Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: One of the Sirius satellite oldies channel dee jays played “The Chipmunk Song,” then followed it by saying it is the only Christmas record ever to be the nation's No. 1 hit on Christmas day.

If true, that is utterly amazing! With so many holiday million sellers, it's hard to imagine they either didn't make it to No. 1, or did but not on December 25th.

Please make some sense out of this for me.
—Darlene Watson, Deming, N.M.

DEAR DARLENE: To be truly accurate, the announcer could have said: Since 1948, “The Chipmunk Song” is the only Christmas song to be No. 1 on Christmas day.

Although, I suppose it is reasonable to think listeners would appreciate an amazing Chipmunk factoid, one reflecting over 60 years of recordings. It obviously sparked your curiosity.

First came Spike Jones and His City Slickers, atop the chart December 25, 1948 with “All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth).”

The next time, and the last, is when David Seville and his Chipmunks (Alvin, Theodore, Simon) held the No. 1 position for four weeks, beginning December 22, 1958.

Between Jones and Seville are a couple of hits that came mighty close:

Gene Autry missed December 25th by a few days in 1949, but still reached No. 1 with “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Jimmy Boyd did the same with “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” in 1952.

Moreover, not since “The Chipmunk Song” has any real Christmas song even reached the Top 10 on Billboard's Hot 100.

One significant sidebar involves some arbitrary years, mostly from 1963 through '73, when, for four weeks (mid-December to mid-January) Billboard relegated Christmas singles and albums to a completely separate section. Over the years, the title of this feature changed four times: “Christmas Records”; “Top Christmas Sellers”; “Best Bets for Christmas”; and “Christmas Hits.”

Cash Box, meanwhile, continued to rank holiday hits among their regular Top 100.

Billboard's section for Christmas records was geared to retailers and coin machine operators, and most of the listings were “catalog” titles — perennial favorites of years past.

Recapping familiar Christmas product with some selected new releases added is fine, but this service could have been accomplished without completely eliminating holiday music from the esteemed Hot 100.

Were this ill-advised plan in effect in 1958, “The Chipmunk Song” would have sold millions of records without even being regarded as smash hit it was.

Nevertheless, I do not believe any of the singles denied a chart opportunity by the Christmas format would have reached No. 1 anyway.

I chose some examples of singles that, if they were eligible, would have probably made the Billboard Hot 100. As an analogous reference, the Cash Box Top 100 peak position of each is given:

1963: Brook Benton, “You're All I Want for Christmas” (59); Bing Crosby, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (66); Beach Boys, “Little Saint Nick” (69); Andy Williams, “White Christmas” (81); Alan Sherman, “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas” (93).
1965: Jim Reeves, “Snow Flake” (58).
1967: Royal Guardsmen, “Snoopy's Christmas” (10); Becky Lamb, “Little Becky's Christmas Wish” (59); Lou Rawls, “The Little Drummer Boy” (78).
1970: Carpenters, “Merry Christmas Darling” (41).
1971: John & Yoko with the Plastic Ono Band, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” (36).
1972: Singing Dogs, “Jingle Bells” (72); Leon Russell, “Slipping into Christmas” (94).
1973: Elton John, “Step into Christmas” (56).

Billboard's intent during the years of the separate Christmas listings was to not include holiday records among their Hot 100; however, a couple apparently slipped through the cracks.

In mid-December 1963, the “National Breakout” tune (i.e., highest debut of any new single), Roy Orbison's “Pretty Paper,” began a seven week chart ride eventually peaking at No. 15. It was the only Christmas song on the Pop chart that season, but was reassigned to the Christmas section in December '64.

The same thing happened in 1973 with Merle Haggard's “If We Make It Through December.” Even though Christmas is mentioned twice in the lyrics, this one is more about December, and getting through the winter.

Appropriately, it did well on all three regular charts (Country, Pop, and Easy Listening), plus is in the 1973 Christmas section.

“If We Make It Through December” is the only record ever to appear on all four of those surveys in the same year.

IZ ZAT SO? Today's Christmas singles topic is bound to inspire the same inquiry regarding albums, so let's meet it head-on.

On December 16, 1957, when “Elvis' Christmas Album” began a four week residency at No. 1, it marked the first time a Christmas LP (long play) topped the charts on Christmas day.

It would also be the last time for that rare amalgamation. It never happened again!

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