With the holiday season upon us, I recently found myself out shopping with my 12-year-old. After wandering in and out of countless shops that sold ripped jeans and fragrant candles, I noticed a nostalgic familiarity in the songs playing through the speakers. These Christmas tunes were the same ones I’d listened to when I was twelve, yet here was my daughter, singing along to those old chestnuts, word for word.
Having covered the annuity industry for the past decade, it got me thinking of a similarity between successful Christmas songs and the guaranteed income that annuities provide. With the annuity, the amount can be locked in place based on the amount purchased and the details of the policy.
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I knew that Christmas songs didn’t come with the same guarantees as an insurance product, but common logic also told me if the same songs were receiving constant rotation year after year, decade after decade, then they must be paying out a pretty penny. The real amount, though, nearly knocked me out of my chair, and had me scrambling for pen, paper, and a keyboard so I could write a holiday jingle of my own.
Until I hit it big, I’ll share with you some of the great Christmas songs that keep on giving.
Mel Torme was a 19-year-old Jewish kid suffering through a long, hot summer when he had, as artists like to call it, “some kind of divine inspiration.” Broiling under the Chicago sun, maybe he felt like “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” How else to explain his classic, “The Christmas Song,” which has been recorded by just about everyone with a recording contract and earned Torme an estimated $19 million. No wonder he called the song, “My Annuity.”
Legend has it that Paul McCartney needed to take five during the recording sessions for his 1979 solo project McCartney II. As the tale goes, McCartney emerged from the bathroom five minutes later with a completed song, the simple, yet mind-numbingly melodic, “Wonderful Christmastime.” Lambasted by critics, the song receives extensive airplay every holiday season and earns McCartney an estimated $400,000 annually, showing the cute Beatle still had the Midas touch.
For goodness sakes
Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lennon & McCartney, Gillespie & Coots — ah the names of the all-time great songwriting duos just roll off the tongue. Wait, Gillespie & Coots? Okay, laugh if you want, I sure did. But Haven Gillespie and Fred J. Coots wrote one of the enduring classics of the genre, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” I’m most fond of Bruce Springsteen’s barroom brawl of a version that reaches a bareknuckled crescendo with Clarence Clemons’ saxophone solo, but for you young whippersnappers, Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber have recorded the song as well. Oh, and the song has earned an estimated $25 million since 1934. Who’s laughing now?
Mariah Carey’s 1994 album, “Merry Christmas,” which includes the single, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” is among the became the best-selling Christmas albums of all time, with global sales reaching over 15 million copies. (Photo: mariahcarey.com)
I’m no fan of Mariah Carey’s histrionic yodeling that’s passed off as singing. Not only that, but her phrasing has spawned a generation of less-talented copycats on records and reality TV shows such as American Idol and The Voice. But let me give praise where praise is due. While most Christmas songs leave you roasting in front of an open fire or slogging through snow with someone you love, “All I Want for Christmas is You” is that rarity — a Christmas tune with a booty-bumping beat that even gets middle-aged suburbanites like myself out of the La-Z-Boy and out on the dance floor. And 22 years after recording it, Mariah is still raking in the royalties, with an estimated $560,000 last year.
Dreams come true
Everyone has their favorite song for the holidays. But in the financial world, we like to talk about the bottom line, and no song of any kind, except for “Happy Birthday,” has earned more money than “White Christmas,” with its estimated $36 million. Countless artists have recorded the song, but the one most of us know and love is Bing Crosby’s. As he’s “dreaming of a white Christmas,” Crosby’s voice rises as if from the bottom of well and continues to rise as if anyone listening could hop aboard that dream.
During this holiday season, make a special effort to ask your clients, your friends, your family members — what’s your favorite Christmas song and why? It just may open up a treasure trove of warm memories, one “where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.”
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