Baby It’s Cold: 1959 the livin’ end

So what have we learned from a decade of Christmas songs?

England’s Elvis, Billy Fury, first charts in 1959 with pretty pieces like “My Christmas Prayer.” In the ’60s he will rival The Beatles for top ten hits in the UK. But this style of rock is getting old here.

Johnny Houston, with “Gimme a Kiss for Christmas,” rocks it Fats Domino style, but colors between the lines without going for it. We need to trade up.

Nearly a dozen different doo wop groups with names like Marquis stepped off street corners in Detroit, Chicago, Philly, and Nyark to lay down tinselly tracks. It would take a meticulous musicologist to trace each’s hit list. For now, let us bask in the Marquees’ “Santa Done Got Hip.” It will make you more hip. Then, sit down comfortably, because “Christmas in the Congo” by Marquees just got weird.

Girls gotta rock, too. Marquerita Trina syncopates “The Rocking Tree” to a wailing sax and a playful axe.

More Detroit doo wop, natch! The 4 Imperials recorded only for a couple years. In fact “Santa Got a Coupe DeVille” may be their last platter. But with it we’re riding roadster rock into the ’60s.

Boyhood chum of Rickie Nelson, Zane Ashton (orig. Bill Aken) was one of those guys in The Wrecking Crew, the musicians all cool rock gods in the ’60s had lay down tracks for them in the studio recordings.  Not much of a soloist, here is an early rockabilly number from him “The Christmas Spirit.” What an acid trip of echo effects and tinkly percussion.

Edd Byrnes is known as ‘Kookie’ from the ABS detective series 77 Sunset Strip. Here’s a wild ride from him: “Yulesville/Lonely Christmas.” I don’t know what to tell you, except that’s 1959, baby.

Canadian rockers The Martels bring it home with “Rockin’ Santa Claus.” Dance, Dancer, dance!

post scriptum:

I’ve had some fun judging sounds of the ‘Fifties, but i don’t know the history of rock ‘n’ roll at all. I have skimmed some websites, researched some groups, and drawn my own conclusions for whatever humorous or profound effect i could conjure. Plenty better historians out there can set you straight as to the geneology of cool (like that blackboard in ‘School of Rock’). I’m just sharing what i’ve heard and what i’ve found and i hope that twists no ones nose. Peace.

Baby It’s Cold: 1959 what’s so funny

Jolly joyful music has now become codified as novelty nuttiness. Ho ho ho.

In terms of stright comedy, this year Tom Lehrer recorded his “Christmas Carol” both live and in studio. Once more, a reminder, how much the 1950s shaped novelty Christmas music.

Unintended comedy sounds like “Wistful Willie” by Jimmy Rogers. This was a clear miss despite the jazz drums and upbeat story. The guy just couldn’t learn from Jimmy Dean’s Sandy Sleighfoot.

We find another over-orchestrated promo 45 from Line Materials (this time w/word-jazz narrator, Ken Nordine): “The Kinds of Christmas.” Do kids today get such manipulative messages for free?

Unfortunate comedy results from Russ Regan trying some more of the Chipmunks’ schtick with “Dancer, Prancer and Nervous” The Happy Reindeer Song. Wow, that’s bad.

By 1959 The Three Stooges have dwindled to Joe DeRita trying to look like ‘Curly’ Howard. But kids’ shows are big bucks. So it’s a wise guy renaissance. Their shorts are making the rounds, full-length movies and cartoons are just around the corner. Hence, novelty tracks like “Wreck the Halls.

Despite the hit-and-miss laughs, i’ve got to highlight a country-swing-rock mix from reliable Johnny Horton. It ain’t what i’d call funny. But “They Shined Up Rudolph’s Nose” is fun for kids, twisting teens, alcoholic dads… durnitall, it’s jolly and joyful for one and all. That’s music!

Baby It’s cold: 1959 welcome to the mad future

1959 begins with Communism taking over Cuba, so we make Alaska and (then later) Hawaii states. The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly go down in flames, so we launch the first successful ICBM. This is the year of the first Barbie doll, the first plain paper (Xerox) copier, the first man-made object landing (crashing) on the moon, the first living things returning from space alive (monkeys), and pantyhose. The biggest hits in music are ‘Mack the Knife,’ ‘The Battle of New Orleans,’ and ‘Personality.’ As busy as the world is getting with progress, the music is all over the place. It’s a madhouse.

R&B almost legend Jesse Blevins cowrote ‘Earth Angel’ (shh, it’s a lawsuit!). His gentle ballad “I Want You with Me, Christmas” comes from his only album Guess Who? as he was killed in a car wreck shortly after. The day lots of the music died, i guess.

Give the ladies a chance. And, i mean, Lady. All around icon, Pearl Bailey, strutted her stuff radio, stage, screen, TV, and record album from the ’30s into the 70’s gracefully. Her wow-factor is never more apparent than in “Five Pound Box of Money:” a fine gift no matter how you wrap it.

The Anita Kerr Singers’ “Christmas is the Day” is a little tiajuana brassy, but even more a snoozey stew of lazy harmony. We will have easy listening with us always.

Dinah Washington makes the story of “Ole Santa” a sad ole ‘cuz-Mama-sez lecture to dumb kids who don’t know what’s coming Christmas Eve. It’s scary how square she is.

Gracie Fields sings “Little Donkey” like she’s pep-talking those dumb manger mutts into getting into character for their screen test with the Savior Bairn. So kinda funny.

Yet another Bing Crosby musical for the holidays (‘Say One for Me’) dropped “The Secret of Christmas” without making the splash past numbers had–it sounds like your square dad so much that square dads didn’t buy it. Check out Mina’s version with the cool jazz combo behind her faux Judy Garland sirening. Oh yeah, and there’s Ella Fitzgerald adding a shivering amount of soul to her rendition.

Ray Conniff made the glee sound out of the big band sound. His first album (this year) went platinum and earned him a grammy. So, out pops a Christmas disk by The Ray Conniff Singers with this creepy, stalker-y bit of whimsy: “Christmas Bride.” Please, don’t play this at your wedding.

Brooke Benton, another Nat King Cole clone, hit hard on the R&B chart with ‘It’s Just a Matter of time’ (last year) and ‘Baby(You’ve got what It Takes)’ (this year).  “This Time of the Year” showcases his elegant, non-threatening pretty vocals, allowing black men to sing the soundtrack of romance.

Adult music this year is starting to get good and weird. So check out the early electronica lounge music of Esquivel! and his “Jingle Bells.” The future is here and it’s STRANGE!

 

 

Baby It’s Cold: 1958 we’ve arrived

Why have we been slogging through the 1950s? What’s so big about 1958 in particular?

Stan Freberg’s iconic “Green Chri$tma$” comes out this year. Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. You should listen to that one again.

But… get ready novelty nerds, David Selville goes #1 on the hit parade with The Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late.” (You know it, so don’t bother listening.) It’s just that, well, weird Xmas music never does that NUMBER ONE chart-topping thing.

Copycats like The Happy Crickets rushed in to capitalize on this sped up sputtering sputum of spirituality. And, behold,that did not further the cause of cool new music, kids.

So let’s look at the also-rans.

One possible exception to twee helium voice equaling empty nonsense might be from cowpoke Sheb Wooley. 1958 features his big break-out ‘Purple People Eater.’ As has become fashion, he drops a holiday follow-up “Santa Claus Meets the Purple People Eater.” Watch for appearances from Sputnik, rock, and reindeer hands.

Flash in the pan Patsy Raye and the Beatniks drop a couple hepcat platters around now. They’re probably not in it for the money. But if free readings of ‘Howl’ don’t do it for you, listen up to “Beatnik’s Wish.”

12-year-old Augie Rios continues the tradition of adorable prodigies with “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” and the remarkable flipside “Ol’ Fatso.” Kids demand the darnedest things.

From the UK Lanconshireman Ken Platt (‘George Formby the Second’) sings the childish “Snowy the Christmas Kitten.” I love the drollery of the Brits; even at their silliest they do NOT condescend. This might be the sweetest Xmas song ever. Or the most treacley.

Linn Sheldon hosted a Cleveland children’s TV show in the ’50s and portrayed characters, like the pointy-eared elf Barnaby. You know, like Krusty the Klown. So here is his legacy, another animal-based carol (i’ve got to showcase animal songs here soon): “Boofo Goes Where Santa Goes.” ‘Course when i went to high school, boofo meant something else.

Baby It’s Cold: 1958 oh yeah, it’s time

Music matures before our eyes here. Music for under-thirties all begins to sound like rock.

Switching up honky tonk country with a twist of the blues, Chuck Berry has been blasting out the hits since ‘Maybellene’ in 1955. This year with “Merry Christmas Baby” Berry plays it cool. Cool as a rock.

Switching up doo wop with a percussive beat, The Montereys wail in an unreleased single from near this time (?) “Santa Claus Gained More Weight.” Are you not rocked?

Switching DOWN the gospel with tubular bells and a touch of sass, Georgia Harris and The Lyrics propose “Let’s Exchange Hearts for Xmas.” Rockety rock, McRockerson.

The only trend in rock we have to watch out for is the white sport coat crowd, the follow-authority fellas and ladies who think The Four Aces are just swell. These types rock out to the tunes ‘Love is a Many Splendored thing’ and ‘Three Coins in the Fountain.’ I guess the boys can’t help how white they are. Bear in mind they started the ‘Fifties with an odd number (‘There’s a Christmas Tree in Heaven’), and now continue the blah band sound (‘bland’) of “The Christmas Tree.” Fairy land, kids!

 

Baby It’s Cold: 1958 aren’t you ready to rock yet

Elvis joins the Army just in time for Ike to invade The Caribbean and The Middle East. Mao and Kruschev are talking…but that Pasternak book Dr. Zhivago makes them Reds seem nice enough.

So, we’re rocking the world, am i right?

Well, Exhibit A: “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee (Teresa Brewer does a perfunctory pass at it as well) seems to indicate so.

And The Stanley Brothers take country to the rock with “Christmas Time is Near.”

Big band maestro Hugo Winterhaller jazzes up ‘Merry Christmas’ with some Samba ferality in his “Christmas Cha Cha.” This ain’t your grampa’s dance music!

But then there’s radio/TV hostess Ruth Lyons. She had been introducing big bands and hosting her own shows (like Petticoat Partyline and The 50/50) while she’s been songwrighting. But the wax she drops this year, including “Let’s Light the Christmas Tree,” “Hey Nonny Nonny,”  and “Christmas is Getting Mighty Close” sounds pretty old fashioned.

Oh yeah, and who’s still selling Christmas music in 1958? Bing Crosby. Yeah, i know! Check out his polka-like daddy-kins vocalism “Just What I Wanted for Christmas.” Yeah, he wants the thought (that’s what counts), but he really wants you shopping. He does, you know.

 

Baby It’s Cold: 1957 goofy, goofier, goofier

Comedy novelty for this year seems unintentional, or at least so over the top as to be as odd/offensive as amusing.

I’ve already referenced Buchanan and Goodman’s “Santa and the Satellite.” But i remind you of that ’57 goodie in order to introduce another dynamite DJ, Mad Milo. “Elvis for Christmas” is what radio spinners did for kicks back then. Kids were supposed to dig it.

Elvis and even Johnny Cash were lifting country music to a new, danceable level. Old soldiers, like George Jones were being left behind. Mr. Jones knew how to spin a sad tale of common woe, even for the holidays. “Maybe Next Christmas” certainly does that. But in “New Baby for Christmas” George takes us to a dance floor he hadn’t visited before. It’s kinda wacky.

Country was a bumpy rutted road to follow to higher hills. Jimmy Dean was getting his feet under him in 1957, Perhaps someone thought he oughter follow Gene Autry’s ‘Rudolph’ novelty route with an odd ode:”Little Sandy Sleighfoot.” I know this little ‘children’s’ number helped his career, but gee whiz–it’s awful.

For a legitimate dose of comedy, consider the borscht belt babbling of Eddie Lawrence. A year before, his ‘Old Philosopher’ charted well. Comedians (not ‘stand ups’ back then, but ‘monologists’) did NOT chart. “The Merry Old Philosopher” was a holiday follow-up to that previous spirit-lifting hit. Not to be confused with “That Holiday Spirit” which was the dark side of can-you-top-this rambling. Look up The Old Philosopher to discover the cult-like following he generated.

Baby It’s Cold: 1957 cool cool cool

Rock don’t roll all at once. While we’ve been noticing some rhythm creeping into easy listening, by 1957 the doo wop and R&B and swing and jazz and honky tonk and blues has fused closer and closer into Alan Freed’s so-called “rock and roll.”

This is the year of “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms. In this iteration, it’s sooo country.

True street corner doo wop still sounds like La Fets & Kitty singing “Christmas Letter.” It’s da blooze with a harmony hard-beat chaser. Awww.

New Jersey white guys harmonizing lead us to the boy band early rock. The Cameos make a pretty merry-go-round of music with their “Merry Christmas.”

Detroit doo wop sounds like”Can This be Christmas?” asked by The Falcons. Killer sax. Familiar bass beat. Yeah, we’ve got this.

Also from Detroit The Enchanters wax exotic with doo wop in “Mambo Santa Mambo.” It’s slick as a candy stick. (I listen to the millennial salute of this every year by The Bobs a la a cappella.)

Melvin and Johnny take a page out of Fats Domino’s book with this tinkly, twinkly “It’s Christmas Time Again.”

If you were an R&B fan in N’Awlins in the ’50s you hadda be a Fats Domino man. But a few early rockers dug more the swirlin’ stylin’s of Jimmy Beasley who remains so unrecognized today he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page (except he does–in German). I suggest you check out his 1957 album Jimmy’s House Party. Until then, enjoy “Christmas is Here Again.”

Baby It’s Cold: 1957 identity crisis

Welcome to Nineteen Hundred Fifty-Seven. A couple months after Humphrey Bogart dies the American Cancer Society publishes a paper accusing cigarette smoking as causing cancer. The American juvenile delinquent epidemic is touted, clouted, and flouted. A bit later in the year, Kerouac’s  On the Road is published. After several failed USA Atlas rocket launches, USSR’s Sputnik successfully circles the planet. During this year Atlas Shrugged and The Cat in the Hat are published. Go, cat, go.

Life is getting more absurd by the moment. The new rock ‘n’ roll music celebrates this craziness, as well as allowing its primal beatability to carry the overwhelmed young person away like at a revival tent meeting.

Not that ’57 bridges the generational voids easily. We still get Big Carols (now in convenient 10-song 33 1/3 rpm vinyl libraries) from the likes of Bing Crosby (last last generation)(“How Lovely is Christmas“) and Frank Sinatra (last generation)(“The Christmas Waltz“), and Pat Boone (the anti-new generation)(can’t bring myself to link to any of his old stuff!). Footnotationally, please contextualize the New Generation’s Elvis (“Blue Christmas”–recycled from Ernest Tubb and Doye O’Dell) as strange and disturbing back in this old age.

The old guard clung to their old musical style, but could still be naughty. Sex symbol Julie London hit big in 1955 with ‘Cry Me a River.’ So, here in ’57 she tries out the whispery, intimate, sensual style with “I’d Like You for Christmas.” Playboy magazine has been spreading its circulation for a few years by now, you know. Time to titillate the tinsel.

Contrariwise, wholesome daughter of Kitty Wells, Ruby Wright, lends her next-door-girl pipes (with an adorable childrens’ back up) to “Let’s Light the Christmas Tree.

Now, to keep your skills in rhetorical logic even more off balance, here is a different singer also named Ruby Wright, also singing with kids, also releasing in 1957: “Merry, Merry Christmas.” Yeah, she does sound cooler.

Frankie Lymon’s The Teenagers hit big last year with ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love.’ This year he solos a real downer “It’s Christmas Once Again.” Didn’t make me wanna dance. Maybe question my existence.

The 5 Keys grew out of an R&B foursome in the ’40s. They went through group changes and recording tragedies. “Every Heart is Home at Christmas” may represent an early ’50s effort, but at least one site claims airplay in 1957. It’s hep, so we can fully recover from the last song.

Well, i’m not sure how much more schizo i can get besides bebopping church music. The Norman Luboff Choir took a century old hymn and jazzed up the gospel. “Mary had a Baby (Amen)” does make me wanna dance. Hallelujah.

 

Baby It’s Cold: 1956 what th-

So how weird is the decade becoming?

In the way of kiddies’ yule, Line Materials delivers their employee Christmas bonus for 1956: a special vinyl song concoction entitled “The Magic of Christmas.” Santa sounds drunk, the toys seem to come to life–not in a nice way, and all the singers here are so tired i feel guilty that i was ever a child.

Commercialization has created bigger and bigger shopping centers. In Edina, MN “Southdale for Christmas” tells us through radio air play jingle what a wonderful life you’ll have buying stuff. Ching a ling sing the mad men.

The Elvis craze has replaced the Eddie Fisher craze finally. So now we have Eddie Cochran & The Holly Twins with “I Want Elvis for Christmas” dueling with the more polished rockabilly version by Marlene Paul this year “I Wanna Spend Christmas with Elvis.” Which is creepier? Don’t be so millennial, dude! Fans don’t stalk in 1956!

But the descendent of vaudeville comedy oddness, the non sequitur nonsense television show, ripens to a rich vintage this year. On our side we have Erie Kovacs. But as he left us no great novelty Christmas tune, i will reach across the pond to Spike Milligan and The Goons. So, here it is, the Dadaism of the 1950s: “I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas.” Try to make sense of it and we will laugh at you.