HomeListsTop Christmas Singles circa 1984

Top Christmas Singles circa 1984

Billboard magazine published a top ten list* of Christmas albums and singles in their December 22, 1984 issue. This singles list was a mix of classic favorites, contributions from former Beatles, and a couple of new releases. There were also two novelty tunes that wouldn’t fade away, no matter how much I Christmas-wished it. (Consider yourself warned.) Now, in inverse order, let’s guzzle some eggnog and dive on down the chimney-time machine back to jolly ole ’84:

*based on sales reports, not radio airplay

“Wonderful Christmastime” – Paul McCartney

Released 1979

Recorded by Sir Paul during recording sessions for his McCartney II album, this upbeat single didn’t receive much attention after its initial release, but slowly gained ground over the next few years and has been a holiday staple ever since. Some people love it (me) and some people have grown tired of it (my wife), but chances are quite good I could flip on a radio station today and hear it at least once. I guarantee McCartney likes it: a 2010 Forbes magazine article estimated that the tune brings in between $400,000 to $600,000 in royalties a year.

“Happy Xmas (War is Over)” – John Lennon

Released 1971

Back-to-back Beatles! A collaboration with wife Yoko Ono and the Harlem Community Choir, this single remains as popular, if not more so, than the above effort by former mate McCartney. Written by Lennon as a protest tune against the war in Vietnam, it was taken to soaring heights by famed “Wall of Sound” producer Phil Spector who added the massive choir singing backing vocals, plenty of guitar, orchestra, and percussion to the waltz. I love to sing along. [Editor’s note: It’s inspirational, but beneath the hopeful choir lurks the hard truth that war is a choice in which we are all complicit.]

“Blue Christmas”  – Elvis Presley

Released 1964

This song had its beginnings back in a 1948 recording by country singer Doye O’Dell. Then for his 1957 Christmas album, Elvis took it in an entirely different direction, adding backing tracks that owe quite a bit to Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” which was a popular tune around the time of this recording. Interestingly, Elvis wasn’t a fan of the song and didn’t want to record it, reportedly muttering “Let’s just get this over with” as recording sessions began. Nevertheless, Elvis nailed it and it’s become seminal holiday classic.

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” – Brenda Lee

Released 1958

Composer Johnny Marks wrote his fair share of Christmas classics, including “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Run Rudolph Run,” and this tune, made famous in a recording by Brenda Lee. Originally released in 1958 when Lee was just 13 years old, it didn’t become popular until 1960, once she had become an established act. Since then, it has become one of the biggest Christmas songs of all time. While it’s been covered by artists from Justin Bieber to Green Day, most stations still opt for the original Brenda Lee version. Wise move.

“Winter Wonderland” – Dolly Parton

Released 1984

This was a current release in 1984. The single is actually a medley of holiday tunes, featuring “Sleigh Ride.” The song originally appeared on a collaborative album between Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, but this is all Dolly. The album was produced by David Foster – who was also working with Chicago, The Tubes, and Barbra Streisand around this time – and his arrangements and instrumentation are almost immediately identifiable. That makes this single a combination of soft rock electric piano and country twang. I have no idea why this works, but it does.

“Another Lonely Christmas” – Prince

Released 1984

Another 1984 release, this tune was actually the b-side to Prince’s latest single, “I Would Die For You,” which was #32 and rising on the Hot 100 the week of this Christmas chart. Music-wise, it fits in perfectly with the rest of 1984’s smash Purple Rain album, particularly the title track. Lyrics-wise, this is a devastating tune about a lover who dies on Christmas Day.

“Jingle Bell Rock” – Bobby Helms

Released 1957

Much like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” this is another rockabilly classic from the 1950s, the decade when the musical term “rock” hit the mainstream. Coincidentally, guitarist Hank Garland played on the recordings of both “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” There’s controversy on exactly who should receive writing credit for this tune, but there’s no controversy surrounding its lasting legacy – 65 years and still goin’ strong. Between the background vocals from the Anita Kerr Quartet and Garland’s fretwork, it’ll get you up and moving and lift your holiday spirits.

“Jingle Bells” – Singing Dogs

Released 1955

Mercifully brief at only 100 seconds long, this novelty tune was the brainchild of Danish recording engineer Carl Weismann and record producer Don Charles. I’m sure the recording technology involved was cutting edge in the mid-’50s, but thankfully the popularity of this version of “Jingle Bells” has waned over the decades. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I heard it. No surprise, as it topped a 2007 Washington Post poll of most hated Christmas songs. Happy howl-adays.

“White Christmas” – Bing Crosby

Released 1942

This, the best-selling single of all time, was doing just fine in 1984, and I assume it’s still doing just swell in 2022. Legendary composer Irving Berlin wrote the song for inclusion in the classic 1942 film Holiday Inn. The composition went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Der Bingle all the way. Classic.

“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” – Elmo n’ Patsy

Released 1979

This irritating story song was sadly a huge hit in the mid-’80s into the ’90s. It did so well that it inspired an animated Christmas television special in 2000. I will admit that it’s a clever idea to have a bass voice enter right after we hear the call to “Sing it, Grandma!” In the video below, contrary to the single, Grandma emerges from the chimney at the end to offer up the advice that “they should never give a license to a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves.” Wait. Is it like a commercial license? Does Santa have to go to the DMV or can he do it online?

38 years later, most of these tunes can still be heard on the airwaves and in holiday playlists. It’s a bit surprising that “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” recorded by the super group Band Aid didn’t make the list, but it had just been released on 3 December 1984. And lest we forget that ’80s diva (and self-proclaimed queen of Christmas) Mariah Carey was lurking backstage plotting to release “All I Want for Christmas is You” ten years later. Nevertheless, these ten Merry Christmas songs endure and connect us with an idyllic Christmas spirit. So, whatever holiday tradition you observe, you’ll find the tunes on this list to be both holly and jolly.


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