation was written by Father John Freeman Young (Trinity Church, New York City). I believe the highest charted version was from Bing Crosby which hit #54 in 1960. Chances are one or more of your favorite artists have recorded this song, which has been sung in more than a dozen different languages.
And speaking of Bing Crosby, this legend is also the undisputed champion of the Christmas song as he was the first to sing the next most covered Christmas song “White Christmas“currently at 1555 versions. First performed in the movie “Holiday Inn” Bing Crosby (also the first record in 1942) with Martha Mears voice dubbed in for actor Marjorie Reynolds. Written by one greatest composers of all time, Irving Berlin. He arrived in New York at the age of 5 from what is now Belarus, after his family fled persecution and a pogrom that resulted in their house being burned to the ground. His name was Israel Isidore Beilin, and the family changed their last names to ‘Baline’ as was the custom, once settled after landing on Ellis Island. Leaving school at age 13 he made money by singing in local bars and when his first song was published earning him 36 cents, his name was printed in error as ‘I. Berlin’. His other seasonal songs include “Happy Holiday” and “Snow” also from ‘Holiday Inn’. More on him when I blog on the most covered composers of all time. Here are some great covers of “White Christmas”; Frank Sinatra (1944), Michael Bublé with Shania Twain (2015), an instrumental by Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy (2016), The Drifters (1954), Kelly Clarkson (2013).
Oh, Holy Night at 1442 versions is the next most covered song. Originally it was “Minuit, chrétiens“, written in French as you may have guessed, the music written by Adolphe Charles Adam, and lyrics by Placide Cappeau in 1847. The English version, “Oh, Holy Night” (circa 1908) is by John Sullivan Dwight a minister and noted hymnal translator. The first recorded version to really gain attention was from the great Mario Lanza in 1950. Johnny Mathis (1958), Nat King Cole (1960), “O Holy Night / Ave Maria” by Idina Menzel (2019).
Following down the list we then have “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” at 1414 versions it was written by Hugh Martin with Ralph Blane. It’s a wonderful song from the 1944 movie ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ and sung by the incomparable Judy Garland. Covers by Ella Fitzgerald (1960), Glen Campbell (1968), Carpenters (1978) and Sam Smith (2014).
“The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)”, recognized by many as the “chestnuts roasting on a an open fire” song. Written by Robert Wells and primarily Mel Tormé in 1945 on blistering hot summer day. Covered 1320 times. First recorded by ‘The King Cole Trio with String Choir‘, that being the great Nat King Cole. Michael Bublé (2003), Aga Zaryan & Freddy Cole (2018) and the man himself, the Velvet Fog, Mel Tormé from 1955.
To divert from the list I’d need to talk about the most popular Christmas song this year, and for many years now, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” performed by Mariah Carey and written with the Grammy Award winning Walter Afanasieff, released Nov. 1, 1994. It currently sits at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and it’s just the second ‘Holiday’ song to do that, The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late), written and performed by Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (known by his stage name David Seville). It hit #1 in 1959. Carey’s song has sold over 15 million copies and is the top streamed song during this Holiday season. At 213 versions, it will be a while before it hits the top 10 for holiday cover songs but it’s a rival for “White Christmas” and the “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)” in the long term in both sales and enduring popularity.
So, this year Hanukkah starts on December 22 and ends December 30. In 2024 it will start on December 25, which I understand is pretty unusual for the two calendars to coincide. Why when talking about Christmas songs would I mention Hanukkah? I don’t happen to be Jewish myself, but the people who wrote many of the most well known Christmas songs were: Irving Berlin and Mel Tormé, I’ve already mentioned but there is also; “I’ll be Home For Christmas” Composed by Walter Kent, “Winter Wonderland” written by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith, “Let It Snow” written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, “Silver Bells” written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. And then there is Johnny Marks, the undisputed King of Christmas songs who wrote the words and music for; “Most Wonderful Day of the Year“, “Silver and Gold“, “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer“, “Run Rudolph Run“, “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” among others. I read an article once from a Jewish writer on this topic, though I can’t seem to track it down now, as I recall she was lamenting the fact that these writers gave the gentiles all these wonderful Holiday songs and all the Jewish people got was “I Have A Little Dreidel“. Happy Hanukkah!, and a Happy Holiday season no matter how, if or what you celebrate.
The genius behind the Chipmunks was born Rostom Sipan Bagdasarian (January 27, 1919 -January 16, 1972), who changed his name to Ross Bagdasarian. He chose the stage name “Seville” as he was stationed there (Spain) during his service in WWII. The additional voices for the Chipmunks were; Janice Karman, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. and Steve Vining. They recorded it and then sped up the playback and recorded that to get the high voices. Aside from the silly song “Witch Doctor“, in 1939 he also co-wrote with his cousin, the Pulitzer Prize winning William Saroyan “Come On-A My House”. The song was not used until 1950 in an off-Broadway musical “The Son”. The first recording was a #1 hit for Rosemary Clooney in 1951. Covered about 40 times.
Merry Christmas Eric, didn’t think I’d get around to it!
References; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, Secondhandsongs.com
https://www.interfaithfamily.com/arts_and_entertainment/popular_culture/the_jews_who_wrote_christmas_songs_2010/, https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/chart-beat/8546418/mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas-is-you-number-one, https://www.buzzfeed.com/skarlan/10-classic-christmas-songs-written-by-jewish-songw-82j3
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