Christmas Hits From Coast to Coast

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This weekend, radio stations that carry American Top 40 repeats will be airing the show from December 16, 1978, which was the most Christmas-heavy regular program of the show’s golden era. That reminded me of an idea I had last year to research the history of Christmas songs on AT40. So I looked at the cue sheets for December in each year from 1970 through 1987 (Casey left the show before Christmas 1988), and here’s what I found.

—During AT40‘s first Christmas season, Casey featured a single Christmas song: Bing Crosby’s “Silent Night,” on the show dated December 26, 1970. I wrote about this show back in 2010.

—During the 1971 and 1973 Christmas seasons, Casey featured special Christmas countdowns, shows purporting to cover the top Christmas hits of all time, although the rankings differ and some songs appear in one countdown and not the other. I have written previously about these shows—which are not very good.

—During the 1972 and 1974 Christmas seasons, I didn’t find any Christmas songs in any December edition of the show.

—Starting in 1975, Casey established a pattern: with few exceptions, he’d play at least one Christmas song in the show airing the week before Christmas. This makes sense, as many of his affiliates, especially in major markets, probably wouldn’t have played much Christmas music, if any, until a week before the big day. The 12/20/75 show included Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano. The 12/18/76 show featured the Jackson Five version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” For December 17, 1977 (a show I wrote about after it was repeated last year), “Blue Christmas” by Elvis, “Little Saint Nick” by the Beach Boys, and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” were featured.

—American Top 40 expanded from three hours to four in October 1978, which gave Casey and his producers more time to fill, and at Christmas that year, they filled with holiday warhorses. The 12/16/78 show includes Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas,” “Merry Christmas Darling” by the Carpenters, “O Holy Night” and “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole, as well as “Little Saint Nick” and “White Christmas” again. In 1979, Casey didn’t play any full Christmas songs, but the 12/22/79 show included a feature on “White Christmas.”

—In 1980, Casey broke the pattern with two weekends featuring Christmas music. On 12/13/80, he played Nat’s “O Holy Night” again, the only religious Christmas song he ever played apart from “Silent Night” in 1970. The 12/20/80 show brought back the warhorses: “Step Into Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” by Nat, and Bing’s “White Christmas” again.

—In 1981, he went back to the one-week-a-year pattern. The 12/19/81 show featured two Christmas songs: Spike Jones on “All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)” and “Little Saint Nick” again.

—In 1982, and again in 1985, Casey played no Christmas songs at all.

—On 12/17/83, Casey played “Merry Christmas Darling” again. But on the show dated 12/24/83—which was a regular weekly countdown instead of an installment of the Top 100 of the year, as the Christmas-week show had frequently been—there were no Christmas songs, which strikes me weird.

—On 12/15/84, Casey did a feature on young artists that featured a snippet of “Nuttin’ for Christmas,” presumably the one recorded by six-year-old Barry Gordon, which was popular at Christmas 1955. The 12/22/84 show included a feature on the album A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector, and “Jingle Bell Rock” again.

—We should digress here to talk about Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Because Billboard ran behind the street, it didn’t make the Hot 100 (at #65) until the week of 12/22/84. The 12/29 chart was frozen and the AT40 show that weekend was the year-end countdown, so “Do They Know It’s Christmas” wasn’t heard on AT40 until the show dated 1/5/85, and again on the 12th, 19th, and 26th before it fell out of the 40. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was played as a Christmas extra on the show dated 12/19/87.

—In 1986, Casey threw his audience (and me, as a researcher) a curve. His lone Christmas song of the season didn’t appear until the show dated 12/27/86: Darlene Love’s version of “White Christmas” from the Phil Spector Christmas album.

If there’s anything surprising about this research, it might be that Casey never played “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” But he didn’t go wrong with what he chose to play; nothing edgy, but no Singing Dogs either.

Coming Friday: a new podcast episode.

6 thoughts on “Christmas Hits From Coast to Coast

  1. Wesley

    Looking at this week’s Hot 100 with several Christmas songs on board, Casey and his staff missed some perennials which would’ve been nice to include back in the day. Among current entries, they overlooked “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee, “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives, “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” by Dean Martin, “Sleigh Ride” by the Ronettes, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Happy Holidays/The Holiday Season” by Andy Williams, and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Gene Autry. Missing the Burl Ives and Dean Martin tracks I can understand, as both would be considered passe for 1970s/80s top 40 radio, but “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Sleigh Ride” would seem right up AT40’s format back in the day. Incidentally, by having two songs in the top 50 this week, Gene Autry and Andy Williams hold this distinction along with the Weeknd, Ed Sheeran, Justin Timberlake and Lil Nas X. As Chic would say, “Yowsa yowsa yowsa!”

  2. Wesley

    Also, Premiere Networks sent out the 12/15/84 show for this week’s AT40 The Eighties installment, and yes, they used the Barry Gordon version. Casey noted how Barry recently had been on the TV series Archie Bunker’s Place and filmed a commercial for AM/PM convenience stores as well.

  3. I knew I forgot something.

    The Eagles’ “Please Come Home for Christmas” came out during a period in which Billboard did not have a special Christmas chart, and it made the Hot 100, first appearing on the week of 12/9/78. It zoomed into the top 40 on 12/23/78 (from #45 to #20) and held there during the frozen chart week of 12/30. During those two weeks, AT40 was counting down the top hits of 1978 and not doing a regular show. So Casey would have played it for the first time on the show dated 1/6/79, when it was at #18, and twice more, during the week of 1/13 (at #18 again) and on 1/20 (at #26). How it was never again featured as an extra, considering how popular it was at every Christmas thereafter (and down unto the present day), I have no idea.

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