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.