A festive entry in my little series of “ten favourite” posts. This time I turn my attention to music and Christmas albums. So, in no particular order…
White Christmas with Nat & Dean (LP version)
Back in the 1970s, Music for Pleasure released a lovely 12 track LP alternating songs by Nat King Cole and Dean Martin. It was a favourite in our house while I was growing up, and featured some fine performances and, rather strangely, the split album idea worked very well. What’s more, it was one of the few places to find Dean Martin’s “The Christmas Blues” at the time. It all went to pieces on the CD issue though. Extra tracks were added, but only from Nat King Cole, thus upsetting the balance and the magic was gone. The original album is superb though, and worth grabbing just to hear Nat King Cole tell us that he’s the “Happiest Christmas Tree” (Ho ho ho, he he he).
Seasons Greetings from Perry Como
This is Como’s Christmas album from 1958 and is one of the warmest Christmas albums you will ever find. The first side features secular festive favourites, while the second side features Como singing carols, leading to the concluding lengthy track in which he narrates the story of the first Christmas, with his narrative interspersed by snatches of carols (this was something he started doing on TV in the early 1950s). Como’s version of “Home for the Holidays” and “Oh Holy Night” make this a must – and the final track makes it a great one for the kids.
Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas
If ever there was an unjustly neglected Christmas album, this might be it. Ella forgets jazz for thirty-five minutes as she leads a choir through a series of Christmas hymns and carols. A very different affair from her Christmas album for Verve, this was her second release for Capitol in 1967, and was either ignored by critics or ravaged by them. In reality, Ella is probably in the best voice of her career and her warmth and sincerity oozes out of every groove.
A Dave Brubeck Christmas
Jazz Christmas albums are a little hit and miss, but this one is both delightful and unusual in that it finds Dave Brubeck playing solo piano rather than as part of a trio or quartet. This is great stuff, with Brubeck still in great form despite being in his late seventies when it was recorded. He might be best known for his cool/bop jazz recordings, but perhaps the most enjoyable track here is “Winter Wonderland”, which finds him playing good old-fashioned stride piano.
Michael Buble’s Christmas
It’s not very often a modern Christmas album becomes an instant favourite, but this one seems to be the exception. Buble presents us with an album of mostly traditional Christmas fare, but a number of tracks have a twist – such as the wonderful Dixieland take on “Blue Christmas” – and others are just so well sung and arranged that it’s hard not to fall in love with the album.
Elvis’ Christmas Album
No, not the original 1957 version, but the 1970 issue which ditches the gospel material and adds “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” (a single from 1966) and the non-festive “Mama Liked the Roses”. The 1966 track oddly fits snugly amongst the raw sounds of those recorded nearly a decade earlier in which songs range from the dirty innuendo-ridden blues of “Santa Claus is Back in Town” (Hang up your stockings/Turn down the lights/Santa Claus is coming down your chimney tonight) to the reverent take on “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”. Elvis went on to record a second Christmas album in 1971, one which finds him in poor voice and singing a batch of mostly depressing, uninspired new songs. It has to rank as one of the most disappointing sequels in history.
Harry Connick Jr: Harry for the Holidays
Harry Connick Jr’s Christmas albums are a mixed bag. The first one, “When My Heart Finds Christmas” was so awful that ever after in our household he was known as “Harry Chronic”. “Harry for the Holidays” is much better, and catches Harry during one of his better periods, following hot on the heels of his great “Come By Me”,“30” and “Songs I Heard” albums. So this album features slightly left-field, whacky big band arrangements of mostly well-known Christmas songs. “Frosty the Snowman”, which opens the album is typical of this, given a noisy makeover that makes it sound like something out of a New Orleans Mardi Gras. It all runs a little out of steam by the end of the 65 minute album, but “Silent Night”, which closes the album, is given a lovely arrangement, mixing traditional jazz and gospel sounds.
The Sinatra Family Wishes You a Merry Christmas
I wrote about this one a few days back in a separate post, but this is a fun album featuring Sinatra and his three kids. Nancy Sinatra never sounded better.
Christmas with Chet Atkins
This is a lovely warm album of instrumentals from country-styled guitarist Chet Atkins, and features fourteen tracks and is ideal for non-obtrusive music while hanging up those decorations. The original CD issue was rather botched for some reason, but it’s now available under the title “Songs for Christmas” in better sound – it couldn’t be worse than Mum and Dad’s copy of the album, though, which was bought in 1961 and regularly got stuck as the needle tried to avoid the scratches!
The Andy Williams Christmas Album
The BBC recently showed a couple of clip shows from the Andy Williams Show that ran from the early 1960s until the mid-70s (shame on the BBC for cropping the picture!). Watching it reminds us of how talented Williams was in his prime, with vocal performances that saw him singing jazz with Ella Fitzgerald and folk with Simon and Garfunkel. His Christmas album was released in 1963 and contains a relatively predictable set of festive favourites. If the vocals are sometimes just a little too laid back at times, and the arrangements a little saccharine, there are still gorgeous performances of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, “Happy Holidays” and “The Little Drummer Boy”.
This is my last post before Christmas, so have a great Christmas and we’ll gather here again in that strange lull between Christmas and New Year!