There’s a secret to having a Christmas record that is successful in the 21st century: Put it out before 1970.
That’s clear from just looking at the top 10 songs each December, and knowing that Brenda Lee‘s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first two weeks of this month. The song that supplanted it on the most recent chart, Mariah Carey‘s “All I Want for Christmas,” is considered the relative newbie of holiday classics, but even it has its feet firmly planted in a previous millennium.
But ASCAP has been doing its part to promote the idea that more contemporary records are able to find at least some traction during the season. To that end, the performing rights organization has been publishing a list it calls the Top 10 ASCAP New Classic Holiday Songs of the Year — recognizing only compositions that have a copyright date from 20 years ago or less — along with its regular annual ranking of all Christmas songs that have ASCAP members among the writers.
Kelly Clarkson tops this particular top 10 with “Underneath the Tree,” a co-write from Greg Kurstin from her 2013 Christmas album. She also has a second song on the list, “Santa Can’t You Hear Me,” from her followup holiday album of 2021, this one placing at No. 7.
Two Christmas songs that were released this year made the “new classics” list: “DJ Play a Christmas Song,” recorded by Cher and written by Sarah Hudson and Leland, and “Wrap Me Up” by Jimmy Fallon, Gian Stone and Meghan Trainor. (See the full lists, below.)
But when it comes to the list of the top 25 songs overall, with copyright dates stretching back into antiquity, “Underneath the Tree” barely squeaks onto that list, at No. 25. And Cher, Fallon, et al. don’t place at all, pitted against the likes of the chestnuts performed by Lee, Carey, Burl Ives, etc. So it’s clear that coming up with new holiday material — even the most successful tunes of the new crop — is far from an automatic ticket to Christmas riches.
The top ASCAP holiday song overall is the Meredith Wilson-penned “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” which dates back to 1951.
Meanwhile, the two songs that are dominating the Billboard Hot 100 this year rank lower on ASCAP’s in-house list. “Rockin’ Around” is at No. 7 and the Carey tune is at No. 9.
How does “It’s Beginning…” get so far ahead of the Billboard chart leaders? ASCAP doesn’t offer any explanation for that in releasing these lists, but it’s presumed that this year, as in past years, the cutoff date for the data is early in December — which would seem to favor a track that pivots on the key phrase “beginning to look,” making it a perfect choice for AC stations that are flipping to an all-Christmas format the day after Thanksgiving.
ASCAP offers a playlist of its “new classics” here and another one of its overall holiday list here.
The two charts:
THE TOP 10 ASCAP NEW CLASSIC HOLIDAY SONGS OF 2023:
THE TOP 25 ASCAP HOLIDAY SONGS OF 2023: