Christmas albums have a long tradition in pop culture. Various successful artists have already tried their hand at concept albums for the holiday season. As is always the case, with varying success. Of course, not everyone can create something great. Hitting the right musical note to get you in the festive spirit, whilst spreading joy and cheer, plus providing the perfect accompaniment to your Christmas meal is certainly no easy task.
A Christmas album. Why do it?
Kylie Minogue has made one, The Killers, Michel Bublé, Robbie Williams, Lady Gaga... even heavy metal veterans Twisted Sister took (a little less) time to reflect with “Twisted Christmas.” One of the most successful Christmas albums of the last 30 years is undoubtedly “Merry Christmas” by Mariah Carey, which has sold almost 6 million copies since its release in 1994.
But what drives artists to go to the studio in midsummer, to decorate the recording room in kitsch and to sing about reindeer and kisses under the mistletoe? Are they doing it for the money? Artistic fulfillment? Most of them say they just wanted to have a bit of fun. Of course, when the tour for the last big album is over, but the next album is still a long way off, Christmas tunes could seem like a good way to keep the momentum going and the voice finely tuned—and give your fans an extra special festive gift.
And don’t underestimate the fact that fans will be playing—and purchasing—that Christmas album again and again for years to come, over dinner, while exchanging gifts and to get in the mood for celebrating with loved ones. A Christmas album is certainly a safe bet for musicians when it comes to saving for their retirement.
Difficult to endure but easy on the stomach
Of course, not every album is an artistic statement, and not every recording a groundbreaking achievement in the music industry. If you want to please your fans, all you need is around 12 Christmas songs and an album cover featuring plenty of snowflakes and red costumes. You can play it safe with slightly underwhelming arrangements of the traditional tunes, or one or two original compositions and cover versions that are not too far removed from the popular original. The proportion of kitsch, trash and cheese is usually very high, while artistic freedom is usually nil.
Anything that blends into the background as you enjoy a leisurely meal with the family and uplifts without being nausea-inducing has a good chance of being re-released the following year. Or you could really mix it up and take the concept of Christmas to the point of absurdity, where other than the song titles there is absolutely nothing reminiscent of Christmas. This is how fun punk or heavy metal bands like to do it: Think metal horns rather than love hearts. However, these unfestive spirits are likely to be relegated to a corner with their headphones by the rest of the family.
The long tradition of Christmas pop
The classics that should feature on every Christmas pop album include Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and White Christmas (the most successful single in the world to date). All songs that were made in the 1930s. But why this era?
These songs and albums were all created in the time of the Great Depression. In the bad times, more so than ever, people feel the need to focus on their families, to cut themselves off from the outside world (today we might call this cocooning) and to leave their worries behind. So it’s no wonder that all the classics were created in this difficult decade. In addition, the 20s and 30s had a very strong influence on pop culture. The modern era influenced music, jazz was replaced by pop, classical music gave way to new song structures that couldn’t help but get the toes tapping, the recording technology made music accessible to the middle classes in their masses. Radio became the gateway to the world. Music became an industry. The music that was written for the festive season was now easier to reproduce and circulate to living rooms across the globe—and very soon the whole world knew the Christmas songs.
As a rule, Christmas albums are launched at the end of October, so that they can spend a few weeks in the charts during the Christmas shopping period and the singles can be heavily featured on the radio. And this year, we can expect new contenders for the Christmas crown from popular artists such as Dolly Parton, Meghan Trainor and Carrie Underwood, as well alternative rock band the GooGoo Dolls.
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