Sour sugarplums

I think I was in my twenties when I learned that demographers thought of me as a baby boomer. It was something of a shock. To me, boomers were 5-15 years older than me, at risk of being drafted into the Vietnam War. I was too young to be a boomer.

But numbers don’t lie, and although the birthrate had been declining slowly for a couple of years before I was born, there’s no question it was still up near the peak. So I’ve come to terms with who I am, and when young punks like Randall Munroe bitch about boomers, I feel compelled to defend my cohort.

xkcd 988

I think the endurance of these songs is due less to the happy memories of selfish boomers than to changes in popular music during the 20th century. Clearly, for a Christmas song to get a lot of radio play now, it had to have come out after the ’20s. Records with decent fidelity and frequency response didn’t exist in mass numbers before then. And the singing styles and instrumentation prevalent in the ’20s and before haven’t aged well.

The end of popular Christmas songs pretty much came with the dominance of rock and roll. There are probably several reasons for this, but I have to believe the biggest one is rock and roll’s idea of itself as outsider music—that just doesn’t lend itself to Christmas songs. As rockers age, they become more willing to cover Christmas songs, but they seldom write them. And hip-hop artists consider themselves even more badass, so I don’t expect Randall’s distribution to change very much, even after the boomers are gone.

By the way, Randall’s doing a little cherry picking, too. In 2009, ASCAP announced a top 25 list for the previous decade, not a top 20 list. The five songs that Randall chose to leave off were

Adding these wouldn’t have changed the distribution much, but those last two would have made the story a little less neat, wouldn’t they?1

There is, of course, a simpler response to Randall’s complaint. It’s also explains why classic rock blares from construction sites loaded with 20-somethings:

It's true

I’m not interested (much) in tweaking Gen Y’s well-deserved inferiority complex, but I am interested in hearing what recent songs Millennials think should be getting more play.2

  1. In the spirit of the season, I will not reiterate my hatred of “Wonderful Christmastime.” 

  2. I’m a little surprised the relatively recent “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey didn’t make the top 25. It seems very hard to avoid.