Well, that’s might decent of them, I must say.
Actually this an obscure Sinatra album from 1968, which really deserves to be better known. Despite my love of Sinatra and his music, I’m often left cold by his Christmas and sacred material, but this album is rather good, even if it does have its moments of banality. Sinatra and his kids present us with ten Christmas songs, most of which are relatively unknown. Anyone looking at the cover might be forgiven for thinking this is going to be a hippyfest along the lines of Sinatra’s single release with Nancy, “Life’s a Trippy Thing”. Thankfully this is much better than that. Like Elvis Presley’s 1971 Christmas offering, this is a mix of brand new songs and more traditional material but, unlike Elvis’s effort, doesn’t lead to the slitting of any wrists by the end of the running time.
The album opens with the upbeat “I Wouldn’t Trade Christmas”. Written by Sinatra stalwarts Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, this is hardly top drawer or highly original material, but it works great as an ensemble number for the four singers, The Jimmy Joyce Singers and the orchestra arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle.
Next up is a song I’ve written about elsewhere, “Its Such a Lonely Time of Year”. This lengthy number (nearly five minutes) is a beautiful ballad sung by Nancy Sinatra in what might just be her best recorded performance. Yes, the song is morose, but also moving and touching and, perhaps best of all, the lyrics don’t tell us whether the missed loved one is the result of a broken relationship or someone passing away.
Frank Jr is up next in the pleasant but unremarkable “Some Children See Him”, and then Tina and Nancy duet on “O Bambino”. The first side is rounded out by The Bells of Christmas, credited to “the family”, but Sinatra Sr takes centre stage. This is set to the tune of Greensleeves, and is adapted by Cahn and Heusen. Considering the title, the arrangement is rather morose but, considering the reflective nature of some of the songs here, it is fitting.
Frank Sr finally gets a song to himself at the beginning of side two with “Whatever Happened to Christmas” by Jimmy Webb, whose songs he was championing at the time. It’s the only song not arranged by Riddle, and Don Costa really does a lovely job here making fine use of his trademark lush strings.
Tina then gets wheeled in to bombard us with Santa Claus is Coming to Town, sung with the gusto of an X Factor auditionee, but sadly also as out of tune in places. It’s no coincidence Tina only gets the one solo, folks. Nancy returns to give us the lovely “Kids”, a song credited to Scott Davis, but was actually Mac Davis, composer of In The Ghetto. It’s another lovely song (Nancy really did get the best songs here), demonstrating how all the family are kids at Christmas. Yes, it’s sentimental, but it’s not mawkish and is arranged and performed to perfection.
“The Christmas Waltz” is a song I’ve never much liked, but this second recording by Frank Sinatra is actually really quite stunning, with a much better arrangement than that used on his Capitol Christmas album from a decade earlier. Sinatra was in really fine voice in the late 1960s and, while his albums might not have been selling by the truckload at this point, there is something to recommend each and every one of them.
The album concludes with the obligatory 12 days of Christmas sung by the whole family, with new lyrics that are syrupy enough to make your want to puke (“I gave my loving Dad”) and stupid enough to make you wonder what they were thinking of when they recorded it. The fact that his kids wanted to buy Frank “five ivory combs” when his hair was thinning and ivory was already being frowned upon is just bizarre. Even more bonkers is that they want to give him nine games of Scrabble. Was he running a tournament? Must have been a ball in the Sinatra home that Christmas.
It’s a rocky 35 minutes, with many ups and downs, but overall it’s an album that doesn’t deserve to be as obscure as it is. It seems to have slipped out unnoticed in 1968, and never gained a following. The 2010 reissue on CD sounds gorgeous, with a lovely warm element to the remastering and is recommended for fans of traditional Christmas albums.