Roy Williams has written and blogged extensively at MondayMorningMemo.com about his theory of a forty-year pendulum. His theory suggests that North American society is on a journey that regularly shifts from self-focused idealists eras to community-driven civic eras. This journey is on a forty-year cycle, which Williams says can be seen when looking at trends in pop-culture.
I believe there is another forty-year cycle that can be seen in pop-culture. More specifically when it comes to the Christmas music we are bombarded with every year. It may be due to Roy Williams’s forty-year pendulum theory or it could be for some other reason, but the most popular Christmas songs seem to be released every 40 years.
The 1940’s are considered to be the most popular decade for Christmas music. During that time we saw holiday recordings first being released by the likes of Nate King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, who’s version of “White Christmas” (which debuted in the 1942 film “Holiday Inn”), would go on to be the biggest-selling single worldwide of all time. Written by Irving Berlin in 1940 “White Christmas” is believed to be the most recorded Christmas song. There has been more than 500 recorded versions of the song.
The 40’s brought us more than just popular artists singing Christmas music. Some of the most popular Christmas songs were written and first released in the 40’s. “The Christmas Song” (1946), “White Christmas” (1940), “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (1944), “Sleigh Ride” (1948), “Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer” (1949), “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” (1945) and “I’ll Be Home ForChristmas” (1943).
You might be thinking, well I know those songs are popular, but that doesn’t make the 1940s the most popular decade for Christmas music. Well, I actually have some proof. In 2014 ASCAP published a list the most performed holiday songs of all time, using data from radio, TV and internet sources and one of the things that came out of this study was which decades yield the most popular Christmas songs. See the results below. CLICK HERE to read article.
Now if you jump ahead 40 years from the 1940’s, that brings us to the 1980’s. According ASCAP’s research, the 1980’s were one of the least popular years for Christmas music, but I believe if ASCAP was to do the same study again today, they would see a significant difference. In the past 2 years we have seen a surge in the popularity of 1980’s Christmas music.
Song’s like “Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney (1986) , “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by BandAid (1984), The Eurythmics’ version of “Winter Wonderland” (1987), David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth” (1982) and “The 12 Days Of Christmas” by Bob & Doug Mackenzie (1981) are typically in high rotation on radio holiday play lists. In the past couple of years, we’ve heard a number of versions of WHAM’s “Last Christmas” (1986) on the radio, including versions by Arianna Grande, Carly Rae Jespen, The Cast of Glee, Taylor Swift and this year Avril Lavigne even released a version. On top of all that, the WHAM version still gets it own handful of spins during the holiday season.
The 1980’s also saw a large number of classic Christmas albums being released. Some of the biggest Christmas albums from that decade include Boney M’s Christmas Album (1981) (also released a second time during the 80’s as Christmas With Boney M. (1984)), Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton’s “Once Upon A Christmas” (1984), The Carpenters “Christmas Collection” (1984) and the compilation “A Very Special Chirstmas” (1987) which featured traditionally overplayed Christmas tracks from Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Madonna and more.
Another factor that contributed to the 1980’s Christmas music popularity was what I like to call the rise of the ironically less popular Christmas songs. Alternative Christmas songs you might even say. These are songs that may not be considered popular by the general public, but are popular in their own right amongst either fans of the artists or people just looking for something different to listen to during the holiday season. The Pogues, “Fairy Tale Of New York” (1988), and RUN DMC’s “Christmas In Hollis” (1987).
What made these two decade’s Christmas music more popular than other decades is hard to ascertain. A bit of nostalgia most likely has bit of impact on keeping the music from these era’s popular. The 1980’s also brought us a slew of great Christmas movies that are still popular and watched annually during the holiday season. Baby Boomers would’ve grown up hearing the Christmas classics from the 40’s and Generation X and even the millennial generation grew up with the songs from the 80’s on the radio at Christmas.
Roy Williams theory on the forty-year pendulum could also be a factor and if it is, 40 years from 1980 is 2020, which isn’t too far away. Will that decade join 1940 and 1980 as a decade that produces some very popular Christmas music? Can we see factors today that could lead to Roy Williams’ theory being correct come 2020? It’s hard to say…but one thing I do know, I hope by 2020 there’s some new Christmas music that is better than Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe”