“Silent Night” is the all-time most covered song

“Silent Night” is not that silent after all.

The 19th-century Austrian Christmas carol has been covered so many times by so many artists that if you take the 2 minutes and 40 seconds of Bing Crosby’s 1942 version as a sort of average duration, you could play “Silent Night” nonstop for a week without repeating a version.

There are more than 3,700 interpretations of “Silent Night,” making it the all-time most covered song, according to the online database SecondHandSongs.com. A distant second is the aria “Summertime” (more than 2,300 covers), and another holiday banger, “White Christmas,” comes in third with over 2,100 covers.

Opera singers, choirs, crooners, pop divas, jazz ensembles, and even surf and punk bands have reinterpreted “Silent Night.” They’ve sung it in hundreds of languages, including Gaelic, Arabic, Swahili and Japanese.


‘Silent Night’ covers,

by year of release

First cover in the database

of the original version in German

An early

instrumental cover

by the Neapolitan Trio

First recorded

version in

English, by the

Haydn Quartet

The Peanuts

mixing English

and Japanese

Minimalist electronic cover,

by The Moog Machine

The Dickies’

punk version:

loud, fast

Joe Satriani jams

for seven minutes

Latest

release,

by Zara

Larsson

George

Perris

(In English,

French and

Spanish)

Italian opera

trio Il Volo

singing in

English

Phoebe

Bridgers

Fiona Apple

and Matt

Berninger

cover

Simon and

Garfunkel’s

1966 “7

O’Clock

News /

Silent Night”

 

More than 1,000

covers in the 2000s

And nearly 1,400

in the 2010s

‘Silent Night’ covers, by year of release

First cover in the database

of the original version in German

First recorded

version in

English, by the

Haydn Quartet

An early instrumental

cover by the

Neapolitan Trio

The Peanuts

mixing English

and Japanese

Minimalist electronic cover, by The Moog Machine

Latest

release,

by Zara

Larsson

The Dickies’ punk

version: loud, fast

George

Perris

(In English,

French and

Spanish)

Joe Satriani jams

for seven minutes

Phoebe

Bridgers

Fiona Apple

and Matt

Berninger

cover

Simon and

Garfunkel’s

1966 version:

“7 O’Clock

News /

Silent Night”

 

Italian opera trio

Il Volo singing in English

More than 1,000 covers in the 2000s

And nearly 1,400

in the 2010s

‘Silent Night’ covers, by year of release

First cover in the database

of the original version in German

First recorded version in

English, by the Haydn Quartet

An early instrumental cover

by the Neapolitan Trio

The Peanuts mixing

English and Japanese

Minimalist electronic cover, by The Moog Machine

Latest release,

by Zara Larsson

The Dickies’ punk

version: loud, fast

George Perris

(In English,

French and

Spanish)

Joe Satriani jams

for seven minutes

Phoebe Bridgers

Fiona Apple and

Matt Berninger

cover Simon and

Garfunkel’s

1966 version:

“7 O’Clock News

/ Silent Night”

 

Italian opera trio

Il Volo singing in English

More than 1,000 covers in the 2000s

And nearly 1,400 in the 2010s

Sarah Eyerly, an associate professor of Musicology at Florida State University, says that the lyrics, originally written in 1816, are key to the appeal of the composition.

“I think there’s something deeply meaningful in the text of the song that really speaks about those types of circumstances that resonate with people in a way that it transcends Christian messages, it transcends the celebration of Christmas,” Eyerly said. “It’s really a kind of a sense of universal hope and peace.”

All we want for Christmas is … these songs. Here’s why.

George Plasketes, a professor of media studies and popular culture at Auburn University, called the song “almost like comfort food.” Much like “Amazing Grace,” he said, “Silent Night” is one of those tunes that becomes imprinted on every generation, not only because of the lyrics but also the melody.

Musical icons from every era have covered it: Frank Sinatra in the 40s, The Temptations and Simon & Garfunkel in the 60s, Boyz II Men and holiday queen Mariah Carey in the 90s, and most recently, Taylor Swift and Dolly Parton.

Three of the covers have made the Billboard Top 100: Bing Crosby’s version peaked in 1960, Mahalia Jackson’s in 1962 and Carrie Underwood’s in 2021.

A song that sounds like waves

Almost a third of the “Silent Night” covers in the SecondHandSongs.com database are instrumental.

The recognizable melody and structure of “Silent Night” is “meant to mimic the songs of Italian fishermen,” Eyerly said.

That style of music, known as siciliana, is easy to memorize and sing along, according to Eyerly. “And when you sing it or play it, it gives the sense of water of actually rolling waves and the rhythmic sounds of water.”

Eyerly says that the rhythm pattern of the song makes it difficult to stray from it without making the song unrecognizable.

“That pattern is just so strong that it really overwrites other musical interpretations,” says Eyerly.

Still, Musicians have approached “Silent Night” from many different genres. “That always gets fun when somebody does it [a holiday song] country, or rock, or Motown, or soul,” Plasketes said.

He explains that those covers in a different voice, instrumentation, in a different place or time, “may help keep them fresh and appealing,” or, in other cases, “less appealing depending on the rendition.”

Plasketes mentions Bob Dylan’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” as an example. His nasal voice “is far from the original and other versions. Yet that becomes part of the appeal.”

Of course, artists aren’t doing this only for the art. Holiday music sells.

And so far, in 2023, there are 32 new “Silent Night” covers out there — again, using Crosby’s 1942 version, nearly 85 minutes worth or so — to enjoy this holiday season.

Data as of Dec. 1, 2023. SecondHandSongs.com is a collaborative project that crowdsources covers relying on voluntary contributors and editors. Songs labeled as unverified in the database weren’t included in the graphic. Johnny Cash versions can be on his own or with his family and friends.

For this story, the reporter listened to more than 200 “Silent Night” covers, but only a few of them left a mark.

This story was edited by Chiqui Esteban.

Bonnie Berkowitz contributed to this report.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *