Surveying 2014's Would-Be Holiday Hitmakers NPR Music's Stephen Thompson highlights an eclectic cross-section of 2014's holiday-music offerings.
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From Idina Menzel To The Duke Boys, Surveying 2014's Would-Be Holiday Hitmakers

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From Idina Menzel To The Duke Boys, Surveying 2014's Would-Be Holiday Hitmakers

From Idina Menzel To The Duke Boys, Surveying 2014's Would-Be Holiday Hitmakers

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  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we answer a burning question - why is there so much new Christmas music? The Bing Crosby songs have been worn out. Pearl Bailey's "Five-pound Box Of Money" - still funny. Yet people keep making more Christmas music, like this one from Kristen Bell with the group Straight, No Chaser.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEXT ME MERRY CHRISTMAS")

KRISTEN BELL: (Singing) Text me merry Christmas. Let me know you care. Just a word or two of text from you will remind me you're still there.

INSKEEP: NPR music Stephen Thompson is here with in-depth coverage of the Christmas music industry. Hi, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: (Laughter) Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, why is it that people are still making so many Christmas songs when there are already so many Christmas songs?

THOMPSON: Well, you mentioned the "Five-pound Box Of Money."

INSKEEP: A chance to make money.

THOMPSON: A chance to make money, but think about it as lottery tickets. Your odds of it paying off in a big way are not huge, but if you write a "Blue Christmas" or an "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey or whatever, it can pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars.

INSKEEP: Year after year.

THOMPSON: Year after year after year, long after you're dead. So you can set your family up for life with a song that becomes a standard. But if you get a thousand-dollar ticket - if you get an album that's coming back around into circulation year after year year and sells a few thousand copies - that's good, too.

INSKEEP: OK. So let's listen to some of the people who are participating in this year's lottery. What's caught your ear?

THOMPSON: Probably the biggest commercially viable holiday record is Idina Menzel. Steve, you have a daughter.

INSKEEP: Yes.

THOMPSON: You know who Idina Menzel is.

INSKEEP: (Singing) Let it go. Let it go.

THOMPSON: She had the big "Let It Go" from "Frozen." She now has a very traditional album of holiday music called "Holiday Wishes" that's very just straight down the middle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?")

IDINA MENZEL: (Singing) Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, do you hear what I hear?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Singing) Do you hear what I hear?

INSKEEP: Big star - that's in her favor. Great voice - that's in her favor. But it's a song that was done really well by Bing Crosby years ago, so it's got to compete with that.

THOMPSON: Yeah. It's more whether the performance sticks as a standard. And I think the music that I tend to find more interesting around the holiday season is not just - that's a really nice vocal on "Run, Run Rudolph." I want to hear artists who attempt to view them through a different lens, in a different way.

INSKEEP: And maybe that's why you sent us this lottery entry - Over the Rhine, "Blood Oranges In The Snow." What is it?

THOMPSON: Yeah, Over the Rhine's this band that's been around for ages, and they made an album of what they call reality holiday music. It's mostly originals. And, you know, there are a few, like, beautifully chosen covers that are in the spirit of their originals, but they put more thought into it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLOOD ORANGES IN THE SNOW")

OVER THE RHINE: (Singing) If we make it through December, everything's going to be all right. I know.

THOMPSON: A lot of my favorite holiday music is a note of melancholy to it. A song like "I'll Be Home For Christmas" - the, you know, if only in my dreams.

INSKEEP: I'm so glad you mentioned home for Christmas because we also have here on the list "Home For Christmas."

THOMPSON: John Schneider and Tom Wopat, stars of "The Dukes of Hazard," have gotten together to make this very old-fashioned holiday record called "Home For Christmas." Do you remember these old network TV specials where Bing Crosby would be there, and there'd be a knock on the door, and it'd be like, look, it's Rosey Grier.

INSKEEP: Sure.

THOMPSON: This has kind of that same quality of these two dudes just goofing around.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE")

JOHN SCHNEIDER: (Singing) I really must go.

TOM WOPAT: (Singing) But, Johnny, it's cold outside.

SCHNEIDER: (Singing) Hey, the answer's still no.

WOPAT: (Singing) Dude, it's freezing out there.

INSKEEP: Stephen Thompson of NPR Music, I really can't stay.

THOMPSON: OK, wait, wait, wait. We were talking about lottery winners. The best-selling Christmas album of all time - a beautiful record - "Elvis' Christmas Album" from 1970.

INSKEEP: He it here comes. Stephen Thompson, thanks.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUE CHRISTMAS")

ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) I'll have a blue Christmas...

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