5 The Christmas Song
The title of this song is officially credited almost everywhere as “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” because without adding the first line of the song in parentheses no one would know what song was meant. The most successful version of the song was Nat “King” Cole’s 1946 cover, which was certified six times platinum by the RIAA in 2009. Not only has that recording alone sold over six million copies, some version is included on the holiday album of nearly every major artist. Sadly, this song is unfairly blamed for triggering every television Christmas special to feature hosts sitting by a fireplace wearing bulky wool sweaters of questionable taste.
4 The Little Drummer Boy
With music based on a traditional Spanish song, as recorded in 1958 by The Harry Simeone Chorale, “The Little Drummer Boy” is another Christmas classic of reasonably recent vintage. When Simeone died in 2005, over 150 covers of Simeone’s arrangement of the song had sold a combined 25 million copies worldwide. The coolest version ever made, however, goes to David Bowie and Bing Crosby for their 1977 duet that mashed up the tune with the song “Peace on Earth.”
3 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Back in 1939, one of Montgomery Ward’s copywriters, Robert May, wrote a story the department store could print in a coloring book and use as a promotional giveaway to customers. In a flash of nepotistic inspiration, May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks decided to write a song about the little reindeer with a shiny nose. Gene Autry recorded the classic version of the song. Twenty-five million copies and a couple of stop-motion animated features later, the song is a Christmas staple. The heart-warming anti-bullying tale has been told through song by Christmas-caroling artists ranging from surfer Jack Johnson to rapper DMX.
2 Silent Night
Unlike any other song on this list, “Silent Night” is a real classic. Written in 1818, this song is now in the public domain, which means anyone can record a version of it if they want and not have to pay for the rights to use it—and modern artists have done just that. Bing Crosby once again set the trend, and his version sold an estimated 30 million copies. Plenty of others followed suit, and this song has been covered by vocalists as diverse as Johnny Cash, Beyoncé Knowles, Brad Paisley, Rod Stewart…well, if you set out to make a list of artists who hadn’t covered Silent Night at some point, your list would probably be shorter.
1 White Christmas
Bing Crosby’s 1947 version has the Guinness Book record for the best-selling Christmas song of all time, with an estimated 50 million copies sold—and that’s just one version! That wasn’t even Crosby’s first recording of Irving Berlin’s now-classic Christmas tune, which has since been covered by nearly every artist with a pulse who decided the world needed to hear their version of it. You’d be hard-pressed to find a holiday album released any time in the past 60 years that doesn’t have some version of this song on it.