Why are 1940s/early 1950s Christmas songs so popular?

I think there might have been a thread about this before, but I can’t find it.

I’m wondering just what is it about Christmas songs from the 1940s and 1950s that make them so popular 50 to 60 years after they were first written and performed. The only Christmas songs I seem to hear in most public places that date after the mid-1950s are novelty songs; otherwise, it’s just the crooners singing the classics. Is is nostalgia? Is there something about the crooning style that makes it more naturally suited to Christmas songs than rock, rap modern adult contemporary, acoustic singer-songwriter and other modern styles? Have we forgotten how to write and perform good Christmas songs?

FWIW, I’m Jewish. I’ve been listening to the Hanukkah station on Sirius on and off the past few days, and there’s a much greater variety of performance styles for Hanukkah songs than what I’m hearing for Christmas tunes.

I wonder if it’s because it was the first mass-market Christmas music widely broadcast by radio, and thus got a strong hold on the public imagination that it just happens to retains to this day? With a big dollop of nostalgia, too.

That was the height of the “Tin Pan Alley” era where there were people who WROTE songs for a living. This meant they did it well as those who did it poorly were tossed out fast enough.

Songwriters actually worked on things like getting songs to rhyme, making sure words were singable.

Look at songs like “Puttin’ On The Ritz” with things like

That’s where each and every lulu-belle goes
Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus
Rubbin’ elbows

Or from “That’s Entertainment”

OK that is cool. Maybe not the best line, but it shows a lot of effort to say it.

In the last 20 years other than Diane Warren, who’s been re-writing the same song every other year, there are no songwriters.

Back then the singers were just a tool. You look at songs like “The Tennessee Waltz” that song was in the first 4 places of the top charts by four different artists (I just happen to be reading a 40s music chart book yesterday)

So many artist back then gave their slant on a song.

So you had well written songs because the writers only had to answer to themselves. They didn’t have to sing and make videos and such.

Plus talented people produced more, because they weren’t paid millionaire wages.

I recall an interview with the Phyllis McGuire of the popular sister group, The McGuire Sisters (“Sugartime” and “Sincerely”) and she said they were very fortunate they DIDN’T make it right away as they came in right when singers started making the huge salaries, and had they made it right when they started, they would’ve made a pittance, compared to what they later did.

When people make more, they have less incentive to produce.

So it was a combo of good professional writers, with a lot of singers giving the unique slants to each record. This made for good music. The songs were also done quickly so this meant there was also a lot of bad songs as well.

Look at people like Britney Spears who has had five or six top ten hits and makes a reported one million dollars per month off of it. That’s a lot of money for someone who really hasn’t produced much music.

The period from about 1935 to about 1965 was when Christmas became what it largely is today in the U.S., a basically secular holiday with a strong streak of commercialism that everyone could celebrate. The notions that had to be fit into Christmas carols were firmly established: snowy weather, present-giving, Santa Claus, good will toward everyone, a nostalgia for what supposedly Christmas had been like a couple of generations before, etc. The Tin Pan Alley songwriters, at the height of their powers, worked to create songs that fit into this image. They wanted to make Christmas a holiday that everyone could enjoy. Some of the Tin Pan Alley songwriters were secular Jews, incidentally. The claim that some Christians today make that by doing things like saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” people are trying to get rid of Christmas gets it exactly turned around. Christmas was celebrated most universally in the U.S. during this period (1935 - 1965) because it was most divorced from its Christian connotations. It was after this period that people began talking more in public about the religious meanings of Christmas and other religious holidays around that time because they wanted to make it clear that Christmas and the other religious holidays really did have meanings in their respective faiths.

Melodies and lyrics were king at those times. So I believe the songs stand above this or that musical fad. They are crafted pieces of music. They are often surprisingly complex music with equally fascinating words. I just finished reading a very good biography of Irving Berlin. He took his writing of Christmas songs very seriously.

As others have offered, better written music. Also, much like comfort food(which isn’t exactly gourmet stuff), there’s just something comforting about them. Perhaps people’s emotions around the holidays need something comforting to cling to.

They seem to have struck a medium between more religious carols & the oft-inane pop Christmas songs of the 1960s onward. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, White Christmas, Silver Bells, Winter Wonderland, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts) are sentimental, nostalgic, comforting- and also ties in with the Greatest Generation mythos. We’d gone through war & depression and emerged victorious & prosperous so there’s always hope ahead.

My daughter just read a book about the song White Christmas, and as she told me, it was the first new x-mas song in decades - if not centuries. Prior to that, they were all traditional or religious. I didn’t reseach it, but off the top of my head I couldn’t come up with anything from the late 19th/early 20th century.

So, not to say why songs from the 30s-50s remain more popular than those written after, but for the period before, it may be that there wasn’t much competition.

I think that in addition to some of the points above, it’s because the style of popular music back then was sentimental and unironic, and Christmas songs fit naturally into that style. Later, pop music became more knowing and harder-edged, and writing cheerful Christmas songs was harder to do with a straight face, hence all the tongue-in-cheek novelty songs.

Hmm I wonder then, too, if song stylists didn’t get a little glint in their eye once “White Christmas” made a bunch of money, and started purposely writing Christmas songs because, as it turns out, Christmas songs were suddenly “in”.

What else is there, really? You have the country/ rednecks. You have the mournful single females (Sarah McLaughlin types). You have the novelty songs. You have Christmas songs (traditional) sung by more modern bands/singers, and they’re all right if you’re like 20, but they just don’t sound right, like Dean Martin and Andy Williams do. IMO. There’s so much Christmas music out there I would have no idea what to buy that’s newer - sometimes Entertainment Weekly recommends nice Christmas album compilations, and I take a chance on a new-agey or ren-faire mood music CD with really really ancient tunes - Coventry Carol, anyone?..Do they have rappers Christmas songs? I can’t think of anything that would end the party faster!!! :eek: Play that and grandma will be searching for her coat and car keys pronto.

I must say I’m surprised this year that Time Warner is not blasting Christmas songs 24/7 on the program guide channel. They’re playing their regular old people music with an instrumental Christmas song just wedged in here and there. Now how am I ever going to hear and hate (but in a good way) that Driving Home For Christmas (don’t know who sings it, probably some guy in a cowboy hat) or It’s a Marshmallow World by Johnny Mathis?

You’re comparing Christmas songs you hear in public places to Hanukkah songs you’re hearing on satellite radio. The songs they play in public places are going to be rather conservative because it’s meant to be innocuous background music that won’t offend anyone. So you’re going to hear the same holiday standards over and over again.

When I listen to Christmas stations on satellite radio, depending on the station of course, I generally hear quite a mix of music. Heck, I heard Pat-a-pan for the first time ever this year.

Musical quality is entirely subjective and so cannot be the explanation. After all, the rest of the music from that era has not maintained the same popularity despite being “better written.”

Rather, it’s the same reason radio stations still play 60s and 70s music 30-40 years later: It has been institutionalized as what the baby boomers want and/or expect to hear. Just like classic rock was the music of their teens, 40s-50s Christmas songs were the music of their childhood holidays.

I wonder if some of it wasn’t due to the War as well; it was a pretty sentimental time, and so many families weren’t together at Christmas.

A song called “Jingle Bells” (1857) did OK!

This could be it. The reason I like those songs is because they’re simple, the lines rhyme so it’s easy to remember the words, and there’s not much range, so I can sing along. They’ve become standards, like so many songs from that time period.

Slight hijack: I was surprised to learn that a lot of songs I knew when I was growing up were songs that originated on Broadway. I didn’t see a Broadway show until Hair, but thanks to TV shows like Ed Sullivan and Your Hit Parade, I knew those songs. Nowadays the only place you’ll hear Broadway music is Broadway.

I’m not sure I’d go that far. Off the top of my head, among more recent songs heard all too often in public, I can think of Jingle Bell Rock (1957), Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1958), Happy XMAS/War is Over (1969), Step Into Christmas (1973), Feliz Navidad (1973), Wonderful Christmas Time (1979), and Band Aid (1984).

But you’re right, one hears way more 1930-through-1955 songs at Christmas time than at any other time of the year. (How often do you walk into a store and hear Glen Miller?) Earlier music went out of style for the other 11 months, but not at Christmas. I guess it’s for all the reasons mentioned upthread–war, nostalgia, sentiment. People who shun crooning at other times don’t shun it at Christmas.

I agree with Wendell Wagner completely. In particular, Christmas is about nostalgia. You hear the same recordings of the same songs year after year because that’s what Christmas sounded like when we were kids. The image of Christmas is all about recapturing the joy and innocence of youth when we believed in Santa, and reindeer really knew how to fly, and stuff.

The more Christmas feels like it did when we were children the happier we are.

But from the Atlantic to Pacific, the traffic was terrific!

Or did that mean the traffic flow was terrific in the view of a driver because there so few cars on the road thanks to gas rationing, not that there was a terrific number of cars on the road? Oh well … the language was different then.

One meaning of “terrific” is very “great or intense.” Your first thought there would normally be expressed as "the lack of traffic was terrific (=wonderful).