Slippin’ Into ’72

Last year we examined Billboard‘s special Christmas charts for 1966 and 1967, a period that’s a golden age for holiday music. The charts listed albums and singles by the dozens, even if many of them were releases from earlier years back for another go-round. Billboard discontinued its special “Best Bets for Christmas” chart after 1972 (before reviving it briefly in the mid 80s), so let’s take a look at the charts for that final season 40 years ago.

Billboard published Christmas charts in the issues dated December 9, 16, and 23. For the first two weeks, the album chart contains 14 positions; for the last week, it has 16. (The rationale for this comes from a retailer of 1972 who points out that Christmas music sales peak in the five days before Christmas Day. I suspect that’s not true anymore, given the way we rush the season now, but I dunno.) A different album tops the chart each week. On the 9th, it’s Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, released a year earlier, the first album of Christmas music from the King since Elvis’ Christmas Album in 1957. Later editions of the album included “Blue Christmas” from 1957, but the only truly classic performance on Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas is his cover of “Merry Christmas Baby.” On the 16th, Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song, back for a 10th Christmas season, moves into the top spot. On the 23rd, The Jackson Five Christmas Album takes over #1 in its third year out.

Other notable albums to chart at Christmas 1972: A Partridge Family Christmas Card, which had come out the year before; Noel by Joan Baez, which is incorrectly listed as Oh Bambino during the week of December 9; and Handel’s Messiah by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Making single-week appearances on the December 23 chart: The Temptations’ Christmas Card and The Phil Spector Christmas Album, a re-release of the 1963 classic (previously titled A Christmas Gift to You) featuring the Ronettes, Crystals, and others, which was newly released for 1972 on Apple Records.

The Christmas singles list is topped for the week of December 9, 1972, by the Singing Dogs version of “Jingle Bells,” first released in 1955 but a bigger hit at Christmas 1971. (Learn how the song came to be and about its surprising impact here.) It would be taken out the next week by the 1960 recording “Please Come Home for Christmas,” credited to Charlie Brown, although they’re referring to bluesman Charles Brown—a record that had not appeared on the singles chart the previous week. Brown would fall behind Nat King Cole and “The Christmas Song” during the third and final week of the 1972 Christmas season.

Also on the list 40 years ago this Christmas: Cheech & Chong’s “Santa Claus and His Old Lady,” released in 1971, and a couple of songs that never get on the radio anymore but probably should: the somber “Gift of Giving” by Bill Withers and Leon Russell’s “Slippin’ Into Christmas.” Apart from the re-released Spector album, the latter are the only other 1972 releases, single or album, to chart that year, as far as I can tell. The Withers and Russell records each came during the best year either man ever had. Withers had scored the #1 hit “Lean on Me” and “Use Me” in 1972, both from the album Still Bill, while Russell had the biggest hits of his career with the album Carney and the single “Tight Rope.”

Few of the albums to place at Christmas of 1972 seem to be in much demand today—the Nat album, Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas, and Barbra Streisand’s Christmas album are the only ones you see much in stores anymore, and radio stations rarely play much from the others. But several of the singles are still hot: “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” “Merry Christmas Darling,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “White Christmas.” They’re on the radio right now, someplace, probably in your town.

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