Most of the year, we love musical variety. But at Christmas, we come back to the same hits time and time again. Is it just tradition? Or is there something more?by Chris Lochery / December 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
Cast your mind back over the last quarter-century of pop music and you’ll see that it spans quite a range. In those 25 years rave and new jack swing have given way to Eurodance and Britpop, UK garage and tropical house, hip-hop, trip-hop, grime, R’n’B, emo, nu-metal—and that’s without touching on any of the standard studio pop of boy bands, girl bands and balladeers.
Yet, despite all of the changes we’ve seen, the staples of our Christmas party playlists have remained practically identical.
Slade. Wizzard. Wham! Shakin’ Stevens. Mariah Carey. Even when people branch out and have an “unconventional” favourite, you’re still going to be taking your pick from The Pogues, The Waitresses, The Pretenders, Jona Lewie or Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
From January to November, we can’t get enough variety in our musical diet. But for one month of the year we seem content to limit ourselves to an oddly small selection box of festive hits.
Why are the same Christmas songs so irresistible to us, year after year? What qualities do they possess that warrant repeated plays? And how have they managed to capture the spirit of the season so successfully?
To see if there was anything that could possibly explain it, I cracked apart fifty festive songs—from carols, to jazz standards, to classic pop tracks—to see what was there.
It probably won’t come as any great shock to learn that most Christmas songs are written in a major key. Major keys are renowned for sounding jubilant, happy and celebratory, which very much squares with the prevailing sentiment of the season. However, what might surprise you is the full extent of it.
Obviously, all the big hits are unabashedly happy: “Merry Xmas Everybody,” “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day,” “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Wonderful Christmastime” are all in major keys.
What’s curious though is that even the self-consciously maudlin Christmas songs—the ones about heartbreak, war or famine like “Blue Christmas,” “Lonely This Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Stop The Cavalry,” “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”—are all major too.
In fact, unless we’re going to count Chris De Burgh’s “A Spaceman Came Travelling” or Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s” Power Of Love” (which has an extremely tenuous claim to being a ‘proper’…