Andy Williams – The Andy Williams Christmas Album [Columbia CS 8887, 12″ LP, 1963.]
Christmas-time, for me, has always been a time for family and celebration. I’m one of five siblings, and our Mom and Dad (may they rest in peace…) always did their best to make it a fun time for us, I’m sure on a shoe-string budget some years. And our family has two birthdays to celebrate during this second week of December. My oldest brother, Mike, and my youngest sibling, Brenda, our baby sister, have birthdays two days apart, so I guess I’m feeling a bit nostalgic as I think of them, and our whole family, at this time. My Mom, especially, loved Christmas and did it up in a big way. In the weeks before Christmas Day, she’d bake dozens upon dozens of delicious cookies and fudge that we’d then deliver in tins to all their friends. I looked forward to eating those all year long! I’d circle a hundred different things in the J.C Penney and Sears catalogs, none of which I’d ever get. (If I still had some of the sweaters my Mom liked to get for us, I’d be the hit of many a holiday party.) My parents often hosted a Christmas cocktail party that we’d try to sneak a glimpse of, if we were quiet enough as we peeked in from the hallway. There were the church services with all the extra pomp and circumstance and great carols. I especially loved those times when we attended Midnight Mass; it was different and special and holy. Each Christmas Eve we’d be allowed to open one tiny gift in order to hold us off until Christmas morning. It was impossible to get to sleep. Then it would be Christmas Day! There was the crazy rush of opening presents and trying to get them out of their packages and play with them or put them together. Then we had Christmas dinner and visited our Grandma Elizabeth’s house where we’d meet up with most of our very large clan (my Dad was the oldest of 10 children and we have somewhere around 40 first cousins when it is all said and done. My Mom was an only child.) There were the children’s TV specials that we had to wait for each year in the days before VCRs and DVRs: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Year Without a Santa Claus and, of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas. (What’s your favorite?) If you missed it the one time it aired, you were out of luck until next year. And there were the inevitable Christmas variety shows hosted by celebrities such as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Perry Como and Andy Williams, among others. And that brings us back to the subject at hand: Christmas music – and family.
You see, I still have my parents’ record collection, which includes a handful of Christmas albums. They heavily favored Easy Listening music: their regular collection contains a lot of Mantovani, Andre Kostelanetz, Percy Faith and His Orchestra, the Ray Conniff Singers, the Melachrino Strings, the Norman Luboff Choir and the like. There are a few big band swing records and some basic classical recordings, but for the most part it’s Easy Listening. It never was my cup of tea. So it was natural for them, and for us, to watch these types of singers perform on their annual Christmas specials, replete with celebrity guests and seasonal skits. And it was natural that these were the type of Christmas records they would own. I’m sure many of our parents who were of a certain age had some of these same albums. You can see all the Christmas albums that I still have from my parents’ collection in this gallery below (click on an image to enlarge them all into a slide-show; click the X in the upper left to return.)
I don’t have strong memories of any one album they played in particular, but I chose to highlight The Andy Williams Christmas Album because I think it best typifies my parents’ musical tastes and Christmas memories for me. It’s really a pretty good album, especially compared to some of the other Christmas records they had. Trumpeter Al Hirt’s The Sound of Christmas starts off with an incredibly bombastic take on “Jingle Bells” and doesn’t let up until a little medley ends the side seven tracks later. Side Two consists of a much more palatable group of medleys featuring classic carols. It’s perhaps the most schizophrenic Christmas album I’ve ever heard. My sister Brenda fondly remembers the Jim Nabors’ Christmas Album that’s in the collection and his very swinging version of “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” It’s pretty groovy. And there’s the all-encompassing Reader’s Digest 6-LP set – An Old-Fashioned Christmas – which includes 69 tracks covering all styles of Christmas music from classical to country, with plenty of kitsch. The one anomaly in their collection is The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album. It appears to have been purchased later on (it’s a 1980 reissue with a Licorice Pizza sticker on it – a record store chain in southern California where I grew up. Best record store name ever! The LP cost a whole $3.99.) I think they may have bought this to appease us young folk who wanted some rock ‘n’ roll Christmas music to listen to. Anyway, it’s a nice album, but the Brian Wilson-penned “Little Saint Nick” is by far the best thing on there and has remained perennially popular. It’s the perfect mix of southern California cool and Christmas cheer.
The Andy Williams Christmas Album keeps it simple. I remember my Mom liking his voice a lot. What’s not to like? He has a nice crooner’s voice with a lot of swing in it. I’ve always liked Williams better than most of the other singers of that type from the 60s and 70s. Side one features a nice mix of Christmas pop songs, including a song written specifically for the album, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which has now become a seasonal staple and one of the top selling Christmas songs of all time. Side two changes the pace and quiets things down a bit with nice arrangements of classic carols and spirituals along with the more modern choice of “The Little Drummer Boy.” It nicely mixes the celebratory aspects of the Christmas season with the religious aspects; it’s all that my parents really loved in Christmas music.
And when I think of playing records at our house, it makes me remember the wonderful old console stereo that our family had. It was so great! I have fond memories of pulling out records and playing them, laying on the floor of our living room reading the liner notes and listening to album after album. I wish I still had that stereo, but they seemed to have off-loaded it at some point when we moved to the Monterey Peninsula. I believe it was a Magnavox or Motorola model. It was one of those big, heavy, beautiful solid wood cabinets with speakers built in at either end and a sliding door in the middle hiding a shelf where you could store records. There was also a sliding door on the top that opened up to the turntable and radio that was inside. I’m glad I was able to find a couple of photos of it, along with a sampling of vintage Christmas scenes at the McGilvray house. (Click on an image to enlarge them all into a slide-show; click the X in the upper left to return.)
So let’s hear some music. Here’s one for Mom and Dad. Andy Williams singing on his Christmas special in 1963; they might’ve watched it when it aired.
And next we have the cool surf pop of the Beach Boys from a live performance on the Shindig! TV show. This one’s for you, Mike!
And finally, Jim Nabors swinging a spiritual with his booming baritone like you’ve never heard before. Hope you enjoy this once again, Brenda!
Here’s to you and yours this Christmas season…cheers!