Ask Billboard: Christmas in October? Never Say Never
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CHRISTMAS IN OCTOBER? NEVER SAY NEVER
Is it already that time again? It seems like Christmas arrives earlier and earlier every year.
We now have the first holiday hit for 2011 in Justin Bieber's "Mistletoe," which debuts at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. That's quite a strong showing, especially considering that we haven't even hit Halloween yet!
The last time that I can remember any Christmas title appearing on a chart this early was in 1992. Garth Brooks was big stuff back then and his "Beyond the Season" album opened at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 that Sept. 12.
What other holiday songs or albums have made Billboard charts prior to Halloween?
Happy St. Patrick's Day 2012!
While the high debut on the Hot 100 for "Mistletoe" shouldn't be entirely surprising, given that Bieber had launched in the Hot 100's top 40 with nine previous titles, the timing is, as seasonal songs generally dent the chart much closer to Christmas.
(A technicality worth noting: this week's chart is dated Nov. 5, 2011, so history will reflect that "Mistletoe" debuted on a Hot 100 dated after Halloween. Still, the chart reflects data tabulated before the haunted holiday).
Brooks' album is a great example of a holiday release that reached retail while the only snow to be found in most locations was in snow cones at the beach. "You had to figure that if anyone could sell a Christmas album in August, it would be Brooks," wrote then-Billboard associate director of charts/retail research Geoff Mayfield in the Sept. 12, 1992, issue.
That week, Brooks boasted three titles in the Billboard 200's top 25. He bowed at No. 1 the following month with his fifth album, "The Chase," which has sold 5.1 million albums to-date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Brooks is the top-selling album artist dating to the advent of SoundScan data in 1991, with total U.S. sales of 68.6 million.
"Season" isn't even the only title that Brooks has treated fans to before Halloween. "Call Me Claus," the title song from the TV movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, entered Hot Singles Sales the week of Oct. 27, 2001.
Garthmania was to 1992 what Bieber Fever has been to 2009-11. (We really need to publish the "Billboard Book of Musical Maladies"). I.e., when an artist is so popular, labels occasionally decide to spell Christmas "Chri$tma$" and widen the time frame in which they can sell surefire hit holiday albums.
(Not to diminish Bieber's genuine generosity, as he has announced "one of the biggest philanthropic campaigns ever mounted by a pop music star," according to this week's Billboard cover story. "The Believe Charity Drive enlists Bieber's faithful to help raise millions for a collection of (organizations), like City of Hope and the Boys & Girls Club, by the time his next studio album drops in 2012.
'I remember growing up not having a lot, especially around Christmastime,' (Bieber) says. 'We had to get stuff from the food bank, so one of the charities we're helping out is the food bank in my town. I want every one of my fans to feel like they're helping out the world in some way. And being the one to influence them to do that, that's something positive I can do with what God's given me'.")
What other Yuletide songs or albums have jingled onto Billboard charts before Santa's elves have completed their annual assignments?
Here's a sampling of titles to debut on charts dated pre-Halloween, researched, in part, from Joel Whitburn's invaluable reference book, "Christmas in the Charts."
"Frosty the Snowman" debuted on the Best Selling Children's Records ranking the week of Oct. 28, 1950. (In an era of global warming, a more fitting title to listen to on that date might now be Modern English's "I Melt With You").
The (then-)big-haired, (still-)big-voiced singer debuted on the Billboard 200 with "This Is the Time - the Christmas Album" Oct. 19, 1996, before the set reached No. 11 that December.
The member of the Boswell Sisters, "the most popular female group of the 1930s," according to Whitburn, scored a No. 9 hit with "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!," the song (albeit more seasonal than Christmas-themed) having begun its pop chart run Feb. 2, 1946. Bob Crosby (Bing's younger brother) and His Orchestra likewise scored a pop hit (No. 14) with the song starting two weeks later. In 1949, a take by Ella Fitzgerald was a No. 9 pop hit ... in June. ("Sometimes the snow comes down in June," Vanessa Williams would reaffirm more than four decades later).
Boyz II Men
The vocal group's "Christmas Interpretations" bowed on R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and the Billboard 200 dated Oct. 23, 1993, reaching Nos. 6 and 19, respectively, two months later.
Jim Brickman & Collin Raye featuring Susan Ashton
While not strictly a holiday song, radio unwraps "The Gift" each year as part of its Yuletide programming. It entered Adult Contemporary on Oct. 18, 1997, ascending to No. 3. The following week, it debuted on Country Songs on its way to No. 51.
The legend teamed with Betty Carter on a duet of "Baby It's Cold Outside" (another primarily winter-themed song). Before snow turned to April showers, the song entered the Hot 100 at No. 94 on March 3, 1962.
Perhaps with a title like "All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan," it's fitting that the set got started on Country Albums as early as Oct. 25, 2003, ahead of any potentially sun-blocking snowflakes.
Several acts recorded "Baby It's Cold Outside" during the '40s. Cornell's version with Laura Leslie was a No. 12 pop hit beginning June 18, 1949.
While he waited until age 51 to release his first holiday set, "The Christmas Album" was an early arrival to the Billboard 200, starting the week of Oct. 24, 1992, before snowmobiling to No. 8.
His "Let There Be Peace on Earth" opened on Country Albums Oct. 2, 1993, before climbing to No. 3. His "Breath of Heaven" bowed six years and a day later, eventually reaching No. 6. Perhaps Gill picked up the idea of giving fans an early start on their holiday shopping from his then-future wife Amy Grant, whose "Home for Christmas" hit the Billboard 200 Oct. 24, 1992.
Benny Goodman and His Orchestra
The "King of Swing" debuted his No. 18-peaking pop hit "Jingle Bells" the week of Oct. 26, 1935.
The second-best-selling holiday album of the SoundScan era (after Kenny G's "Miracles - the Holiday Album"; 7.2 million copies sold), Groban's "Noel" (5.3 million) arrived on the Billboard 200 dated Oct. 27, 2007.
"Now I don't mean to hate December, it's meant to be the happy time of year," Haggard, portraying a father who's lost his job, sings in "If We Make It Through December." "And why my little girl don't understand, why daddy can't afford no Christmas here." The song lived up to its title: after starting on Country Songs the week of Oct. 27, 1973, it reached No. 1 just in time for Christmas and spent four weeks at the summit, staying on top into January 1974.
The trio's "A Merry Little Christmas" EP, featuring a country cover of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You," entered the Billboard 200 dated Oct. 23, 2010.
Chip Davis' instrumental troupe has been just that in the success of modern Christmas recordings. When "Christmas Symphony" debuted last week ( Oct. 29, 2011) at No. 1 on the New Age Albums chart, the act tied Jim Brickman for the most toppers (16) in the list's 23-year history.
Mantovani and His Orchestra
The ensemble's "Greensleeves" reached a No. 25 pop peak ... the week of March 15, 1952. Smothers Brothers comedy writer Mason Williams sent his version to No. 13 on Adult Contemporary beginning April 5, 1969.
Freddy Martin and His Orchestra
Tenor saxophonist Martin was dreaming of a "White Christmas" on Oct. 17, 1942, when the tune logged its pop chart run with a week at No. 20.
New Kids on the Block
Justin Bieber to the fifth power in its prime, the boy band from Boston began on the Billboard 200 with "Merry, Merry Christmas" the week of Oct. 14, 1989. As previously reported, the set's "This One's for the Children" remains the last holiday-themed Hot 100 top 10, having peaked at No. 7.
His "Blue Lonely Winter" sprung onto Country Songs in fall, debuting on Oct. 28, 1967, and reaching No. 11.
The folk rocker strummed onto the Billboard 200 Oct. 28, 2006, with "James Taylor at Christmas." The set included four Adult Contemporary top 10s: 2002's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (No. 4) and 2005's "Deck the Halls" (No. 5), "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" (No. 7) and "Winter Wonderland" (No. 8).
"An Old Time Christmas" entered Country Albums Oct. 28, 1989. Another country favorite named Travis debuted on the chart a week shy of three years later, with "Travis Tritt Christmas."
(An honorary holiday song due to its title, "New Year's Day" entered the Hot 100 dated April 2, 1983).
And, two examples of consumers celebrating Christmas in July:
Artie Shaw & His Orchestra looked straight past Independence Day toward year's end, as "When Winter Comes" tallied a pop peak of No. 6 the week of July 1, 1939.
And, "Adestes Fideles" by Associated Glee Clubs of America spent two weeks on the pop charts of the day beginning ... July 25, 1925. "This historic record was the first electronically-recorded disc to create a popular impact," notes Whitburn. "(It) featured the largest choir popular music has ever known: some 4,800 voices (according to Columbia Records)."
2011 is not 1925. It's not even 2005, as present-day marketing plans involve countless platforms, including various social media outlets.
While it may seem early to be singing about candy canes before giving out (or better, getting) Halloween candy, the launch and promotion of Bieber's "Mistletoe" in October is logical in that it helps blanket consumer awareness early on in an era when it takes more effort than ever for information to stand out.
And, as he hangs "Mistletoe" on the Hot 100 before Halloween, Bieber follows in a long line of acts that have released, and charted with, holiday tracks well before Rudolph has left his reindeer tracks on lawns worldwide.