Christmas Boxes

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Billboard did not publish a Christmas chart in its edition dated December 9, 1972. It did, however, include a feature we have visited before, “What’s Playing,” in which amusement operators list the records they are adding to their jukeboxes, or which are getting big play. From this we can get a modest idea of the demand for particular Christmas hits in that bygone year.

Jukebox operators were well-advised to stock up on Christmas warhorses: at C. S. Pierce Music in Brodhead, Wisconsin, Marie Pierce (someone known to some of my relatives since my mother is from Brodhead) reports big play for Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” and “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms. Betty Schott of Western Automatic Music in Chicago says Brenda Lee and Bobby Helms are doing well on jukeboxes catering to the high-school crowd, as are Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and “Silver Bells” by Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely, first heard at Christmas 1950. In Jefferson City, Missouri, Lloyd Grice of United Distributors reports patrons are playing four versions of “Blue Christmas” on his soul-music jukeboxes, by Elvis, Russ Morgan, Ace Cannon, and Ernest Tubb. He’s also seeing action on “Jingle Bell Rock” and Bing’s “White Christmas,” which has always done big business among soul and R&B audiences. In Madison, Wisconsin, Pat Schwartz of Modern Specialty Company is stocking country jukeboxes with Nat and Bing, but also with Dean Martin’s version of “Blue Christmas,” the Carpenters’ “Merry Christnas Darling,” and the Harry Simeone Chorale’s “The Little Drummer Boy.” Harry and Bing are pulling big coins on jukeboxes serviced by Lloyd Smalley of Chattanooga Coin Machine Company in Chattanooga, Tennessee, along with Elvis doing “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” and “Blue Christmas,” of course. In Fertile, Minnesota, in the northwestern part of the state, Duane Knutson of Automatic Sales Company has stocked his easy-listening jukeboxes with “White Christmas” and Johnny Cash’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy,” and is looking ahead by getting Guy Lombardo’s “Auld Lang Syne,” too.

A handful of ethnic novelties are turning up on a few Midwestern jukeboxes in December 1972. In Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, Ruth Sawejka of Coin-Operated Amusement Company has purchased “Yo Ho Hilda’s Christmas” by Jimmy Jenson, a Swedish dialect record that nicks the tune from “Up on the House Top.” Jim and Belle Stansfield of Stansfield Novelty Company of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, are adding Jenson’s version of the Yogi Yorgesson hit “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas.” Jenson, known as the Swingin’ Swede, was a popular bandleader and restauranteur in Minnesota from the 1940s into the new millennium. He started doing Swedish dialect records after hearing Yorgesson in the 50s.

The Stansfields in LaCrosse and Robert Hesch of A&H Entertainers in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, are adding another Scandinavian dialect record, “Christmas Goose” by Stan and Doug. Stan Boreson was from Washington state and became a popular kids’ TV host in Seattle. In 1970, he and partner Doug Setterberg released Stan and Doug Yust Go Nuts at Christmas, which featured several versions of Christmas novelties first recorded by Yorgesson; “Christmas Goose,” which revolves around a mild double entendre, is a parody of Anne Murray’s “Snowbird,” and it scores extra points for rhyming “goose” with “obtuse.”

(The popularity of Scandinavian dialect records in the Upper Midwest should not surprise you. Everybody who did them performed in the shadow of Yorgesson, the Elvis of the form. I wrote about him in 2008.)

Christmas music is not the only thing jukebox patrons want in December, of course. And so the operators are stocking big Top 40 hits, or hits-to-be: Marie Pierce reports “I Wanna Be With You” by the Raspberries, “Keeper of the Castle” by the Four Tops, “Been to Canaan” by Carole King, the Partridge Family’s “Looking Through the Eyes of Love,” “Long Dark Road” by the Hollies, and “Sitting” by Cat Stevens. Also on her list: “I Got a Bag of My Own” by James Brown and “Angel” by Rod Stewart. Betty Schott is spanning genres with Bread’s “Sweet Surrender,” “Rock and Roll Soul” by Grand Funk Railroad, “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield, and Three Dog Night’s “Pieces of April.” Going similarly wide, Helen Franklin of Schaffner Music Company of Alton, Illinois, reports “Ventura Highway” by America, Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes,” and Cher’s version of “Our Day Will Come.”

Operators knew the desires of the audiences in the places where their boxes were located; restauranteurs and bartenders could help them tailor their selections. Programming an analog jukebox was both science and art, but certainly both hit and miss as well.

3 responses

  1. JB, have you seen what’s going on with this week’s Hot 100? Nine of the top 41 songs are Christmas tunes at least 24 years old thanks to streaming counts! There’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey at #7, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams at #16 (his first chart entry since “Tell It Like It Is” hit #72 in 1976 and his first top 40 hit since “Love Theme from the Godfather” in 1972), “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee at #21 (her first Hot 100 entry since “Nobody Wins” in 1973 and first top 40 hit since “Ride, Ride, Ride” in 1967), “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives at #22 (first Hot 100 entry since “Pearly Shells” in 1964 and first top 40 hit since “Mary Ann Regrets” in 1962), “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms at #26 (first Hot 100 entry since “Jingle Bell Rock” re-charted in 1962 at #36), “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole at #29 (his first Hot 100 entry since “Unforgettable” with his daughter Natalie Cole in 1991), “Last Christmas” by Wham at #34 (third year in a row on the Hot 100, highest peak this year among all 3 times), “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry at #36 (Gene Autry has never appeared on the Hot 100 until now. His last chart entry was a re-release of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” which hit #70 in Billboard’s Top 100 chart in 1957) and “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” by Dean Martin at #41 (his first Hot 100 entry since “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am” and highest peak since “Little Old Wine Drinker Me” hit #38 in 1967). All are either new to the chart or heading up on it, and with the holiday season now in full swing, more Yuletide oldies may join the club as well. As much as I’m irritated by how Billboard measures top songs nowadays, if we get these chart finishes from seasonal streaming as a side result, well, I’ll be somewhat placated.

  2. Streaming, like airplay, is the wrong thing to include in a sales-oriented chart. It’d be like Chrysler counting every time you see one of their minivans on the street as a sale.

    1. Yup, I am in full agreement that streaming and sales are two different things, even if Billboard jiggers the numbers so that a certain number of streams equals one sale for tabulation purposes.

      Wesley’s recap is further evidence for my contention—a hill upon which I will gladly die—that it is no longer possible to compare chart milestones from the current iteration of the Hot 100 with any milestones from the pre-streaming era, or the pre-Soundscan era for that matter. The Hot 100 does not reflect the same thing today that it used to. For example, it was breathlessly reported earlier this year that Drake had tied Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson for most Top 10 hits from the same album. Well, yeah, except Born in the USA and Thriller needed to maintain popularity for years to achieve that mark, while technology (not the least of which is streaming) permitted Drake to do it in two weeks with an album that hadn’t earned, and may never earn, the place in history occupied by either Born in the USA or Thriller.

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