Nielsen SoundScan maintains a list of the 200 holiday songs that have sold the most digital copies. I have extracted the top 30 for today's blog. Trans-Siberian Orchestra is the only act with more than one song in the top 30. The ensemble has three: "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" at #3, "Christmas Canon" at #4 and "Wizards In Winter" at #20.
The oldest song in the top 30 is the traditional "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." The oldest song whose authorship is known is "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town," which has been a holiday perennial since 1934. (Bruce Springsteen, whose version ranks #14, recorded the song in 1975.) The oldest song in the top 30 that was recorded by the original artist is Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," which he introduced in 1942.
Several of these songs, notably Crosby's "White Christmas," are the biggest hits these artists ever had. In several other cases, the act had bigger pop hits, but these holiday perennials are probably their best known works today. This is true of Brenda Lee ("Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree"), Jose Feliciano ("Feliz Navidad"), Burl Ives ("A Holly Jolly Christmas") and Dan Fogelberg ("Same Old Lang Syne").
In addition to co-writing "All I Want For Christmas Is You," Carey shares the writing credit on the Faith Hill hit "Where Are You Christmas?" Only one other songwriter has two songs on this list. Johnny Marks wrote both Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and Burl Ives' "A Holly Jolly Christmas."
These artists ranged widely in age when they recorded these holiday perennials. Gayla Peevey was just 10 in 1953 when she recorded "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas (Hippo The Hero)." Ives was 55 in 1964 when he recorded "A Holly Jolly Christmas."
Improbably, two of the artists who recorded these holiday classics died on Christmas Day. Dean Martin died on Dec. 25, 1995. Eartha Kitt, who sang "Santa Baby," died on the same day in 2008.
[Related: Film tops list of most-pirated movie of year]
Here are the 30 holiday songs that have sold the most digital copies, as calculated by Nielsen SoundScan.
1. Mariah Carey, "All I Want For Christmas Is You," 1,794,000. Carey was 24 in 1994 when she introduced this song on her album Merry Christmas. A remix featuring Jermaine Dupri and Lil Bow Wow was released in 2000.
2. Alvin & the Chipmunks, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," 780,000. This novelty smash topped the Hot 100 for four weeks in 1958. It won Grammys for Best Comedy Performance and Best Recording for Children. In 1962, it was featured on the album Christmas With The Chipmunks. A new version from the 2007 animated movie Alvin And The Chipmunks gave the song new life. (See The Fine Print, below.)
3. Trans-Siberian Orchestra, "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24")," 763,000. Savatage released this instrumental recording in 1995. The following year, Trans-Siberian Orchestra built an album (Christmas Eve And Other Stories) around the song and re-released the recording under its own name.
4. Trans-Siberian Orchestra, "Christmas Canon," 590,000. The ensemble introduced "Christmas Canon" on its 1998 album, The Christmas Attic. The song borrows the melody of Johann Pachelbel's "Canon In D Major." A rock version, dubbed "Christmas Canon Rock," appeared on its 2004 album The Lost Christmas Eve. (Nielsen/SoundScan's tally combines sales of the two versions.)
5. Brenda Lee, "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," 572,000. Lee was not quite 14 in 1958 when this song was released. It reached #14 in December 1960 and returned to the charts in each of the next two years. In 1964, it was featured on the album Merry Christmas From Brenda Lee. Alabama had a country hit with it in 1999.
6. Adam Sandler, "The Chanukah Song," 548,000. Sandler was 29 in 1995 when he introduced this good-natured song. It was a top 10 airplay hit that year. The following year, he attempted a brand extension with the moderately successful "The Thanksgiving Song."
7. Faith Hill, "Where Are You Christmas?," 535,000. Hill was 33 in 2000 when she sang this song on the soundtrack to Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Mariah Carey is credited with co-writing the song with James Horner and Will Jennings.
8. Jose Feliciano, "Feliz Navidad," 482,000. Feliciano was 25 in 1970 when he introduced this song. The song put a much-needed dash of spice in the holiday eggnog. Country star Clay Walker covered it in 2003.
9. Bobby Helms, "Jingle Bell Rock," 469,000. Helms was 22 in 1957 when he introduced this song. It reached #6 on the pop chart. The smash was featured in the 1992 movie Home Alone 2: Lost In New York and in the 1996 movie Jingle All The Way, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. Helms died in 1997.
10. Bing Crosby, "White Christmas," 451,000. Crosby was 39 in 1942 when he introduced this song in the movie Holiday Inn. It brought Irving Berlin an Oscar for Best Song. Crosby's version logged a total of 14 weeks at #1 in the '40s. It was the key track on his 1945 album Merry Christmas, which was the first holiday album to hit #1. Crosby died in 1977.
11. Nat "King" Cole, "The Christmas Song," 431,000. Cole was 27 in 1946 when The King Cole Trio introduced this song. It reached #3 on the pop chart. Cole recorded the most famous version in 1954 with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. A version by Mel Torme, who co-wrote the song, is #192 on the Nielsen/SoundScan list. Cole died in 1965.
12. Eartha Kitt, "Santa Baby," 428,000. Kitt was 26 in 1953 when she introduced this sexy song. It reached #4 on the pop chart. Madonna sang it on A Very Special Christmas in 1987, but I think even she would concede that it will always be Kitt's song. Kitt's version was featured in the 2003 movie Elf.
13. Wham!, "Last Christmas," 405,000. Wham! introduced this song in 1984, when the duo was at its peak. It was later included on Wham!'s 1986 album Music From The Edge Of Heaven.
14. Bruce Springsteen, "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town," 387,000. Bandleader George Hall introduced this song in 1934. The Boss was 26 in 1975 when he recorded the song. His version was released promotionally in 1981 and commercially in 1985 as the B side of the top 10 hit "My Hometown."
16. Thurl Ravenscroft, ""You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch," 369,000. Ravenscroft was 52 in 1966 when he sang this song in an animated TV special based on Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! Jim Carrey sang it in the 2000 movie version. Ravenscroft, who was also the voice of Tony the Tiger in commercials for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, died in 2005.
17. Josh Groban, "Believe," 366,000. Groban was 23 in 2004 when this song was featured in the Tom Hanks movie The Polar Express. It has sold more digital copies than any of the songs from Groban's smash 2007 holiday album Noel.
18. Burl Ives, "A Holly Jolly Christmas," 363,000. Ives was 55 in 1964 when this song was featured in the animated TV special Rudolph, The Red Nosed-Reindeer. Remarkably, this song is higher on the Nielsen/SoundScan list than that 1949 Gene Autry perennial, which ranks #57. Ives' album Have A Holly Jolly Christmas was released in 1965. Ives died in 1995.
19. Dean Martin, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," 349,000. Dino was 42 in 1959 when he included the song on his album A Winter Romance. Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban introduced the Frank Loesser song in the 1949 movie Neptune's Daughter. It became the second holiday song (after "White Christmas") to win an Academy Award.
21. Michael Buble, "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow," 314,000. Vaughn Monroe and his Orchestra introduced this song in 1945. The #1 smash was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, who later shared an Oscar for writing "Three Coins In The Fountain." Buble was 28 in 1993 when the song appeared on his EP, Let It Snow!
22. Dan Fogelberg, "Same Old Lang Syne," 309,000. Fogelberg was 29 in 1980 when this poignant story song reached the top 10 on the Hot 100. It later appeared on his 1981 album The Innocent Age. The singer-songwriter died nine days before Christmas in 2007.
23. U2, "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)," 297,000. Darlene Love introduced this song on the 1963 album Christmas Gift For You (From Philles Records), which was later reissued as Phil Spector's Christmas Album. U2 recorded the song on A Very Special Christmas in 1987.
24. John & Yoko The Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," 293,000. John Lennon was 31 and his wife Yoko Ono was 38 in 1971 when they recorded this rock classic. Phil Spector produced the recording. Lennon was shot to death a few weeks after Christmas 1980.
25. Newsong, "The Christmas Shoes," 291,000. The Christian pop group recorded this song on its 2000 album Sheltering Tree. The following Christmas, the group released an album with this as the title track.
26. Vince Guaraldi Trio, "Christmas Time Is Here," 289,000. Guaraldi was 33 in 1965 when the first Peanuts special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was first broadcast. The jazz musician died in 1976, but the special and the music from it will live forever.
27. Andy Williams, "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year," 288,000. Williams was not quite 35 in 1963 when he introduced this song on The Andy Williams Christmas Album. The song was co-written by George Wyle, who was music director on Williams' long-running TV variety show. Garth Brooks had a country hit with the song in 1999.
28. Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"/"We Three Kings," 268,000. Barenaked Ladies teamed with McLachlan to record this medley, which appeared on its cheekily titled 2004 album Barenaked For The Holidays. McLachlan was 36 when it was released. Bing Crosby and the Robert Shaw Chorale separately recorded both of these songs in the '40s.
29. Gayla Peevey, "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas (Hippo The Hero)," 264,000. Peevey was just 10 in 1953 (the same age that Jackie Evancho and Willow are now) when this novelty song made the top 30.
30. The Beach Boys, "Little Saint Nick," 254,000. The Beach Boys introduced this classic in 1963, seven months after they landed their first top 10 hit with "Surfin' U.S.A." It appeared on their 1964 album The Beach Boys' Christmas Album.
The Fine Print: My tally for "The Chipmunk Song" combines versions credited to the Chipmunks (#12, 423,000) and Alvin & the Chipmunks (#19, 357,000). Nielsen SoundScan lists them separately, but I think even chipmunks should get a break over the holidays.
Hat Tip: If you think I could have prepared this blog without consulting Joel Whitburn Presents Christmas In The Charts 1920-2004, you've been sipping too much spiked eggnog. Here's a link to Joel's site.
Two Links and A Wish: Last year, I wrote a blog which showed the best-selling Christmas album of each year of the Nielsen/SoundScan era. (If you missed it, here's a link.) Two years ago, I wrote a blog in which I listed the best-selling Christmas albums of all time, drawing on both Nielsen/SoundScan and RIAA certification data. (Here's a link to that blog.) I hope all three of these blogs help put you in the mood for the holidays. Happy holidays, everybody.
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