The bathtub is full of eggnog. I hope it’s eggnog. My mouth is dry and my vision is clouded with pink and orange lights. Damp with perspiration, bloated with Christmas largess I fought my way to the office and turned up You Could Be Born Again by Free Design until it almost hurt. That seems to be helping.
The record player in the living room is too hot to touch. I’m afraid to go anywhere near it. Something in the last two weeks has taken hold of the machine and crossed the wires in its cosmic guts. Here’s what I found on the coffee table amid crumbled cookies, pools of coagulated punch (I hope its punch), and piles of candy cane dust:
That Christmas Feeling (1973)
In the early seventies, Columbia partnered with a variety of companies to release Special Products like Christmas albums. Firestone and Goodyear Christmas records are thrift store ubiquities. CBS also put out albums for/with Piggly Wiggly and Radioshack. I don’t know how this arrangement worked. I assume the LP’s were for sale at the various retail venues. It’s funny to think that so many people bought a Christmas album at the tire store, but there they are.
For Gen X-ers, this JCPenney album from 1973 should be like comfortable shoes. It’s the sound of the world they were born into. The album has a great mix of old-school crooners like Andy Williams and artists that, in 1973 represented television and film like Barbara Streisand–let’s call it post-Hollywood awareness.
Merry Christmas from The Brady Bunch (1970)
Despite the umpteen attempts to market the juvenile cast of The Brady Bunch as singers, they are notoriously terrible. In relative terms, Maureen McCormick (Marcia) has the best voice. I always cock an ear to catch her pronunciation of Jeeziss in “Away in a Manger.” I prefer Susan Olsen’s (Cindy) rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” to David Cassidy’s on A Partridge Family Christmas Card. Nothing is revealed by his treatment of the song as a ballad. Only the obvious is affirmed: the song isn’t a ballad.
Barry Williams’s (Greg) performance inspires sympathy. Puberty is a terrible time to record a child’s voice. It’s borderline cruel to photograph or record adolescents in any way that’s not highly rehearsed and coordinated, or spontaneously rambunctious and destructive, (I’m thinking sports or punk rock).
Christmas in California (1968)
This is another one of those corporate tie-in/buy-in albums. It was made for Bank of America by RCA. Banks don’t have to appeal to kids and the track list reflects mainstream, middle-brow classiness. Artists include Al Hirt, Henry Mancini, and Harry Belafonte. It wasn’t all Chipmunks and psychedelic mud in ’68. The adults had to listen to something. Great cover. I wonder where in California that’s supposed to be…
Christmas Drummer Boy featuring Don Janse and His 60 Voice Children’s Chorus
I can’t attest to the number of voices. Only a few rise to the surface and those are incredibly strange. Almost no kids have great voices, (see Merry Christmas from The Brady Bunch), but these kids pronounce things in really weird ways. There’s a Langley Schools Music Project quality to the recording, which works great on “Toyland.” The creepy-pretty potential of the song is fully realized by Janse and the Voices. The album was released at different times with different covers. I don’t know when.
Dennis Day Sings Christmas is for the Family (1958)
Dennis Day was a radio and early TV comedian/singer, which probably tells you all you need to know about this one. Jack Benny is featured doing his droll routine. This album can be had for about two bucks. Throwing a mid-century-retro Christmas party without it is inexcusable.