Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's the Most Wondeful Time of the Year

Christmas Music: Part 4
For our final Christmas post (and last post of 2011!), I'm featuring the classic tunes that we all know and love from this wonderful time of year. As a kid, it officially became Christmastime for my family when we heard this next song. Written on a hot, blistery summer day in 1944 by Mel Torme' and Bob Wells, "The Christmas Song" (a.k.a. "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire") was first made famous by The Nat King Cole Trio in 1946 (excellent, early live footage here). The most-performed Christmas song of all time, it is Nat King Cole's re-recorded version with string orchestra in 1961 that is regarded as definitive. By playing this classic Christmas LP (recently purchased from eBay!) on our record player, it's an honor keeping this beautiful baritone voice alive.

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And you know the party is really getting started when this next tune starts playing! Written by Johnny Marks and recorded by the rockabilly/pop/country singer Brenda Lee in 1958, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" didn't become a big hit until Lee became a star in 1960 and it reached #14 on the pop chart. The following year, it continued to sell well, even hit #5 on the charts, and has continued to be a popular holiday standard for over 50 years. Despite her mature-sounding voice, Lee was only 13 years old when she recorded this song! Although the song's title implies "rock and roll," the song's instrumentation also fit the country genre of the time, featuring Hank Garland's ringing guitar and Boots Randolph's swinging saxophone.

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Written in October of 1962 by married couple Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is a pensive yet lovely Christmas song, intended as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The following year, this song was made a worldwide smash hit by Bing Crosby, whose bass-baritone voice has made him one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th Century (with over half a billion records in circulation!!). Bing's version aired on TV on December 13th 1963 on the 'Bob Hope Christmas Special,' posted below.
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A longstanding Christmas staple from my childhood is Elvis' Christmas Album from 1957, the best-selling Christmas album of all time in the U.S. No singles from this album were issued until 1964 when "Blue Christmas" was released that November and reached #1 on the Billboard Christmas chart, even re-entering the chart several times over the next few years. Originally a country song recorded in the late 1940s, Elvis' cover version is musically notable for the replacement of many major and minor thirds with neutral and septimal minor thirds, a.k.a. "blue notes," in the backing vocal parts. This live footage of this rock-and-roll holiday classic comes from Elvis' 1968 "Comeback" Special which aired that December.

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And for the last song of our Christmas music series, here's another seasonal favorite, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by American singer Andy Williams. Written in 1963 by Edward Pola and George Wyle, this popular Christmas song was released that same year on The Andy Williams Christmas Album, and was performed on Williams' own TV variety show (which he hosted from '62 to '71). Since, this original version has become a radio airplay standard during the holiday season, even gaining more popularity each passing year. Thanks for a Christmas classic, Andy!


I hope you've enjoyed listening to fun music from Christmas past! Merry Christmas to you all and Happy New Year!

4 comments:

  1. I just discovered your lovely blog! I, too, am interested in pop music history and it's been great fun reading your posts. I'll be back often. Best wishes for the holiday season! Marie

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  2. Wonderful, so glad you enjoy the blog! It's nothing profound, but it's a fun way to keep this great music alive and well. Thanks for reading, Marie, and Happy New Year!

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  3. I loved hearing the Nat Cole version of 'The Christmas Song.' In our house, it was the Johnny Mathis album that received the most spins by my mother.

    I also have a blog that is mainly devoted to '50s and '60s music across many genres - blues, country, r & b, soul and rock 'n' roll. It's called 'The Little Box o' Rhythm.' You might not like everything that I post but if you ever feel like visiting, here is the address:

    http://onandoffthecharts.blogspot.com

    Happy New Year to you too, Leah!

    Marie

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  4. Marie,
    I briefly had a chance to look at your blog the other day and I very much enjoyed it! However, today, when I tried to return to your site (I wanted to post a link on my blog), Blogger now says your blog has been removed! So sorry to see this; hopefully it's just a temporary glitch or something. I wanted to let you know that although there are some genres that haven't received much attention (yet!) on my blog, particularly country, I actually do enjoy many other styles of the '50s and '60s. I grew up listening to my mom's LP of Marty Robbins and I just adore those cowboy ballads. One of these days, I'll get around to mentioning other great music like that.
    Anyway, please continue with your blog. It's well-done and right up my alley. Thanks for reading, and I'll catch you later!

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