Michael Buble has sold over 10 million copies globally of his 2011 Christmas album. Mariah Carey has sold more than 15 million of her album from 1994. And the biggest selling Christmas single of all time is Big Crosby’s version of “White Christmas,” which, as close as anyone can guess, has sold somewhere north of 10o million copies. (For more mind-boggling Christmas album sales numbers, go here.)
This teaches us that if you can come up with a Christmas song or album, you have the potential to see royalty cheques from the usage of those songs pretty much forever. But how do you go about writing an evergreen hit Christmas song?
The blog behind The USA Songwriting Competition tries to answer that very question.
Imagine receiving airplay and earning income from a song year after year and having that same song be recorded by multiple artists over a span of decades. That is what can happen with a holiday-themed song. For many songwriters and music publishers, landing a holiday recording that becomes the next “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” or “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” is the greatest gift they could hope for.
While Christmas is likely the first thing that comes to mind when you think about holiday songs, there have been successful songs that relate to other holidays, as well. It would hardly be New Year’s Eve without Auld Lang Syne, and there are Valentine’s Day songs, songs played on Cinco de Mayo, Chanukah favorites, and St. Patrick’s Day songs, such as those recorded by the Irish Rovers and other artists from the Emerald Isle. There are also songs that are associated with patriotic holidays, and of course, birthday songs.
Michael Jackson’s recording of “Thriller” is sure to be heard toward the end of every October, as is “The Time Warp,” from the soundtrack of “The Rocky Horror Show.” But the song most closely associated with Halloween is the “The Monster Mash” (written by Bobby Pickett and Leonard Capizzi and recorded by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers). Peaking at #1 when it was released in 1962, the song has charted three subsequent times since its initial release and has been covered by artists including Sha Na Na and the Beach Boys, continuing to generate income for decades.
Trivia buffs might enjoy knowing that legendary songwriter and recording artist Leon Russell played piano on the original recording of “The Monster Mash.” Other Halloween perennials include Danny Elfman’s “This is Halloween” (from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London,” (Zevon, Leroy Marinell, Robert Wachtel).
Lee Greenwood’s signature song, “God Bless the U.S.A.” (written and performed by Greenwood) was first released in 1984, peaking at #7 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart. Greenwood’s recording of the song was re-released and gained a bigger audience during the Gulf War and following 9/11. The recording charted a second time, reaching #16 on the Billboard Pop chart and #12 on the Adult Contemporary chart, amassing sales of more than one million copies.
American Idol’s Season 2 finalists recorded a cover version of “God Bless the U.S.A.” that reached #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and was certified “Gold” for selling more than 500,000 copies. Numerous artists, including Beyoncé, have released or performed versions of the song, establishing it as a true holiday standard, and Greenwood’s version receives extensive airplay and live performances during every patriotic holiday, such as Veteran’s Day, the 4th of July, and Memorial Day, as well as at political rallies. Miley’s Cyrus’ recording of “Party in the U.S.A.” (written by Claude Kelly, Dr. Luke and Jessie J) is likely to receive airplay on the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve for many years to come.