Dead Dino Charts and He's Not Alone

Dean Martin died in 1995, but a publicist for his estate and his daughter Deana recently announced that Martin’s version of “Let it Snow!”—recorded in 1966—has entered Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at Number 41, the first time for Dean since 1969. 

That sounds vaguely ghoulish but impressive when you think about the Hot 100 as the pop charts, with Martin sharing chart real estate with Arianna Grande, Travis Scott, Halsey, and Lil Baby. They’re certainly in the Hot 100, but so is Mariah Carey for “All I Want for Christmas is You” (Number 7 this week), Andy Williams (who died in 2012) for “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (Number 16), Brenda Lee for “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (Number 21), Burl Ives (who died in 1995) for “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (Number 22), Bobby Helms (who died in 1997) for “Jingle Bell Rock” (Number 26), Nat King Cole (who died in 1965) for “The Christmas Song” (Number 29), Wham! (whose George Michael died in 2016) for “Last Christmas” (Number 34), and Gene Autry (who died in 1998) for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Number 36). That company mutes the accomplishment a bit, and “Let it Snow!” is the lowest-ranked Christmas record on the chart by a legacy artist. 

Still, the charts tell us two things that are interesting. One is that Christmas music streams and sells well enough to get 40 and 50-year-old records back into the pop charts and not just the holiday chart, which doesn’t always represent the same kind of economic impact. The presence of legacy singles on the Hot 100 chart also says that young people are listening to these songs too. 

According to Matthew Mugmon, assistant professor of music at University of Arizona:

It’s tempting to resort to tired tropes about millennials, like their acute sense of nostalgia. But isn’t everyone nostalgic? Perhaps it’s that many millennials are now parents of small—or not so small—children, so Christmas music allows them to expose their kids to the music they themselves grew up hearing, or it helps them develop in their kids a sense of a shared tradition.

But I would also guess that today’s 18-to-37-or-so set makes up a significant portion of music consumers in general, and that they are taking in Christmas music at a pretty high rate without necessarily trying to.

The classic Christmas songs are not only strong enough to muscle their way into the pop charts, but they own the Holiday singles chart. There’s not a single song from this year on the Holiday singles chart this week, and the Holiday albums chart only includes two true 2018 Christmas albums—Pentatonix’s Christmas is Here and John Legend’s A Legendary Christmas (Number 7)—and two reissues with bonus tracks, Brett Eldredge’s Glow (Number 30), and Sia’s Everyday is Christmas (Number 35).  

Nothing here is terribly unusual except for which canonical holiday songs are hot this year, nor is the fact that time-tested albums dominate the holiday charts. Michael Bublé’s Christmas from 2011 tops the charts despite sending Meghan Markle a Christmas playlist so obvious that it should disqualify him from the charts for at least one year. (If you ever think you’re doing something special by sending someone a mix that includes Bing Crosby, Darlene Love and Elvis, rest assured you’re not.) 

“it’s hard to break into or reshape a canon, especially one so centered on nostalgia as the Christmas canon,” Mugmon says. “Sadly, that Christmas song you wrote and recorded today probably won’t make it big, as good as that song might be.”

Dean Martin fans will be happy because not only is his “Let it Snow!” back on the charts, but so is Capitol Records’ 2004 repackaging of Dino’s seasonal music, Christmas with Dino, which is on the Holiday album chart at Number 36.