(Pictured: Richard and Karen Carpenter.)
A few years ago, when we were reviewing Billboard‘s Christmas charts from various years, we failed to look at 1973, the last year for which Christmas charts were published until a brief revival in the mid-80s. So here we go.
The first chart appears on December 1 and is a listing of only eight albums, topped by the Jackson Five’s Christmas album, first released in 1970. The lone new-for-73 release on the chart is Christmas Greetings From Nashville, a compilation featuring previously released music by some of RCA’s biggest country stars, including Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Porter Wagoner, Chet Atkins, and Floyd Cramer.
The album chart expands to 12 places and a singles chart appears for the week of December 8, 1973. Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, first released in 1971, is the #1 album. The chart contains a couple more albums new for 1973. An album listed as Motown Christmas Album is officially titled A Motown Christmas. The two-record set collects highlights from various Christmas albums previously released by the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Miracles, the Temptations, and the Jackson Five. Although this release is new in the States, a similar configuration had appeared in the UK under the title Merry Christmas From Motown in 1968. Also new on this chart and for 1973 is Christmas Present by Merle Haggard, the first track of which was his then-current single, the magnificent “If We Make It Through December.” (Me, 2011: “There’s more emotional honesty in the 2:41 it takes this song to play than in all the airings of ‘The Christmas Shoes’ since 2000.”)
The singles chart is topped on December 8 by the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling,” first heard at Christmas 1970. Two singles are new for 1973, including future perennial “Step Into Christmas” by Elton John and future swill exemplar “Please Daddy, Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” by John Denver.
The Motown Christmas album ascends to #1 for the week of December 15, and the album chart expands to 15 places. Showing up for the first time this week is The Twenty-Fifth Day of December by the Staple Singers, originally released in 1962. The rest of the chart is made up largely of releases from earlier years: Merry Christmas by Johnny Mathis and a different Merry Christmas by Bing Crosby, The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole, The Phil Spector Christmas Album (re-released on Apple a couple of years before), plus albums by Barbra Streisand, Jose Feliciano, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and the Harry Simeone Chorale. (The latter appears only as Little Drummer Boy with no artist shown; nevertheless, there would have been little confusion about what album Billboard meant.)
The December 15 singles chart also has 15 places, topped by Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas” (shown as “Stepping Into Christmas”). “If We Make It Through December” appears for the first time. Newly listed from a bygone year is Isaac Hayes’ “Mistletoe and Me” from 1969. As on the album chart, familiar past hits abound, including Cheech and Chong’s “Santa Claus and His Old Lady,” Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “Merry Christmas Baby,” Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas,” and the Singing Dogs version of “Jingle Bells.”
The album and singles charts expand to 20 places for the week of December 22, 1973. The #1 album is A Christmas Album by Barbra Streisand, first released in 1965. Other 60s releases appearing for the first time in 1973 are Noel by Joan Baez, Give Me Your Love for Christmas by Johnny Mathis, and albums by Perry Como and Jim Nabors. Christmas in My Hometown by Charley Pride, released in 1970, also appears for the first time in 1973.
The singles chart for 12/22/73 is led by “Blue Christmas,” checking in ahead of “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Step Into Christmas.” The rest of the chart is made up of holdovers either from earlier charts or earlier years—Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” makes an appearance, as does “The Little Drummer Boy.” The lone new-for-73 entry is “Daddy’s Drinking Up Our Christmas” by Commander Cody. I can’t imagine why anybody would have put it on the air except for camp value, and there were better examples of camp value, so why bother? Maybe it played differently in 1973 than it does now.
In 1973, the American pop Christmas canon appeared to be set in stone. Apart from the singles by Commander Cody, Elton John, and John Denver, and Merle Haggard’s album, everything listed on the four 1973 Christmas charts had appeared in previous years, even some of the songs on the new-for-73 Motown compilation. I don’t know if that’s why Billboard discontinued the chart come 1974, but who could have blamed them?