Christmas albums

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 25

Various Artists – Great Songs of Christmas by Great Artists of Our Time (Album Six) [Columbia Special Products CSS 388, 12″ LP, 1966.]

Great Songs of Christmas frontMerry Christmas! And thanks for following along during these 25 Days of Christmas Records. I hope you enjoyed listening and reading as much I enjoyed putting together this very personal exploration of my eclectic Christmas record collection.

It was no easy task coming up with a record to feature for Christmas Day, but it didn’t take much thought to realize that I had to find something of musical significance, something that’s been with us for a long time and will surely be with us for a long time to come. I knew it had to be something that could convey the joy and majesty and spirit of Christmas Day. And it had to be something in my record collection. So I looked to the great classical composers and found a piece from Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps my favorite composer of them all, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

This recording comes from an album I have in my collection that is part of the multi-volume “Great Songs of Christmas” series produced by Columbia Special Products for the Goodyear company. The Firestone company also produced a similar series of Christmas albums during the 60s and 70s. Here’s a brief rundown of how these albums came to be found everywhere: “When Shopping for Tires Meant Buying a Christmas Album.” If you ever go to a garage sale or estate sale that has Christmas records, you’re likely to seen many volumes of these albums sitting there in the stacks.

Great Songs of Christmas backFor the most part, these albums featured recordings by various pop singers of the day along with some popular orchestras. These are by no means definitive recordings of the classical works that might be included on the albums. But I think this recording of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by famed cellist Pablo Casals with chorus and orchestra is quite nice. If you can read the liner notes from the back of the album, it states that the then 89-year old Casals traveled to New York specifically to record this for the album. Casals’ recordings of Bach’s cello suites are legendary. And this is an incredibly beautiful tune. Bach really was a genius.

(Since we’re talking about classical Christmas music here, I’ll include this NPR piece from 2012 as an aside: “Whatever Happened to the Classical Christmas Album?” Thanks to my friend Scott Gregory for sharing this.)

Here is Pablo Casals performing “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” as found on this Great Songs of Christmas album.

And I couldn’t resist including one last song to leave you with as my celebration of Christmas records concludes. I had also wanted to feature a recording of “Joy to the World” from my collection, but they were really all rather lackluster and none of them was satisfactory enough to post here.  So, I fudged a little. Here is a wonderful performance of “Joy to the World” by the Cambridge Singers with the City of London Sinfonia conducted by John Rutter.

Let heaven and nature sing!

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 24

Christmas in Germany frontVarious Artists – Christmas in Germany [Capitol Records (International Series) SM-10095, 12″ LP, 1965?]

Christmas Eve is upon us. I’m going to keep it simple today and tomorrow as I celebrate with my family. This album, Christmas in Germany, features some lovely traditional Christmas melodies in orchestral and choral settings. We’ll take a listen to the most familiar tune on the album, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” – “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

You can read the original German text along with an English literal translation and much more about the history of “Stille Nacht” at the website of the Silent Night Association based in Salzburg, Austria.

And I think it’s apropos to mention that today marks the centenary of the famous “Christmas Truce” that took place between German and Allied, mostly British, soldiers during the first Christmas at the beginning of World War I in 1914. Christmas songs and other tunes were a part of this event. If only it had proved more lasting.

Christmas in Germany backHere is the version of “Stille Nacht” heard on this album, performed by the Bielefelder Kinderchor, the Bielefeld Children’s Choir, with some church bells at the introduction.

Sleep in heavenly peace tonight, if you’re not too distracted by the excitement of Christmas morning!

 

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 22

Imagene Peise – Atlas Eets Christmas [Warner Bros. Records 545311-1, 12″ LP, Limited Edition Red Vinyl, 2014.]

Imagene Peise frontSay it out loud: Imagine Peace. At Last It’s Christmas. Those guys in the Flaming Lips impart their weirdness on Christmas. But it’s really quite beautiful weirdness. We’re getting closer to Christmas Day and it’s getting more difficult to narrow down my last few selections for this 25 Days of Christmas Records extravaganza. I figured I’d go with some music from Oklahoma today, and something relatively new on vinyl, albeit something off the beaten track.

“The Flaming Lips secret 2007 Christmas album, Atlas Eets Christmas, was previously released in a very limited physical quantity on CD only under the pseudonym Imagene Peise (with a sticker that read “Love Is The Answer – Merry Christmas From The Flaming Lips 2007″). This Black Friday release will mark the first time the album is available both widely and on vinyl.” – The Flaming Lips Online Store

Imagene Peise backThe Flaming Lips presented Atlas Eets Christmas as the lost recording of Christmas songs by 18-year old female Iraqi jazz pianist Imagene Peise. You have to admire their creativity. As far as I have been able to find out, this is the work of Flaming Lips band member Steven Drozd. The tunes are mostly straight-forward piano arrangements of well-known Christmas tunes with some slightly odd string accompaniment on each track that gives it a hint of Middle Eastern flavor and Flaming Lips strangeness. They even added some vinyl static and pops for effect. They uploaded the whole album for all to enjoy; listen to Atlas Eets Christmas on YouTube. Read the liner notes included under the “Show More” tag on each song page for the whole imaginary back story.

Imagene Peise vinylMy copy pictured here is a limited edition of the album released on beautiful red vinyl for Record Store Day in November 2014. I couldn’t pass that up! Not knowing exactly what to expect from this album since I hadn’t heard anything on it, I was pleasantly surprised by its balance of familiar melodies and the eccentricity that is a hallmark of the Flaming Lips’ sound. I know it may be a little far afield for some folks, but it suits my eclectic tastes pretty well. Take a listen and see what you think!

Have yourself a spaced out little Christmas…

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 21

Paul Winter – Wintersong (Tomorrow Is My Dancing Day) [Living Music Records LM0012, 12″ LP, 1986.]

Paul Winter frontToday is the December Solstice. We here in the Northern Hemisphere commonly call it the Winter Solstice, but I sometimes forget that for those in the Southern Hemisphere it is the Summer Solstice. For us in the northern climes, it is the darkest day of the year, the time of year with the least amount of sunlight. It’s no wonder we have created traditions which help us bring light and hope into our lives. And so it is with Christmas.

Looking back on what I’ve featured during these 25 Days of Christmas Records, I suppose it would have been much more apropos to write about A Winter’s Solstice, the album by artists on the Windham Hill record label, today rather than when I did earlier in the series. As luck would have it, though, featuring the Paul Winter album works out nicely for today since it coincides with the annual National Public Radio broadcast of the Winter Solstice concert which Paul Winter has presented at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine for 35 years now. What a wonderful tradition. (See below for details about the radio broadcast.)

Paul Winter back

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Wintersong (Tomorrow Is My Dancing Day) is a beautiful album of mostly traditional folk tunes that may not be familiar to most of us as part of the usual Christmas music canon. It was released in 1986 on Paul Winter’s own Living Music Records label. My copy of the album pictured here is a promotional copy I received at the record store I was working at in 1986. As the jazz and New Age music buyer for the store, this album came into my hands and has been a treasured part of my Christmas collection ever since.

The Paul Winter Consort has long been an outstanding collective of performers making music without bounds. Music writer John Diliberto describes the genesis of the Paul Winter Consort in a piece entitled “Paul Winter Goes Where the Wild Things Are” at his website Echoes:

“World music has always been part of the Consort mix. In the mid-1960s, Winter made a conscious turn from the button-down be-bop and bossa nova jazz that he recorded on three albums for Columbia. Emerging out of jazz, 60s folk eclecticism and eastern influences via the Beatles and rock, the Consort was a group where you were as likely to hear darbuka and sitar as saxophone and guitar.”

He goes on the quote Winter’s own thoughts about the creation of the group:

“The aspiration of the Consort was to see if we could achieve with the symphonic, jazz and ethnic instruments, that kind of soulful tapestry that was orchestral and that had improvising in which you didn’t know where the blowing began and the writing stopped,” [Winter] recalls.

These are apt descriptions of the music you can hear on this album. It goes far beyond the “New Age” label that the Paul Winter Consort gets tagged with. I’ve always been a fan of the Paul Winter Consort and really enjoy the soulfulness, the spirit, the joy, the quiet and the peacefulness that can be heard in their recordings. These are all things I particularly revel in hearing at this time of year.

You can hear Wintersong (Tomorrow Is My Dancing Day) in its entirety here as a YouTube playlist. (As with other playlists like this, be aware that ads may play between tracks; you can usually skip them after a few seconds.)

And, as I mentioned above, many NPR stations will air the Winter Solstice concert tonight, including KWGS – Public Radio Tulsa 89.5 FM, which will broadcast it from 9-11 p.m. Central Time. (Click on the “Listen Live” button in the upper left of the page.) It appears that each year NPR Music broadcasts the previous December’s concert. They also have the Winter Solstice concert archived on their website, along with some of the previous concerts as well, if you don’t get a chance to hear it on the radio.

I hope this music brings some light into this time of darkness. Enjoy the Solstice.

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 20

Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas [Ace Records ACE LP1027, 12″ LP, 198? Reissue, originally released 1962.]

Huey Piano Smith Christmas frontI have a deep affection for the music and culture of New Orleans. That passion goes back to the early 1980s when I moved to the Monterey Peninsula in California and first heard a lot of New Orleans music being played during various blues, rock and jazz programs on radio station KAZU 90.3 FM. My first post on this blog appeared by design on Mardi Gras Day, 2010. When I came across this album sometime in the late 1980s, I was one happy camper. New Orleans music and Christmas music all in one record – how could it get any better?! ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Huey “Piano” Smith is another one of these albums that’s perfect for setting a rockin’ mood at any Christmas celebration. (This will likely be the last of the more rowdy Christmas records I’ll feature during this project; the winter solstice is fast upon us tomorrow on Day 21 and I’ll focus on the mellower side of things as we lead up to Christmas Day.)

Huey Piano Smith Christmas back

Click on an image to enlarge it.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was first issued by Ace Records in 1962. Somewhat atypical for a Christmas album is that six of the ten tracks on here are originals written by Smith himself. They all feature his trademark rollicking, boogie-woogie piano style with Christmas-themed lyrics. One other track was written by Earl King and only three tracks are traditional Christmas tunes. I like the whole album, but my favorite song on here is probably “Almost Time for Santa” with its really snappy groove. As the cover of my 1980s reissue album states, Dr. John appears on the recording as well, although the original cover did not include this information. At the time the album was made, he had not yet adopted that moniker and would have gone under his real name, Mac Rebennack, but I assume the record company wanted to add his name on there to help push sales of the reissue.

Huey Piano Smith Christmas labelUpon its initial release in 1962, the album received some very negative publicity due to people thinking it was rather sacrilegious. New Orleans music and culture writer Alex Rawls gives more background on this in a story entitled “Huey ‘Piano’ Smith Deemed ‘Naughty’ in 1962,” which was posted at his website, My Spilt Milk, earlier this December. Definitely give that a read. Whether you think it’s naughty or nice, I think there’s no argument that this is one merry Christmas album!

You can listen to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in its entirety on YouTube. Once again, there’s a playlist with the whole album on it, and it appears to have been uploaded by whomever holds the license to these recordings at this time. (As with other playlists like this, be aware that ads may play between tracks; you can usually skip them after a few seconds.)

Do the Santa Claus!

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 19

Various Artists – An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas [Epic Records PE 40576, 12″ LP, 1986 Reissue – originally released 1983.]

Austin Christmas frontIt’s a Friday and the beginning of the weekend (at least this year it is.) It’s less than a week until Christmas. Whether you’re ready or not, here’s a really rockin’ album to brighten up your day or night! (I’m keeping this brief today since I’ll be undergoing a minor foot surgery this morning and will be laid up a bit as I recover from that. Holly jolly!)

An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas has always been one of my favorite Christmas albums. I bought this reissued version back in the late 80s, having been familiar with some of these great acts from the Texas blues and rock scene. There are also a couple of swing jazz pieces on here. The album was originally released on Austin Records in 1983 with different cover art. It kicks off with Angela Strehli’s hot version of “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” and doesn’t look back. Here’s the brief review by Dennis MacDonald at AllMusic to give you the idea:

Austin Christmas back

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Originally issued on the Austin label in 1983, this rockin’ release was reissued with a new cover on Epic in 1986. Standouts include The Fabulous Thunderbirds‘ spirited instrumental “(Rockin’) Winter Wonderland” and vocalist Kim Wilson pouring his harp and soul into Hop Wilson’s “Merry Christmas, Darling.” Two of Austin’s finest blues divas, Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton, turn in smokey and sultry covers of yule classics, but it is bassist/vocalist Sarah Brown who sizzles with her original “My Christmas Is Hung with Tears.”

And luckily enough, there’s a whole playlist on YouTube with all the songs from album collected together. Take a listen to An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas (be aware that ads may play in between the videos on a playlist like this; you can skip them after a few seconds usually.)

Hope you have a yourself boogie woogie Christmas! (I guess I won’t be dancing for a little while myself…)

 

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 18

Various Artists – A Very Special Christmas [A&M Records SP 3911, 12″ LP, 1987.]

Very Special Christmas frontThis album has a little something for everyone who is a fan of 80s music or those who don’t mind contemporary Christmas music in general. It’s a modern day classic. You can read the details behind the creation of A Very Special Christmas at the official website. Since this first volume was made in 1987, they have produced 10 more volumes. During that time, according to their website, “Approximately $116 million in royalties and investment proceeds has been generated by the sale of the AVSC albums to support Special Olympics’ athletes with intellectual disabilities.” This series of albums has raised a lot of money and awareness!

Very Special Christmas notes

Read the original liner notes by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)

I was working in a record store when the album was released and I remember that everyone on the staff found something to like about A Very Special Christmas. It has soul music, pop music, R&B, all kinds of rock ‘n’ roll, synthpop and one truly memorable hip hop tune. And it has an iconic cover that was created especially for the album by renowned artist Keith Haring. It is an instantly recognizable cover to this day. All of the tracks are new versions of mostly familiar traditional and modern Christmas carols and songs, with the exception of that hip hop song, “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-D.M.C. That song was one of the stand-outs on this album and I still love listening to it every Christmas. And you have to remember that this was released in the Age of MTV when music videos played a huge part in the marketing of a song or an album. Many of the songs on this album had videos and that certainly helped make this album a success right out of the gate.

Very Special Christmas backWatch the official video for “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-D.M.C.

This is a great song. I love how they riff and rhyme on traditional Christmas imagery backed with some heavy rap beats and R&B horns. And it’s humorous!

I was always a big fan of the Eurythmics and their artful New Wave synthpop, and their contribution to A Very Special Christmas is another one of my favorites. You can watch the video for their version of “Winter Wonderland” here. This has the 80s stamped all over it but still sounds fresh today, unlike some of the more poorly realized synthesizer-based tunes from that time.Very Special Christmas label

This video of U2 (one of my favorite bands of all time) performing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” will give you a taste of how we might have watched these videos on our little old TV sets at home. This footage comes from a Top of the Pops TV special that coincided with the release of A Very Special Christmas and featured many of the songs from the album. The host seen in the footage is singer Nia Peeples.

I’ve created a playlist on YouTube featuring versions of all the songs from the album. Most are from that time period (the Sting video is also from that Top of the Pops special) but some are live versions that I thought were more interesting than just hearing the audio.

Here’s to A Very Special Christmas and the world of good that it has done.

 

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 17

Various Artists – Christmas Time With… [Vocalion VL 73812, 12″ LP, 1967?]

Country Christmas Time frontSo far, I’ve covered many of the very different genres of Christmas music that I have in my vinyl record collection: pop, rock, classical, jazz, novelty, R&B, disco, even heavy metal. And now it’s time for some good ol’ country music. I’m not talking about that new-fangled, slick country music that’s so popular these days, I’m talking about classic Country & Western. I don’t have a whole lot of country in my collection in general, and what I do have tends to be older stuff or things that kind of dance around the fringes of country music: Americana, alt-country, some bluegrass and a lot of New Grass, singer-songwriters and folk music.

Country Christmas Time backBut I do like to delve into some truly classic country every now and then, and this album is chock full of vintage country Christmas tunes. It’s on the Vocalion label, which has had a long history as a record label starting way back in 1917; after being bought out and changing hands many times, this version of Vocalion was a subsidiary of Decca Records geared toward budget reissues and was in existence from the 50s to 1973.

As you can see on the front cover, Christmas Time With… features a bunch of musicians who were big stars back in the day. Loretta Lynn is probably the most familiar name on there, but anyone with a passing knowledge of classic country will know many of these folks. It’s interesting that they also include “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms on this compilation. I’m guessing that even though the song is more rockabilly than country, they most likely figured they might as well slap it on wherever they could since it was originally a Decca recording (and a huge hit.)

Country Christmas Time vinylI’ve always been a fan of the Maddox Brothers and Rose, who do “Silent Night” to end Side 1 of the album. I had first heard of them when Rose Maddox was featured in the 1984 documentary film Hard Travelin’, about Woody Guthrie. I liked their sound, and found a couple of her tracks on an excellent compilation that came out in the late 1980s called Hillbilly Music…Thank God! Volume 1. I noticed on the back cover track listing that Red Foley is joined by “The Little Foleys” on his rendition of “Frosty the Snowman.” Those are indeed his three daughters singing with him on the recording! (And fancy this: Shirley Foley later married Pat Boone, and one of their children also went on to musical fame – Debby Boone.)

There are several up-tempo numbers on this record, but a couple of them are fairly slow and plodding and have begun to show their age a bit. They are relics of a bygone era, that’s for sure. Some of the original recordings are not of the highest quality, but that’s all part of their charm. It’s almost like hearing them from some long lost radio waves.

Take a listen to a selection of these mighty fine country tunes here:

Loretta Lynn – “Silver Bells”

The Maddox Brothers and Rose – “Silent Night”

Red Foley and the Little Foleys (Shirley, Julie and Jenny) – “Frosty the Snowman”

Lonzo and Oscar – “Jangle Bells”

Yee haw!

(A quick personal note: I will undergo a minor foot surgery on December 19, so I may have to keep the posts relatively brief after this while I’m somewhat laid up during my recovery. I’ll see how it goes. I can’t believe we’re nearly one week away from Christmas Day! Thanks for following along so far…)

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 13

Various Artists – A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector [Rhino Records/Phil Spector International RNLP 70235, 12″ LP, 1987 Reissue. Originally released in 1963.]

Phil Spector front

Around a week ago, I talked a bit about “Sunday morning music.” Well, now it’s time to talk about “Saturday night music,” and that’s a whole different ballgame, folks. Whereas Sunday morning tends to be on the quieter side of the spectrum, Saturday night is for rockin’ and rollin’ and boogie-woogie-in’. You know what I mean. Saturday night is the party night. And the perfect Christmas-time party music can be found on A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

(You might as well get started listening to the album now, so you can enjoy it while reading, or hosting a Christmas party. Here’s a nice YouTube playlist featuring the entire album for your listening pleasure. Click on the link and it’ll play the whole thing through, but you may hear an ad during that time.)

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

Originally released in 1963 with the title A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, the compilation features most of the acts signed to Philles Records, which was run by Phil Spector and his partner Lester Sill – hence the name, “Phil” “Les” Records. I highly recommend you read the liner notes found on the back cover of the album (click on the image to the right.) Spector makes it clear he was intent on making a great pop Christmas record, and while it may have taken almost a decade for it to become so highly regarded, most people agree he succeeded in making one of the great Christmas albums of all time.

One of the unfortunate things that contributed to its initial lackluster sales performance was this: it was released on November 22, 1963 – the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That’s certainly unlucky timing. But the situation turned around in 1972 when a little label called Apple Records reissued the album (with different artwork) after Spector had worked with John Lennon on his song “Instant Karma,” the Beatles on the Let It Be album and George Harrison on his 3-LP album All Things Must Pass. With a renewed listenership, the album has been a holiday staple ever since. It’s one of those great Christmas albums that I never get tired of hearing. And Spector’s unique production values made it sound like nothing else that had come before it as far as Christmas music is concerned. I mentioned in previous posts how Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” technique was evident in both the Elton John and Bruce Springsteen Christmas songs. Many rock or R&B versions of the classic Christmas tunes found on this album are based on these versions. This album has been hugely influential upon Christmas music in the past several decades, and will surely be influential for decades to come.

Phil Spector Christmas labelMy copy of the album shown here is a 1987 reissue that Rhino put out in conjunction with Phil Spector International. I had known of the album and had heard much of it on the radio, but hadn’t owned a copy myself. Rhino did their usual excellent job in reissuing it with the original artwork. It’s interesting to note that even though this was digitally remastered, they chose to use the original mono mixes for this reissue and not a stereo remix as had been done on the Apple versions. Many purists prefer this.

Also of note is the list of musicians who played on this album. Many of these musicians were part of the famed “Wrecking Crew” group of studio players who appeared, often anonymously, on many of the greatest albums of the 1960s. Among the more familiar names you can see listed on the back cover are Sonny Bono and Tulsa’s own Leon Russell.
Sadly, Phil Spector’s later life has been seemingly filled with turmoil. He’s currently serving his prison sentence for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson. There’s no denying he brought some brilliant music into the world. It’s too bad he seems to have fallen from grace.

Have a rockin’ good Saturday night…

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 10

Andy Williams – The Andy Williams Christmas Album [Columbia CS 8887, 12″ LP, 1963.]

The Andy Williams Christmas Album, 1963.

The Andy Williams Christmas Album, 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!