Sunday, May 13, 2018

Christmas Records, Part 3


In the process of creating the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV, I learned that writing about Christmas on TV also means I research and write about holiday music quite a bit. Christmas TV episodes, specials and movies are loaded with music and carols. As a pop culture junkie, I love searching out 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 to get more information about the music. They're also cool to have and display in my office.

My collection is focused on Christmas records with a film or television tie-in. I've shared some of collection before. Here's a link to Part 1 and Part 2. Here's the original post that started it all--the Christmas records from my trip to Detroit last year. And, here's a post about my Christmas CD collection. Below is more from my collection of vintage records.


I finally found it!!

The Alcoa Hour in 1956 offered TV viewers an outstanding holiday experience. The original musical The Stingiest Man in Town was a lavish production featuring an all-star cast, including Basil Rathbone, and Vic Damone, with music by Fred Spielman and book and lyrics by Janice Torre. It's a musical adaptation of Dickens' classic tale A Christmas Carol. The live TV production was filmed--but lost for decades. A kinescope was found and released on DVD just a few years ago. I wrote about this 1956 Christmas TV special before. You can read about it again HERE.

For many years, all fans had to remember the original 1956 production was this LP soundtrack by Columbia Records. I finally acquired my own copy of the vintage record purchased for me by my friend shopping in a record store in Chattanooga, TN this past spring.

The musical was later adapted by Rankin/Bass for the 1978 animated Christmas TV special, also titled The Stingiest Man in Town. In my previous post about Christmas records, I showed off my Alcoa Singers recording that features art work from the animated special. Click HERE to see that vintage record again.


Didn't I share this LP before? NOPE--this RCA/Victor soundtrack is different!

I previously shared the soundtrack recording of 1951's Amahl and the Night Visitors from my record collection. You can see it again HERE. Amahl was the very first opera written specifically for television AND it was the very first Hallmark Hall of Fame production. That's significant Christmas TV history!

While looking through Christmas records in a store in Minneapolis last week, I found this record (black cover above). It is the soundtrack recording from the December 1963 staging of Amahl which aired on NBC, another Hallmark Hall of Fame. This is a new cast and a new production--different from the 1951 recording. I'm so lucky--this LP still includes the libretto booklet that originally came with the 1964 record.
 

1966's A Merry Mancini Christmas (RCA Records)

Also in Minneapolis, I picked up my very own copy of A Merry Mancini Christmas. This 1966 record isn't very rare, and my local library has it on CD in their collection. But I still wanted this because the vintage record includes a very special track. The first song on Side B is Carol for Another Christmas--a Mancini composition created for the soundtrack of the movie by the same title. Talk about Christmas TV history, the movie Carol for Another Christmas is another example of an outstanding TV production.

The 1964 movie was funded by the Xerox Corporation to commemorate the anniversary of the United Nations. Carol for Another Christmas was written by Rod Serling (yes--THAT Rod Serling!). It is another adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol but this version includes a post-apocalyptic vision of Christmases Future. I know, right! And, it features an amazing cast: Sterling Hayden, Ben Gazzara, Peter Sellers, Steve Lawrence, and tons more. The outrageous movie used to be viewable only in museums but now can be found airing each December on Turner Classic Movies. You have to go looking for it, and it often only airs in the early morning hours--but it's there on the schedule. Seek it out--it's worth it. And, listen for the melancholy Mancini soundtrack.


1964 Christmas music from the Singer Company. Recognize that family?

 At first glance, this record may look like so many others. The 1960s and 70s saw many companies in America producing their own collections of Christmas music--a way from them to promote themselves and provide their customers with quality entertainment. Doesn't everyone have at least one Firestone Christmas record in their collection? I'm still dying to find the Christmas record put out by Kentucky Fried Chicken with Col. Sanders on the cover! And, the above record is another in the same genre. It was produced in 1964 by the Singer Company (they make sewing machines). The vintage record features traditional holiday favorites, arranged by George Siravo. But it now resides in my collection because of the TV family on the album cover. That's the cast of The Donna Reed Show after Mary (Shelley Fabares) left for college and the Stone's adopted young Trisha (Patty Petersen). Yes--Singer sponsored The Donna Reed Show in 1964. The Donna Reed Show includes one Christmas episode, 1958's "A Very Merry Christmas" starring silent film superstar Buster Keaton. Read my discussion of it again HERE.

Both Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen from The Donna Reed Show had solo recording careers. Wouldn't it have been fantastic if they had recorded Christmas music for a release such as this? Oh, what could have been!

Movie fans may remember that actor Donna Reed also starred It's a Wonderful Life. I wonder if that movie ever had a soundtrack release?


1955 RCA/Victor The Voices of Walter Schumann

Another record I found in Minneapolis recently is The Voices of Christmas featuring the chorus group The Voices of Walter Schumann. The album features traditional Christmas tunes, both sacred and secular. The music of the chorus group reflects a typical 1950s style, while familiar it isn't particularly noteworthy either. Except for one tune. "Christmas Gift" on Side B is a lost treasure that I only stumbled across last year. "Christmas Gift" is the only song on the album with a soloist taking the lead vocals among the chorus group. While the back of the album credits choral director and arranger Jester Hairston with writing the song, it certainly sounds like Hairston as the solo vocalist as well. And, the song sure does swing! It stands out from all the other tracks on the album not just as the only one with a solo vocalist, but also its tempo and embrace of jazz.

You know why this song first attracted my attention, right! I've written about Jester Hairston before. Not only is he the composer of the original Christmas standard "Mary's Boy Child," but he also did arrangements for the soundtrack of the movie Lilies of the Field--music which continued in the 1979 TV movie Christmas Lilies of the Field. You may also recognize Hairston as an actor--he appeared on the 1980s sitcom Amen as the elderly Rolly Forbes. Check out my essay on the 1987 Christmas episode of Amen which features Hairston singing. 



Give the song "Christmas Gift" a listen. See if it doesn't impress you as well.


7" record RCA/BMG (1994)

In a previous post about Christmas records, I shared my 1982 record Soap Opera Christmas. See that again HERE. I accidentally overlooked this 7" record also in my collection in that previous post. This 7 inch record entitled A Soap Opera Christmas features two songs. Side A is "Merry Christmas Wherever You Are (Radio Version)" performed by the Soaps and Hearts Ensemble, and Side B is "O Come All ye Faithful to the World-Medley" performed by Martha Byrne, who played Lily Grimaldi on As the World Turns. From the text on the reverse side of the sleeve pictured above, this 7" appears to have two singles from the larger 1994 project also entitled A Soap Opera Christmas, released on CD and cassette by BMG. Much like the 1982 record I previously wrote about, the 1994 record features holiday music performed by soap opera stars of the era. The Soaps and Hearts Ensemble appears to be a chorus consisting of 30 soap actors. The list of participants is too long to include here but I recognize a few outstanding names, such as Eva La Rue (from All My Children), Kristoff St. John (from The Young and the Restless), and Louise Sorel (from Days of Our Lives). I don't have the CD or cassette of the 1994 album A Soap Opera Christmas, only the two singles. But I bet somebody else has it! Let us know in the comments below how you like it :)



Salsoul Record Corp (1978) Cuchi Cuchi!

A Charo record!? Yup. I recently picked up this Christmas 12 inch here in Ohio. On Side A is the disco song "(Mamacita) ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?" sung by Charo, and on Side B is the instrumental version of the same tune. Of course, "¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?" is the familiar 1958 holiday song--here it is covered by the musician and TV personality Charo with a Latin/disco beat. 1978 was a magical time, wasn't it?


John Schneider's White Christmas Scotti Brothers Records (1981)

Bo Duke made a Christmas album!? YES! Actually, this is John Schneider's first Christmas album. It includes traditional carol such as "White Christmas," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Winter Wonderland," "Silver Bells," "Silent Night, Holy Night," "The Christmas Song," "Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and more. I think my favorite is "Katey's Christmas Card" a song with a touching narrative. The back cover of the album also includes an address to join the John Schneider fan club. Hhhmmm...I wonder if that group is still active?

John Schneider of course portrayed Bo Duke on the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard. You can read my discussion of the 1980 Dukes of Hazzard Christmas episode again HERE. Schneider also lent his voice to the Saturday morning cartoon series The Dukes. Read my discussion of the 1983 Christmas episode of The Dukes HERE. And, Schneider has appeared in several Christmas TV movies over the years. My favorite of those is 1987's Christmas Comes to Willow Creek. Read about that movie again HERE.


Do you own any of these musical titles? Do you have other records in your collection that were adapted from Christmas programs? Share the titles below.


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs 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

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com


9 comments:

  1. That singer one is awesome!

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    1. It is cool, isn't it? I wonder if other companies that sponsored TV shows put the cast on their Christmas records? I'm gonna keep my eyes open.

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  3. I recently found the Christmas album by Don Harron, in character as Charlie Farqharson, the newscaster role that he played on Hee-Haw. The whole album is songs and stories, including his hilarious take on "Twas The Night Before Christmas". Well worth tracking down!

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    1. Definitely. And he has an album of Bible stories by Charlie too (as well as other non-Christmas albums) and an appearance on a CD 'Keeping A Canadian Christmas with Don Harron and Catherine McKinnon". Don Harron is great.

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    2. Oohhh I'll keep an eye out. Thanks John!!

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  4. Wondering if you knew ...

    Walter Schumann had a hand in another famous Christmas record:
    Christmas Dragnet, the third of Stan Freberg's Jack Webb parodies.
    Jack Webb was a big Freberg fan; he provided Stan with Schumann's orchestra to adapt the famed Dragnet music for the parodies.
    If you've ever heard the record, you know what I'm talking about here ("Most folks call 'em green onions, but they're really scallions!").

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    1. Yes! Thanks for joining the conversation. I'm a big Dragnet fan too--AND the Christmas episodes of Dragnet too. Now if I only had the Stan Freberg record.....LOL. Thanks Mike :)

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