While most of the Christmas carols we hear during the season (“Deck the Halls,” “Joy To the World,” etc.) are either traditional songs or hymns originating from centuries past, several of our most popular Christmas hits were written from the 1930s to the 1950s. What would our holidays be like if Irving Berlin, Leroy Anderson, and yes, even Mel Torme, hadn’t come to be? No “White Christmas.” No “Sleigh Ride.” NO CHESTNUTS ROASTING OVER AN OPEN FIRE!
I perish the thought!
Today’s blog offers a look at Christmas recordings from the famed Big Bands of the time. Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians were a reliable source of memorable Big Band Christmas tracks. They’re the guys who backed up the Andrews Sisters as they made the song “Winter Wonderland” famous in 1946.
One best bet for finding good (and rare) recordings from this era is the album called Spirit of Christmas Past. It’s also available through the Madison Public Library.
Tracks to Consider:
2. “Savoy Christmas Medley” by the New Mayfair Orchestra directed by Ray Noble
You could almost dance a polka to this medley, even when the melody turns to “Good King Wenceslas” (and who’d ever think to dance to that?).
6. “Christmas Bells” at Eventide by Gracie Fields
If you can tolerate female voices that tend toward the “shrill,” I think you’ll appreciate this selection. While you fear either your eardrums or your windows will shatter, there’s something comforting about this song — a good theme to remember a long lost (or long gone) friend or relative by. The melodic chime of church bells to seal the deal.
8. “Winter Wonderland” by Alan Kane with Lew Stone and His Orchestra
Here’s a recording that came about before Perry Como and The Andrews Sisters each made it famous in 1946. It’s a straightforward arrangement for those of you who don’t like bells and whistles.
9. “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” by Tom Stacks with Harry Reser and His Orchestra
Well, this song brings be back! My only nostalgic memory of this song is when I was four or five years old. Everyone (I mean EVERYONE) was at my Grandma’s house, as they always were for Christmas. Uncle Bob was tending bar in the basement, and a couple of my cousins, aunts and uncles huddled around. Uncle Bob offered me a marashino cherry and I said, “No, I only like the cherries in fruit cocktails.” He responded, “These are the same kind of cherries!” I didn’t believe him and this argument continued for a good five or six rounds.
Shortly thereafter, I took the stage, a.k.a. a round beige-colored vinyl ottoman that I propped in front of the fake fireplace in the rec room. I stood atop it and started singing:
“[wags finger scoldlingly] You better not shout!
[wags finger scoldlingly] You better not cry!
[wags finger scoldlingly] You better not pout I’m telling you why!
[places hands on hips proudly] Santa Claus Is Coming To Town!”
After every rendition of the song, I’d realize nobody was listening, so I’d run back over to the bar and tell my relatives to watch as I sang it to them again. They’d say, “Okay!” and I’d go back to sing it again, and still they didn’t watch. I think I spent a good half-hour doing this until I actually started feeling dumb.
Reflecting back on this, I’ve realized three things: 1) I’m a ham; 2) I’m a dope; and 3) I still can’t get people to listen to me! (Have you seen HPZ’s ratings?)
10. “I’ll Walk Alone (Through Every Christmas)” by Dinah Shore
HPZ listeners are sure to recognize Dinah Shore’s hit “I’ll Walk Alone.” This song has modified lyrics to reflect the sacrifices made during the holiday season while families were temporarily (some cases, permanently) broken by the second World War. A fine historical touch to add to our music collection.
17. “The Christmas Dinner” by Max Miller
If you ever master the words to this song (which won’t be hard if you just listen to it repeatedly at least 25 times), this might be a fun drinking song. Be sure to practice your British accent for the spoken words. Why do I feel like I’m listening to Monty Python here?