Surveying 2014's Would-Be Holiday Hitmakers NPR Music's Stephen Thompson highlights an eclectic cross-section of 2014's holiday-music offerings.

Surveying 2014's Would-Be Holiday Hitmakers

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.