Just Curious: How Many Cover Versions of “The Christmas Song” Exist?
While on the air yesterday, I wondered aloud: "I wonder how many different artists have a version of this song?"
Of course, I was talking about "The Christmas Song," also known as "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire" or simply "Merry Christmas To You," as it was originally intended to be titled. It seems like every year, more and more artists release a version of this song, and over the course of our lifetime, you couldn't add up the number of different times you've heard sung differently by different people.
Curiosity got the best of me, and I dove down a rabbit hole on the internet to definitively answer the question:
Just how many cover versions of "The Christmas Song" exist?
First things first. Generally speaking, the first person you think of when you think of "The Christmas Song" is Nat King Cole. This is with good reason as he, technically, was the first person to record and release the song way back in 1946. He actually recorded a jazzy version of it with the Nat King Cole Trio, then re-recorded a different version in 1953 with an orchestra backing, and again in 1961 with a bit more orchestra behind it. It's the 1961 version that is most widely played today.
Much as he's connected to the song, he's not actually the one who wrote it. The song was written by a guy named Robert Wells and a friend of his, Mel Tormé. Ironically, they wrote the song in the hot summer of 1945, as Tormé put it, "to stay cool by thinking cool."
Nat King Cole put his style to it and the rest, as they say, is history.
According to SecondHandSongs, there have been 1,709 "popular" versions of the song recorded and released, dating from the original release in 1946 all the way up until today. When I say "popular," I mean by many artists you probably know. Artists like Perry Como and Frank Sinatra in the 1950s, Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett in the 1960s, The Jackson 5 and John Denver in the 1970s, Air Supply and The New Kids On The Block in the 1980s, Neil Diamond and Celine Dion in the 1990s, Leann Rimes and Josh Groban in the 2000s, Idina Menzel and Aloe Blacc in the 2010s, and already the likes of Meghan Trainor and Shawn Mendes featuring Camila Cabello in the 2020s.
But all told, analysis compiled from a music rights database a few years ago and released by Billboard Magazine revealed there have been roughly 80,000 different versions of "The Christmas Song" officially recorded since its original back in the 1940's.
While there's no shortage of popular versions to choose from. There's also some you wouldn't expect in there, like Billy Crystal. Wait, really? Yes, really.
Or John Schneider. You know, from Dukes of Hazzard? Pretty good, actually!
Even crazier is that "The Christmas Song" isn't even the number one most recorded Christmas song of all time. That distinction belongs to another one you might have heard of called "Silent Night," with a whopping 137,000-plus versions in the database.
A close second was "White Christmas" with 128,000, then "Jingle Bells" at number three, with "The Christmas Song" coming in at number four.
It may be number four on the list of how many different recorded versions exist, but it'll always be number one in my heart. Check out some of my favorite versions over the years below. And remember, although it's been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.
The Original, from Nat King Cole.
Neil Diamond, from 1992.
He was my dad's favorite when I was growing up. I always think of my dad when I hear Neil Diamond, and I sure miss him.
Andrea Bocelli and Natalie Cole, featuring David Foster
Personally I could listen to Andrea Bocelli sing the phone book and be soothed, but that's probably just me.
I mean, you don't need to say much about the heavenly voice of Celine Dion around the holidays.
Christina Aguilera, acoustic version
There's actually a much dancier version she did in the late 90s that got played on radio a lot and it's good, but stripped back, raw Christina Aguilera is far prettier to listen to.
Last but not least, Michael Buble.
Kind of the new American gold standard for songs like this, even though he's Canadian. Oh, you didn't know that? Now you do!