Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Does your Granny always tell you that the old songs are the best?

Fellow transatlantic expat blogger Betsy Transatlantically recently posted a run down of the worst Christmas songs ever. Reading it set off a little (sleigh) bell in my mind. Remember this chart from XKCD?

Randall Munroe of XKCD's analysis of the USA's favorite Christmas tunes

This is totally alien to me. Or it was until I spent my first Christmas in the USA, and it struck me how old-timey American Christmases are. As a Brit I know all of these songs, but it's not what I grew up listening to on the radio during the festive season.

So I had to do a little experiment. I've recreated Randall's graph with recent data for both the UK and the USA:

USA is comprised of boomers and the UK is comprised of beatnik punks?
My own analysis of the UK and USA's favorite Christmas music 2010-2012
A little word about the data: I used ASCAP's data for 2012, and PRS for Music's data for 2010 - 2012. I know this doesn't stand up to scientific scrutiny, but I swear this will probably be the only time I'm recreating a graph based on work by Randall Munroe.

The point is that I was right: Christmas in the USA is very old-timey. The UK isn't all that modern either, but I find this utterly fascinating.  It says a lot to me about American and British culture.

I do think I'm reading too much into this, but at the same time I have a hunch about these countries' respective cultures. Much of modern US culture leaped into being during the 1950s, and many of the things we associate as 'American' can be attributed to this time - the food, media, habits and lifestyle.

The UK is slightly different. My husband suggested that the USA clings more to heritage because it has less history to draw from, whereas the UK is a much older country with a huge historical repertoire to cite when it comes to tradition, so perhaps it's a little more confident to go with the flow.

But that, to me, doesn't explain why the UK is stuck in the 1970s and 80s with regards to Christmas tunes. I'd love to postulate that it could be related to the way the UK responded to the economic crises of the 1970s and 80s. I'm a big fan of the art and culture (especially movies) that resulted from this period in the UK.

But to come to that conclusion I'd have to look at the popular Christmas radio songs in the UK before the 1980s, and find the tipping point for when British Christmas musical tastes really changed. And I'm not going to do that right now.

Instead I'm going to watch old Top of the Pops Christmas re-runs and dance like Shakin' Stevens for a bit while my husband looks on without comprehension.

The questions now are: What's your favorite Christmas song and when was it released? What will our kids listen to? And if I raised my kids on 1980s Christmas tunes would they turn out to be cultural misfits?

Title of this blog post is a lyric from the greatest Christmas song ever, Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody.

PS - I have a guest post over at the wonderful Grits and Moxie today, where I talk about another cute UK Christmas tradition!


  1. "doesn't explain why the UK is stuck in the 1970s and 80s..." Haven't you seen Life on Mars? It's time travel. Or a coma. Or something? :P.

    Interesting data though! Canadian radios have officially been overtaken by christmas music, and right now I much prefer to read it than listen to it.... unless it's Christmas Wrapping (1981), then I'll put that shit on repeat aaaalll day. Haha!


    1. Hahaha!

      I'm so glad you commented though, because I did try to find relevant data for Canada. Which decade is Canada stuck in?

      Australia is a different case altogether because it's summer over there and they have songs abut Christmas BBQs etc.

      Eastern Europe would be an interesting case study, assuming they missed out on the 1950s AND the 1970s tunes.

  2. Hey Gill, I think the reason the uk's stuck in the 70s and 80s as since then bands have stopped making them (Notable exceptions include The Darkness, Bob Dylan, Malcolm Middleton and The Bouble) But seriously the spice girls had three non christmassy christmas number ones, x-factor winners and novelty records fill up most of the years. and if someone does make a christmas album then it'll doubtless be covers.

    And the best christmas songs of all time are: everyone's a kid at christmas time by Stevie WOnder, Gaudete by Steeleye span, The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to holliwood and Mrs Santaclause by nat king cole. The saddest though is The Little Boy that Santa Clause Forgot.

    I think i'm done

    1. Great point re: X Factor. That's probably the nail on the head there.

      I knew you'd have great record suggestions as well. I can't wait until the day 'Music For Pleasure' record company releases seasonal mix tapes ;)

    2. Not quite an album, but here's one i made earlier. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubeVUnGQOIk&list=PLB41B4BF1538DC749

  3. Replies
    1. Hehe, thank you. That is high praise indeed ;)

  4. this is SO COOL. I cannot tell you how much I love graphs! (you should see what I made when I was researching the likelihood of rain on our wedding day in Suffolk - I kept it off the blog because I didn't want to scare people away. haha!)

    Fairytale of New York is one of Jon's favorites - but I don't know most of the other UK ones!

  5. You bring up some really good ponts here. I think there is something about Bing Crosby and Elvis and what not and those Christmases like 'the ones we used to know' that Americans rely on.

    That being said, the She & Him christmas album will be my fave forever. Or at least a long while

    <3 katherine
    of corgis and cocktails

  6. wow this is such an interesting post! Never thought about the songs in this way...
    Every year, we jam some favorites but I do wonder what the next generation will like...