Whether you love it or loathe it, Christmas music is a genre that you simply cannot avoid. As soon as November’s up, the classics come flooding in on every speaker, radio station, supermarket, shop, family household – rolling in on the first day of December in their gorging, shameless glory. Call it a guilty pleasure if you will. Even the scrooges can’t resist.
It’s a known fact that Christmas music is one of the biggest money makers and some of the best hits can generate royalty income to last a lifetime. Modern artists like Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Kylie Minogue have all launched dedicated holiday albums that are practically guaranteed cash cows thanks to loyal fans celebrating with their idols for the season – but none are raking in royalties as reliably as the 10 perennial festive faves on this list.
So, here STYLE takes a look at which Christmas songs earn the most money annually, and we’ve even done you the favour of embedding the musical hits so you can hum along through the list. Without further ado …
10. East 17: ‘Stay Another Day’ (1994)
Estimated annual earnings: US$118,000
It’s been nearly three decades since this festive hit was released.
But given that the heart-rending song is about the tragic death of band member Tony Mortimer’s brother, some critics pointed out that it shouldn’t be considered a Christmas song amid its jolly competitors. Either way, the winter-themed tune earns about US$118,000 annually, per the UK’s The Independent (source of all our estimates for this piece, unless otherwise stated).
9. Cliff Richard: ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ (1988)
Estimated annual earnings: US$120,000
A cosy Christmas fixture filled with lyrics about mistletoe, wine, logs around the fire and gifts under the tree, Richards’ 1988 song rakes in about US$120,000 a year.
That’s pretty neat considering he’s now 82, and probably enjoying the high life as the third-top-selling artist in UK Singles Chart history, just behind Elvis Presley and The Beatles.
8. The Pretenders: ‘2000 Miles’ (1983)
Estimated annual earnings: US$125,000
Is it even Christmas if you’re not listening to this holiday favourite?
The Pretenders’ 1980s ballad may be set to a snowy music video, but again, it wasn’t intended to be festive. According to Smooth Radio, it’s believed to be a tribute to one of the band’s founding members, James Honeyman-Scott, who died of a cocaine-induced heart failure in 1982 at age 25.
In an interview with Dutch show Countdown in 1983, lead singer Chrissie Hynde, now 71, was asked about the song’s meaning, and said, “It’s about someone who’s gone … and let’s just say it’s Father Christmas.” The Telegraph stated that it makes US$125,000 every year.
7. Jona Lewie: ‘Stop The Cavalry’ (1978)
Estimated annual earnings: US$145,000
Despite its annual radio resurgence come year end, Lewie’s “Stop the Cavalry” actually has little to do with Christmas. The singer, who makes a cool US$145,000 a year from it, has explained to Gold Radio UK that it was written as an anti-war sentiment.
The lyrics have references to the gallant soldiers of the Crimean war, nuclear fallout shelters and the light brigade, followed by the iconic refrain, “I wish I was at home for Christmas.”
6. Paul McCartney: ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ (1979)
Estimated annual earnings: US$315,000
Brought to you by The Beatles’ bass guitarist, “Wonderful Christmastime” is a festive staple that celebrates the season, with McCartney, 80, making about US$315,000 from it annually.
5. Wham!: ‘Last Christmas’ (1986)
Estimated annual earnings: US$365,000
You know you’ve pulled the right heart strings when your song’s been covered by modern artists including Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Gwen Stefani and Rita Ora, nearly four decades after its release.
The love song from Wham!’s English childhood friends George Michael (1963-2016) and Andrew Ridgeley, 59, still makes an incredible US$365,000 every year.
4. Bing Crosby: ‘White Christmas’ (1942)
Estimated annual earnings: US$400,000
Another song that’s also been further popularised with a plethora of covers, from artists as diverse as Michael Bublé and Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga and Elvis Presley, “White Christmas” is touted as America’s favourite Christmas song.
But its original ballad was first popularised by crooner Bing Crosby (1903-1977) in 1942. Penned by legendary songwriter Irving Berlin for the film Holiday Inn, it comes with a sad backstory. According to Country Living, Berlin’s three-week-old son had died on Christmas Day and it’s believed the song may be a tribute to his late infant and Berlin’s ongoing mourning.
3. Mariah Carey: ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ (1994)
Estimated annual earnings: US$485,000
Back in 1994, Carey described this inescapable Christmas mega-hit as “very traditional, old-fashioned Christmas”, per Smooth Radio. It includes all the traditional festive tropes, from Santa, presents, tree and reindeers to its lovey-dovey title.
The holidays’ favourite pop diva earns about US$485,000 a year from her iconic anthem – which should keep her well until the next year rolls round.
2. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: ‘Fairytale of New York’ (1988)
Estimated annual earnings: US$485,000
This anti-Christmas song still consecutively rakes in US$485,000 in earnings every year.
It depicts the wintertime bickering between a couple, and while its original lyrics are considered controversial due to its explicit language, the melody is loved for its bitter, emotionally relatable nature – and goes down especially well at rowdier festive gatherings.
1. Slade: ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ (1973)
Estimated annual earnings: US$1.2 million
“It’s Chriiiiiiistmaaaaas!” The English rock band comes in at No 1 with about US$1.2 million in annual earnings.
Co-writer and singer Noddy Holder, 76, claims the tune was written to reflect a traditional British family Christmas amid the era’s crippling economic crisis. “The miners had been on strike, along with the gravediggers, the bakers and almost everybody else,” he told British media in 2007. “I think people wanted something to cheer them up – and so did I.”
Today, it continues to climb the charts – and has proved to be a financially lucrative cheer-up for the band!
Note: This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website.