In the depths of winter and so soon after the shortest day of the year, the celebration of Christmas is a sure antidote to those grey day blues. Particularly so for children, who have been looking forward to the great day with eager but impatient anticipation for weeks. To help you get in the mood we have gathered together a veritable cornucopia of treats for your delectation and delight.
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town - and you'd better believe it when intoned by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters, then at the height of their popularity. This song, dating from 1934, had to wait nine years for this best-selling version to come along and give it a new lease of life. The same team gives us The Twelve Days Of Christmas, a yuletide evergreen with an interesting history. It is much more than a novelty song for children; it dates back to the period between 1558 and 1829 when Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning, plus a hidden subtext known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality, which the children could remember. The 'true love' mentioned in the song is God himself, and the partridge in a pear tree is Jesus.
Frank Sinatra is the kind of singer who comes along once in a lifetime - but why did it have to be my lifetime?' quoth Bing Crosby. But the two top American crooners were on good terms and had a great deal of respect for one another. Bing's White Christmas was the original, top-selling record from the 1942 film 'Holiday Inn'. Frank Sinatra's version from a couple of years later, whilst not necessarily 'better', is equally relaxed and perhaps more 'modern' sounding. In Christmas Dreaming we can well understand why Frank is doing his 'Christmas dreaming a little early this year'.
The Boswell Sisters were a highly successful trio between 1924 and 1935 when they all married (Connie to the trio's manager, Harry Leedy). Connie went on to achieve fame as a solo performer. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! lives on as a perennial Christmas/Winter favourite.
The Christmas Song was written by Bob Wells and up-and-coming vocalist Mel Torm' during a heatwave in July 1945. They rushed it round to Carlos Gastel, Nat King Cole's manager, and the upshot was that the Nat King Cole Trio recorded it with a string backing the following year. It was worth the wait. With Nat's impeccable dark and intimate vocal the disc reached No.3 in the Hit Parade. It has remained a yuletide evergreen ever since.
Singing cowboy Jean Autry was a dab hand at composing too. With Oakley Haldeman he wrote Here Comes Santa Claus in 1947 and recorded it the same year. Other artists covered the song too, including Bing and The Andrews Sisters and our songstress here, Doris Day. At the time of this recording, Doris has broken into the film world and was on the threshold of international stardom. Two other big record hits for Gene Autry were Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty The Snowman but we've elected to use the immediate and fresh-as-a-daisy sounding versions by Harry Babbitt with The Heartbeats. A native of St Louis, Harry Babbitt was born in 1913 and became the lead male singer with Kay Kyser's band. After serving two years in the US Navy, Babbitt rejoined Kyser awhile before embarking on a successful solo career. At the time of writing it's pleasing to be able to report that he is still active in the music business.
The late Perry Como's first job was as a barber. He used to sing at work and many of his customers urged him to become a professional vocalist, sacrificing the tonsorial for the tonsillar, so to speak. Perry took their advice and served his apprenticeship as a band vocalist for nine years from 1933 (six of those years with the high-profile Ted Weems Orchestra). Going solo in 1942, Perry enjoyed a long and fruitful career as one of America's top entertainers. In common with Bing Crosby, his manner exuded an air of supreme relaxation and for years both crooners were renowned for their televised Christmas Specials. We can enjoy his friendly, intimate style in the cheerful Winter Wonderland and the contrasting, nostalgic ballads There Is No Christmas Like A Home Christmas and That Christmas Feeling.
Judy Garland sings two seasonal songs from two different films. From 'In The Good Old Summertime' in which she co-starred alongside Van Johnson, there's Merry Christmas. The movie's slight but entertaining plot tells of the touching romance between two pen pals who, unbeknownst to each other, work in the same music shop. One of the best of the Christmas songs, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas features in Judy's 1944 film 'Meet Me In St Louis'. One of her greatest movies, it centres on a year in the life of a prosperous St Louis family early this century. Two other song hits from the film were 'The Boy Next Door' and 'The Trolley Song'.
Like Eric Coates, Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) was a first-rate conductor of his own compositions. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to first-generation Swedish parents, Anderson began arranging for Arthur Fiedler's Boston Pops Orchestra in the mid-1930s. Fiedler was the first to record the highly evocative Sleigh Ride in 1949, and Anderson's own sparkling recording (complete with descriptive sound effects) followed a year later.
All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) features George Rock admirably imitating a little boy. Just as you think he's about to lisp his way through the well-known poem 'Twas The Night Before Christmas', all mayhem breaks loose. But that was to be expected of 'King Of Corn' Spike Jones, who expected his band members to do the zaniest things. George Rock was actually a first-class trumpet player. This song reached No.1 in The Hit Parade and stayed there for eight weeks.
Daughter of composer Richard Whiting, and a popular singer very much in her own right is Margaret Whiting. Here she gives us the cheery Mistletoe Kiss Polka, composed by Irish-born Jimmy Kennedy and his second wife, the actress Constance Carpenter.
We are abruptly yanked off to New York - Harlem in fact, where we learn that it's Christmas Night In Harlem. Major league popular lyric writer Johnny Mercer was also one of the best rhythm singers. Here he's having a ball, joining forces with Jack Teagarden, at a time when the great trombonist/vocalist was under contract to the Paul Whiteman organisation for five years.
'Every little girl would like to be The Fairy On The Christmas Tree' sings Gracie Fields, and who are we to argue? There is ample evidence here of Gracie's pure, bell-like tones so it is easy to understand why the great diva Luisa Tetrazzini attempted to persuade her to study opera and forsake the variety stage. It is fortunate for us that she didn't heed the diva's words. We get more than a glimpse, too, of Gracie 'guying' the song by hardening her voice and being typically 'oh so Lanca-sheer'.
Brooklyn-born Dick Robertson (1903-1979) recorded prolifically with US Decca studio bands in the seven years from 1935. Dick's pleasing vocal style together with his flair for picking top jazzmen means that today many of his records are highly prized by collectors. On the Dixieland-style Don't Wait Till The Night Before Christmas there's the bonus of a short muted cornet chorus from Bobby Hackett.
The 'harmful little armful', or 'Mrs Waller's 285 pounds of jam, jive and everythin'' as he described himself. Who else but the irrepressible Fats Waller? No other artist communicates such an unbridled sense of joie de vivre through his recordings - what matter that (Swingin' Them) Jingle Bells was recorded over sixty years ago? With Fats at the helm it comes through open-armed and greets you like an old friend. Even the yard dog enters into the spirit of the occasion (you be a good yard dog now, mind...). By way of contrast, we have a song that's mawkish and over-sentimental perhaps; despite this, the 'ever-so-sad' tale of The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot remains in the seasonal repertoire. Phyllis Robins puts this number across in an appealing but straightforward manner.
Following on, we have our only British dance band offering on this collection, the jaunty I'm Going Home For Christmas by Sydney Lipton & His Grosvenor House Band. Sydney (1906-1995) enjoyed a long association with London's Grosvenor House Hotel from 1931 through to 1972 (save for a five year stint in the Royal Corps Of Signals from 1941).
To conclude we have Dinah Shore with Jud Conlon's Rhythmaires inviting us to join in The Merry Christmas Polka, a jaunty and fitting number to close written by Paul Francis Webster and Sonny Burke. 'Kriss Kringle', referred to in the song, derived from the German 'Christkindl', strictly meaning 'Christ Child' but accepted in many regions as an alternative name for Santa Claus (St Nicholas). It has its uses too in rhyming with 'tingle' and 'jingle'.
So there we have it; may the warm spirit of Christmas remain with you throughout the year.
2002 HUGH PALMER"