(Pictured: in 1970, the Jackson Five had so much swag they didn’t need Santa to bring them a thing.)
In 2011 and 2012, I wrote a handful of posts about Billboard‘s Christmas charts for 1966, 1967, and 1972. Thanks to the extensive run of Billboard issues available at American Radio History, I can go back to that well again, and back to 1970.
Billboard begins listing “Best Bets for Christmas” in the issue dated December 5, 1970, but the list contains only albums. A list of Christmas singles doesn’t appear until the week of December 19th. The Jackson Five top both charts; their Christmas album and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” were both new that year. The #2 album of the week was also new for 1970: Christmas Album by Bobby Sherman.
(Seven of the 30 albums on the chart are listed with the title Christmas Album: besides the Jacksons and Sherman, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Dean Martin, and Paul Mauriat used the title. Honorable mentions go to Elvis’ Christmas Album, Jim Nabors’ Christmas Album, and A Christmas Album by Barbra Streisand. Another popular Christmas album title, Merry Christmas, appears three times, by Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, and the Supremes, with another honorable mention for Henry Mancini’s A Merry Mancini Christmas.)
Among the other new releases for 1970 are the album The Temptations’ Christmas Card and the single “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Country star Charley Pride’s Christmas in My Home Town is new as well, as is the soundtrack from the movie Scrooge, which stars Albert Finney and Alec Guinness. A Christmas Festival by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops is a new release, but only three of its nine tracks are new; the rest are reissues from the 1965 album Pops Christmas Party. A Capitol Records compilation titled Peace on Earth is new, but it includes previously released material from Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Glen Campbell, the Lettermen, the Beach Boys, and others.
Another of the new-charting albums for Christmas 1970 is Christmas With Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass. Davis mixed horns with country music, and he charted on the Billboard 200 eight times between 1969 and 1972, not counting this Christmas album, which was limited to the Christmas chart. Although we listened to plenty of the Nashville Brass at our house—my parents were big, big fans—I don’t recall the Christmas album being part of Mom and Dad’s collection. The Nashville Brass version of “Winter Wonderland” is highly representative of their sound, Christmassy and otherwise.
Apart from “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the singles chart contains other new releases for 1970 including the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling,” which will return to the radio for the next 45 years at the very least, and the title song from Charley Pride’s album. Also on the singles chart for the first time is “Santa Claus Is Definitely Here to Stay” by James Brown, from his album Hey America, which is made up of eight Christmas originals. Oddly, Hey America made neither the Christmas album chart nor the Billboard 200.
So the story of 1970 is similar to the other years we have investigated—with few exceptions, record buyers continued to purchase or repurchase music from previous years. Some of it went back into the 50s (Elvis, the Harry Simeone Chorale) and some as far as the 30s and 40s (Bing), but the majority of it had been released within the preceding six or seven years, during what we’d now have to consider the golden age of pop Christmas music.