Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Christmas Playlist


Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's time to break out the Christmas music—and I don't mean the latest albums by Susan Boyle and Kelly Clarkson. When it comes to Christmas music, I prefer the classics. Here's what's on my playlist...

First, there are the two quintessential Christmas classics that have been played on the radio every year since before I was born (and are still just as popular as ever): Bing Crosby's White Christmas and Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song. Both are available as downloads and on countless CD compilations—and will never go out of style or print.

During the early years, my parents had only two Christmas records, both ancient, scratchy 78's: Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride and A Christmas Festival, performed by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. One of my earliest Christmas memories is of my mother playing these old records on the portable phonograph my parents had before they bought their first stereo. Both pieces are available—in stereo, non-scratchy versions—as downloads and on CD.

For some reason, when I was a kid, all of the tire companies—Goodyear, Firestone, BF Goodrich—came out with Christmas albums every year. They were all good, but Goodyear's The Great Songs of Christmas—Album Three, from 1962, is my favorite. All of the classic tire company Christmas albums are out of print, but you can find most of the tracks on other CDs or as downloads. My favorites from this album include Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Percy Faith, and the Christy Minstrels—but Carol of the Bells, by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, tops the list.

Here's another great tire album: BF Goodrich's Something Festive, from 1969. This one's all A&M artists: Herb Alpert, Burt Bacharach, Sergio Mendes, The Baja Marimba Band. My mother's favorite was Pete Jolly's jazz piano version of It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. My brother, sister, and I listened to Liza Minnelli's schmaltzy Raggedy Ann & Raggedy Andy over and over again. It's laugh-out-loud funny—especially when played at a faster speed. I'm sure most of the tracks are available as downloads or on other CDs—I know the Herb Alpert tracks are. I found a pristine copy of the LP at a swap meet years ago and digitized it. The Pete Jolly track reminds me of my mother, and the Liza Minnelli track makes me think of my brother and sister—and still makes me laugh at any speed.

My all-time favorite Christmas album is A Christmas Sound Spectacular, from 1959. This collection of sacred and secular Christmas music, played on carillon backed by orchestra and chorus, is truly spectacular. A few years ago I found the CD on the Internet and was disappointed to find that it was not nearly as "spectacular" as I remembered it: the CD had been made from a monaural master. But this year, I found it on iTunes in stereo! Considering the album was originally part of RCA's "Living Stereo" catalog, you really need to hear it in glorious stereophonic sound.

I have many other songs on my Christmas playlist (even a few from this century), but these are my favorites. They bring back happy memories of Christmases past, when I was a child and the house was always filled with music, laughter, and love.
And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two;
Although it's been said many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to you!

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