Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Forgotten Christmas tune of the 1970s

Just before the Christmas's a tune from the 1970s that is perhaps as relevant today as it was when it was first recorded.

When it comes to Christmas-themed music from the 1970s, there are a handful of songs that come to mind: "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano, The Jackson 5's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" or "I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus," The Carpenters' beautiful "Merry Christmas Darling," Elton John's "Step into Christmas," Paul McCartney & Wings' "Wonderful Christmastime" or The Eagles' "Please Come Home for Christmas." Throw in the holiday offerings from other eras and maybe the Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet on "The Little Drummer Boy" from that '77 Holiday TV special and a fan could make an amazing CD of 1970s Holiday music.

There's a good reason for this. In the music buisness, Christmas singles are rare because their radio "shelf life" is rather short: most get airplay between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For a business that depends on sales, the short season kills a lot of holiday-themed singles.

Though you'd never know it, the list of Christmas and Holiday songs above includes only one song -- the one by The Eagles -- that actually made the Top 40. Believe it or not, no holiday 45s by The Carpenters, The Jackson 5, Elton John or Wings ever charted at all. The reason they stay in our memory is because they are like familiar friends when they get pulled out and played every year on the radio, in stores and on TV.

But there's another song that made the pop Top 40 that would be a great addition to the list but is overlooked. The gem? If We Make it Through December by Merle Haggard. It was a huge country hit (#1 for 4 weeks on that chart) but of all Haggard's anthems, this was the only hit he ever had on Billboard's Top 40. Beginning the first week of January '74 (just as we were pretty certain he'd made it through December) and spending 3 short weeks on the 40, it peaked at #28.

Even if you're not a country-listening type, this song deserves a listen. Its opening guitar and subject matter will pique the interest of any 70s singer/songwriter fan (in fact, Haggard wrote the song)...and the story it tells about a family man who'd been laid off at his job and has to figure out what he does next is something that resonates today with all the news about economic woes and rising unemployment. Despite the fact that it mentions December and Christmas, it's not really a Christmas song in the classic sense but it's a great tune. You'll thank me once you've heard it.

For anybody who wants to listen, here's a couple of ways you can get it quickly:

If you'd like to snatch the MP3 up from Amazon, here's a link. You don't even need to have 99 cents; for 5 Pepsi caps, you can download it for free. Even if you don't get it, the link has a 30-second snippet of the tune so you can hear what it sounds like.

If you prefer iTunes, here's a link: Merle Haggard - Down Every Road, 1962-94 - If We Make It Through December

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