How deep are the roots of the ubiquitous Christmas album? Well, that depends on how deep you want to dig. Carols written in the vernacular date back to the 13th century in England but singing them was banned by an Act of Parliament in 1647. The act was rescinded by the royal restoration of the Stuarts in 1660, when King Charles celebrated Christmas by caroling along with the English people.
The origin of caroling and the carols themselves is different in different countries, and not necessarily religious. Secular Christmas songs in the United States date back to the mid 1800s, when songs like “Jingle Bells,” “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas,” and “Up on the Housetop” began to establish an American Christmas lexicon. The diverse religious makeup of the country has been no hindrance to the creation of an American Christmas songbook, with Jewish Americans composing more than half of the top 25 national Christmas songs. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is the most recorded, and Johnny Marks wrote 3 of the top 25!
Elvis Presley’s 1957 Christmas album really shook things up, drawing criticism from squares for supposedly degrading the classic songs. The King promised to “monkey” with all the traditionals except “Silent Night,” but the powers-that-be at CKXL Calgary decided that he had “panted” his way through that one too, and banned the whole album. Radio stations in Portland and Toronto followed suit, but the album was still #1 on the Billboard charts though the 1957 holiday season, buoyed by the most pre-orders RCA Records had yet seen, outpacing the original 200,000 records planned for the first pressing. Elvis’ Christmas Album remains the best selling holiday album of all time.
It’s a crowded field, too. Christmas music is inescapable in the month of December. Everyone puts out a Christmas album, from Suge Knight’s 1996 compilation Christmas on Death Row to Bob Dylan’s more recent Christmas in the Heart. Perhaps the best Christmas song of all time comes from an unlikely source. The Celtic punk band The Pogues recorded “Fairy Tale of New York” after their producer, Elvis Costello, bet that they couldn’t write a hit for the holidays. Now it’s the most popular holiday tune in the UK and Ireland. For the better part of a century, record companies have always found room for another Christmas record.
A lot of that classic holiday vinyl has found its way to Eco Relics, from Elvis to the classic Firestone Tires annual volumes. The box of holiday records at Eco Relics, in our Vintage Vinyl section, is a virtual history of the genre from the 1950s onward, and it’s surrounded by 50,000 square feet of potential Christmas presents and decorations for the discerning gift giver. So if you’re feeling in the holiday spirit, head on over and say hello!