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The Timeless Sounds of Christmas Music

Good to be King

By King Harris

I love the Christmas season, not just for the exchange of gifts and good tidings, but for all the great Yuletide songs leading up to it. Like this one:

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Every-body knows
A turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother’s child is gonna spy
To see if reindeer really know how to fly.

And so we’re offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although it’s been said many times many ways,
Merry Christmas to you.”

You just can’t beat the traditional songs offered up by Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Gene Autry, Vaughn Monroe (whose “Let it Snow” isn’t really a Christmas song but who cares), Ray Conniff, Percy Faith (whose two instrumental albums I highly recommend) and others.

When I was a kid, you could hear all kinds of Christmas music on one radio station, so you were exposed to pop, jazz, classical, country, rhythm ‘n blues, rock ‘n’ roll and novelty. Songs created in the ‘40s and ‘50s are still played today.

Not a Christmas goes by without hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee, “Blue Christmas” by Elvis, and “The Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeon Chorale.

These are classics now, still. So is this one, written by David Seville, which went on to be a No. 1 hit in 1958:

[Dave:] “Alright you Chipmunks, Ready to sing your song?
[Alvin:] I’d say we are
[Theodore:] Yeah, Lets sing it now!
[Dave:] Okay, Simon?
[Simon:] OK
[Dave:] Okay, Theodore?
[Theodore:] OK
[Dave:] Okay Alvin?…Alvin?…ALVIN!!!
[Alvin:] OKAY!!
[Chipmunks:] Christmas, Christmas time is near
Time for toys and time for cheer
We’ve been good, but we can’t last
Hurry Christmas, hurry fast
Want a plane that loops the loop
[Alvin:] Me, I want a Hula-Hoop
[Chipmunks:] We can hardly stand the wait
Please Christmas don’t be late.”

If R&B and soul was your thing, you got songs by the Drifters, Otis Redding, Arron Neville, the Youngsters (whose 1956 “Christmas in Jail” is a scream); Doo Wop by the Melodeers and too many others, and “Run Run Rudolph” by Chuck Berry.

As the ‘60s arrived, many new groups entered the Christmas fold. “Sleigh Ride” by the Ventures was just one; “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” by the Four Seasons was another; then along came the Beach Boys with “Little Saint Nick” and “He’s the Man With All the Toys,” followed by the Beatle’s perennial Yuletide offerings every season.

My favorite without question is Phil Spector’s “Christmas Gift For You,” a collection of his flock of artists in Spectorian rock ‘n’ roll fashion belting out standards. The album was recorded in July of 1963, and released the day that JFK was shot, so people weren’t in the appropriate mood and Spector’s adventure into new territory failed.

Today it is a classic, exemplified by Darlene Love’s “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home:”
“The snow’s coming down
I’m watching it fall
Lots of people around
Baby please come home

The church bells in town
All ringing in song
Full of happy sounds
Baby please come home.

They’re singing “Deck The Halls” but it’s not like Christmas at all
‘Cause I remember when you were here and all the fun we had last year
Pretty lights on the tree I’m watching them shine,
You should be here with me baby please come home.”

The most powerful Christmas tune ever, and I think Phil Spector’s best cut. Don’t forget the ‘70s which gave us seasonal tunes by the Carpenters, Jose Felicíano, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, the Kinks, and so many more.

Leave your radio on, and get into the spirit.

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