25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 9

Gene Autry – “Here Comes Santa Claus” / “An Old-Fashioned Tree” [Columbia Records 20377, Shellac 10″ 78 rpm, 1947.]

Gene Autry Side 1

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

Everyone knows this one, don’t they? Written in 1947 by Gene Autry – the Singing Cowboy – and Oakley Haldeman, a composer who worked in Autry’s music publishing office, “Here Comes Santa Claus” was an immediate hit, making it into the top 5 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and into the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 not long after it was released. It’s been popular ever since, with both kids and grown-ups. The song has been covered a zillion times, with notable versions recorded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Elvis Presley on his first Christmas album and Alvin and the Chipmunks, among a throng of others.

The history of the song is told nicely in an excerpt from Holly George-Warren’s official biography of the Singing Cowboy, which I found at the Gene Autry website:

“Another Autry recording marked a turning point for the singer in 1947. That summer Art Satherly had suggested Gene record a new Christmas song he had discovered, “An Old-Fashioned Tree.” For its flipside, Gene remembered a song idea he’d gotten while participating in the annual Hollywood “Santa Claus Lane” parade the previous November. Astride Champion Jr., ahead of St. Nick on his sleigh, he’d heard a child on the sidewalk shout, “Here comes Santa Claus!” Satherly took Gene’s idea to Oakley Haldeman, the composer who operated Gene’s music publishing division, and he came up with the melody.

"Here Comes Santa Claus!" music notes

Gene Autry Side 2Johnny Bond recorded a demo version of the song at his home studio, where Art, cocktail in hand, stood next to the mic (as he usually did during recordings). The tingling of ice cubes was captured on the recording, inspiring the use of jingle bells on the August 28 Columbia session. After initial sales of two million following its December release, “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)” became a perennial top-ten hit every Yuletide season for years to come. More important, it opened up a whole new market for Gene – holiday discs aimed at children. Easter and Thanksgiving recordings would follow, as would one of the biggest-selling Christmas discs of all time.”

There you have it folks, straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Although born in Texas, Autry spent a good part of his youth in Oklahoma. By the late 1920s, he was appearing regularly on Tulsa’s KVOO radio station (the “Voice Of Oklahoma”) where he was known as “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy.” KVOO would also become famous for being the radio home of Bob Will and His Texas Playboys starting in the mid-1930s.

Autry became one of the biggest stars of his day. He had a hugely successful career that covered all aspects of the entertainment industry including radio, recordings, movies, television and live performances. He was also an incredibly savvy businessman. He was well known as the long-time owner of the California Angels Major League Baseball team, one of my hometown baseball teams, from their inception in 1961 until his death in 1998.

Gene Autry on platter

This is another estate sale purchase that I came across several years ago. Compared to many of the 78s that I have, this one is in good condition; it’s not nearly as scratched as some. It appears to have been well cared for since it was first purchased by someone back in 1947!

There’s an interesting side note about the catalog number of this record, at least interesting to a record collector like me. This copy has the Columbia number 20377 on it, but I found a listing for another 10″ 78 rpm Columbia recording of these same two songs from the same year, but with the number 37942 on it. I was a little baffled by this and thought that one of the entries must be incorrect at the Discogs website where I was looking up information. After searching for more details about the Columbia Records catalog numbers, I learned that they sometimes used separate numbers for records that were marketed directly for a particular market. This record came in two versions upon its initial release in 1947: one version had a number that was in the series which was marketed along with Columbia’s regular popular music recordings, and the other version had a different number that was used in the series marketed to Country & Western audiences. Huh. You learn something new every day.

And here’s a nice treat: a YouTube user with a large 78 record collection has uploaded a video which shows the actual record playing. Take a listen to “Here Comes Santa Claus” at 78 revolutions per minute…

Here’s the flip side also: “An Old-Fashioned Tree”

Happy trails to you.

Oh, wait…that’s a different singing cowboy!

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