About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Christmas Records, Part 1

One thing I learned early in my research for the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV, when you specialize in writing about Christmas on TV, you also research and write quite a bit about music. Christmas TV episodes, specials and movies are loaded with music and carols. As a pop culture junkie, I love picking up soundtracks to holiday programs and collecting vintage record albums. As a researcher, I often turn to these official releases for help in the identification of songs and for more information about the music. They're also just cool to have and display in my office.

Last summer on a trip to the Detroit Festival of Books, I picked up several vintage Christmas albums at a local record store. See that post again HERE. That post was so popular, I thought I'd share more of my Christmas record collection. Just to be clear--my collection focuses on Christmas records with a television or film tie-in.

Below are some of the records in my collection. Do you have a Christmas record with a television or film tie-in? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Official soundtrack album--Decca Records. Back cover includes lyrics.

If you're going to collect Christmas records with a television tie-in, your collection must include the original soundtrack to Rankin/Bass' 1964 animated TV special Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Lucky for me, this was a birthday gift from a friend a couple of years ago. It's nice to have friends looking out for me.

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town soundtrack from 1970.

Another Rankin/Bass favorite soundtrack is from the 1970 Animagic classic Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. My album copy is not in the greatest shape but I'm careful with it. I've had this record for decades--long before I was writing and researching Christmas entertainment. So glad I've held on to it.

Soundtrack from 1974 animated TV special

One of my more recent acquisitions is this Disneyland Records release of the story and soundtrack of the 1974 traditional cel animated, Rankin/Bass Christmas TV special Twas the Night Before Christmas. Do you have a favorite Rankin/Bass soundtrack?

Last year in Detroit, I found the soundtrack to Rankin/Bass' Cricket on the Hearth--see that album cover again HERE. I'm still looking for the Rankin/Bass Frosty's Winter Wonderland soundtrack. Might as well try to complete the collection!

1977 release--dialogue, music, and storybook.

This is another record that I've had in my collection for decades--long before I was writing about Christmas entertainment. It's just a fabulous pop culture item to have in any record collection. This album isn't a collection of the musical compositions written by the Vince Guaraldi for the Peanuts TV specials. Instead this is a recording of the dialogue and background music of the 1965 Christmas TV special. Sure Guaraldi's music is here, but the recording is the animated TV special's story and dialogue. The twelve-page storybook within the album's covers complements the visual storytelling with the audio recording. I can still recall the excitement I felt for record-and-book sets like these, to experience the joy of TV specials seen only once a year.

1969 musical TV special The Littlest Angel

I'm also amazed that I found this LP--despite its condition. This is the cast album from the 1969 musical Hallmark Hall of Fame TV special The Littlest Angel. The cast for this NBC musical is amazing--Johnnie Whitaker, Fred Gwynne, Cab Calloway, Tony Randall, Connie Stevens, and more. The feature-length TV special was adapted from the popular children's book by Charles Tazewell. I wrote about this TV special and the album a few years back. Click HERE to see it again.

Back cover flap

The back cover is a flap that opens to reveal more printed information. The previous owner had pulled at the perforated flap and it is detached. However, I still have it and keep the two pieces together.

Pop-up section
The back flap opens up to reveal a pop-up section with color images from the musical.

The interior of the back flap includes further credits for the actors and the production staff of The Littlest Angel. I'm not sure how many other Christmas Hallmark Hall of Fame productions had an official soundtrack release.

Storybook record for Disney's 1961 movie Babes in Toyland

I also have a copy of the Disneyland Record and eleven-page storybook from Disney's 1961 movie Babes in Toyland. The story is narrated by Little Boy Blue, and includes music written for the Disney movie. It is NOT the original soundtrack to the movie, which means Annette Funicello, Tommy Sands, and Ray Bolger are not heard on this album. In fact, you can clearly identify Thurl Ravenscroft as the voice singing Barnaby's (Bolger's character) songs. It's still a fun album with incredible artwork in the storybook's pages.

Page 1 of the storybook includes the Mother Goose characters.

Page 8 of the storybook with The Toymaker. Love that mid-century design style!

1977 animated TV special A Cosmic Christmas

I'm also very pleased to own the story and dialogue LP from the 1977 animated TV special A Cosmic Christmas. The Christmas special was created by the Canadian animation company Nelvana--the same company that created the animated segment within the Star Wars Holiday Special. Yup. This Canadian record came to me from Christmas music collector Jeff Fox. What a gift! Thanks Jeff.

The Odessa File starring Jon Voight and Maximilian Schell.

The soundtrack to the 1974 movie The Odessa File is another record in my collection. This movie isn't exactly one that will inspire the holiday spirit but the action/thriller is set during the holiday season. Its unique soundtrack was written by none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber and includes the song "Christmas Dream" sung by Perry Como. The song oozes Christmas--even if it originally appeared in this crazy movie about a journalist hunting Nazis.

The album says 1977 but don't be fooled!

I knew this was a gem as soon as I found it in the thrift store. The cheap design and lack of information on the cover don't do much to reveal what treasure lies within. This is actually the original broadcast recording of the 1957 Christmas TV episode of The Frank Sinatra Show. It includes the dialogue and songs by Sinatra and his guest Bing Crosby. I know, right!? That's just Side 1. To see what I wrote about this fantastic 1957 TV program, click HERE.

Side 2 is a mystery to me. I believe it is from a radio show. It features Bing Crosby and his four sons Gary, Lindsay, Philip, and Dennis in a Christmas program. The tracks listed on the album cover: Adeste Fidelis, Jingle Bells, Xmas Feeling, Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus, The Snowman, That Xmas Feeling, and Silent Night. If you know more about this recording--especially the radio program, please let me know. It may be Kraft Music Hall. Bing thanks a man named Ken offstage--maybe the host, maybe a band leader. Does any of this sound familiar?

The 1957 Christmas episode of The Frank Sinatra Show has been repackaged and released on DVD under the title Happy Holidays with Frank and Bing.

Christmas Records, Part 2 coming soon.

In addition to Christmas records, I also collect Christmas books with a film and television tie-in. Want to see what I've got?

Christmas Books--Part 1

Christmas Books--Part 2

 Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the episodes mentioned here can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Jeff. More coming soon--some you may even recognize!

  2. Beautiful pieces! So great to have such classic albums in your collection. We got our son the Twas the Night Before Christmas album for Christmas last year, since the special is one of his favorites. And I will keep an eye out for the Rankin/Bass Frosty's Winter Wonderland album! :)

  3. I can tell you about the radio shows. I used to sell them and it was always the most fun time of year. It's not Kraft Music hall. To begin with, the show was an hour and several of the transcriptions were destroyed for the war effort. His sons weren't even old enough to talk whenever he was hosting for Kraft. The show was condensed to 30 minutes and it was eventually hosted by Al Jolson and Oscar Levant became his side kick. The first time he ever sang White Christmas on hos radio program was on Kraft. But as far as I know, that episode has NEVER surfaced.

    Bing was then sponsored by Philco Radio, Chesterfield and G.E. His four sons were on more than one of his Christmas radio episodes. The show from 1950 features Dixie Lee with Bing and it's the only time that she and Bing ever appeared on the radio together. It's not one of the G.E. Shows. Without knowing whether or not it's sponsored by Philco or Chesterfield, I can't accurately date it because they sing the songs you mentioned on more than one ocassion. He was with Philco from 1956 - 50 and then switched sponsors to Chesterfield. He sings for the first 15 minutes of the Philco shows and then tells the story of "The Small One". The Ken that he speaks to is his long time announcer, Ken Carpenter. The music is provided by The John Scott Trotter Orchestra, which you should find on some of the Christmas soundtracks.

    They could've actually edited the songs out of more than
    one of is Christmas episodes too. Reader's Digest does it and even some of the Christmas CD's that are marketed to this very day, will take edited songs from the radio shows and market them like they're alternate recordings that haven't ever been released. I found a Frank Sinatra like that two years ago.

    I hope this helps. If Dixie Lee's on it, it's Christmas 1950. But it's hard to get any closer to correct yar and date than that - without knowing some more about what's there.

    1. Rusty--THANKS so much for speaking up. Giving it another listen, I think it IS the 1950 recording. Dixie Lee is here--she's a part of the sketch with her sons and Bing playing Santa Claus for them on Christmas Eve. Listening this time, I more clearly heard the name Ken Carpenter too. For the curious: here's a better description of my recording:
      First song "Adeste Fidelis" sung by Bing. His son Gary joins him (on the radio show) and together they harmonize on a *very* swinging arrangement of "Jingle Bells." A sketch is introduced as "Christmas Eve 1950" [why didn't I hear THIS before!?] in which Bing gets dressed up as Santa Claus to make his young sons' holiday enjoyable. Dixie Lee can be heard here too. Next, Bing and Gary sing "That Christmas Feeling." Lindsay sings "Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus." Denny and his brothers sing "The Snowman." Bing once again sings "That Christmas Feeling," and "Silent Night." The audio is clearly edited at the beginning/intro but it's hard to say if each track is pieced together or some of them are from the same broadcast. This is so much fun!!

  4. What an awesome post! I've been following your blog for a few years and am always amazed at the information you have to share. In the last few years, I've started collecting Christmas vinyl records and also a have a few of the records you mentioned in your post. My brother and I would always watch Twas the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve. It was the last Christmas special we would watch for the season (even as adults we continued to meet annually to watch Rankin Bass specials and ended with this one). The story is simple, there are funny moments and the songs are pretty good as well. I don't know how our tradition began, but we kept it up for a number of years. Anyway, just wanted to chime in to say that I love your blog and your books. I'm looking forward to Part 2.

  5. There was also a Christmas record made of the soundtrack of the well-known and received Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas special THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS first broadcast on Dec. 22, 1963 (the DVD of the show is available via the Tennessee Ernie Ford website). The record is long out of print, but there is a CD available of it now. The show was noteworthy for two things: (1) There were no commercial breaks during the show, and (2) The last part of the show was highlighted by a 20-minute stylized animation of the Christmas story based on the bible narrative and accompanied by music sung by the Roger Wagner Chorale. (As a side note, the tape of the show had been lost for 30 years when it turned up in a box in the garage of Ernie ford's manager. It was then restored and shown for the first time in over three decades at the Museum of Broadcasting in Beverly Hills in 1996, where I was fortunate enough to see it. It brought back memories of watching it when I was a kid.)