Music History

What is the Most-Performed Holiday Song from the Last 100 Years? Think Carefully Before You Answer.

A no-brainer, right? It’s gotta be “White Christmas.” I mean, Wikipedia says the more than 100,000,000 copies of the song have been sold since it was first released in 1978.  It’s the biggest hit of the 78, LP, 45, 8-track, cassette, CD and MP3 era. Case closed.

Er, apparently not.

ASCAP, the American performing rights organization has been keeping track of how their members’ songs have been performed for a century. Given that this is the collective’s 100th anniversary, they’ve done some number crunching to determine the high points of their existence.

Under the heading of “most performed Christmas song” we have–ta dah!–“Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

The song was written by by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie for Eddie Cantor so he had something to sing during the 1934 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade broadcast.  That version (al0ng with several subsequent recordings) were total chart stiffs. But in 1957, Perry Como’s version became a hit. It has since morphed into a Christmas classic that’s been covered by most of the planet.  Springsteen, for example.

“White Christmas” isn’t even in third spot.  After “Santa” comes “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” written by Mel Torme and Robert Wells in 1944. Once Nat King Cole and his orchestra got hold of it in 1946, it caught fire and has since been covered hundreds of times.

It’s only we get to #3 that we find Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” And while it may the biggest-selling Christmas song (and one of the biggest-selling singles of all time), it’s not the most performed holday song. There’s a difference.

Here’s the full ASCAP list.

  1. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (1934 – Written by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie)
  2. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) (1944 – Written by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells)
  3. White Christmas (1941 – Written by Irving Berlin)
  4. Winter Wonderland (1934 – Written by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith)
  5. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (1944 – Written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin)
  6. Sleigh Ride (1948 – Written by Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish)
  7. Jingle Bell Rock (1958 – Written by Joseph Carleton Beal and James Ross Boothe)
  8. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949 – Written by Johnny Marks)
  9. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (1945 – Written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne)
  10. I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1943 – Written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent)
  11. Little Drummer Boy (1941 – Written by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone)
  12. Silver Bells (1950 – Written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston)
  13. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1958 – Written by Johnny Marks)
  14. Frosty the Snowman (1950 – Written by Steve Nelson and Walter E. Rollins)
  15. Blue Christmas (1964 – Written by Billy Hayes and Jay Johnson)
  16. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (1963 – Written by Edward Pola and George Wyle)
  17. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (1951 – Written by Meredith Willson)
  18. Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) (1947 – Written by Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman)
  19. Do You Hear What I Hear? (1962 – Written by Gloria Shayne Baker (SACEM) and Noël Regney (SACEM))
  20. Carol of the Bells (1904 – Written by Mykola Leontovych and Peter Wilhousky)
  21. Feliz Navidad (1970 – Written by Jose Feliciano)
  22. Have a Holly Jolly Christmas (1965 – Written by Johnny Marks)
  23. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1952 – Written by Tommy Connor (PRS))
  24. Last Christmas (1984 – Written by George Michael)
  25. Home for the Holidays (1954 – Written by Robert Allen and Al Stillman)
  26. Wonderful Christmastime (1979 – Written by Paul McCartney (PRS))
  27. Happy Holidays (from Holiday Inn) (1942 – Written by Irving Berlin)
  28. All I Want for Christmas Is You (1994 – Written by Walter Afanasieff and Mariah Carey (BMI))
  29. Santa Baby (1953 – Joan Javits, Philip Springer and Tony Springer (SOCAN))
  30. This Christmas (1970 – Written by Donny Hathaway and Nadine McKinnor)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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