The fusion of black doo wop and country swing hasn’t quite happened to make bona fide rock ‘n’ roll yet. So let’s check out the unsegregated part of town. It’s pretty swell.
One of the biggest deals in music overall, and a hugely successful ‘crossover’ to the white side of the music world, Louis Armstrong, churned out hits in the ’20s and ’30s. By 1953 his “Christmas Night in Harlem” and “Cool Yule” are nice enough tunes by that old guy.
For those who dig their blues unadulterated with that fancy jazz syncopation, Lightning Hopkins tears himself up for “Merry Christmas.” Damn. Look out, whites.
Phil Moore was a movie studio style acceptable black man. His Phil Moore Four had that ‘in’ and were able to keep from bleaching their sound, yet play to everyone. “The Blink Before Christmas,” b/w “Chinchy Old Scrooge” lay down the black and raise up the Beat (Generation). Xmas don’t get much cooler.
The most acceptable black man in music, Nat King Cole, plays it completely mainstream with “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot” (featured in the documentary ‘Jingle Bell Rocks‘) (Flipside “Mrs. Santa Claus“). Poor may be read as code for black, but with NKC race is hardly an issue.
Here on the cusp of rock ‘n’ roll, we simply must give doo wop its due. 1953 is early in the meteoric rise of The Moonglows to pop iconography. Still covering Doris Day and the McGuire Sisters, they slip in some danceable yule tunes: “Just a Lonely Christmas” and–it should be on everyone’s top twenty of happenin’ Santa songs–“Hey Santa Claus.” Dig THAT.
Country music generally recycles holiday standards tried and true from the previous decade (or century). But as we approach nascent RnR, and rockabilly is nearing the middle class, young and old are hearkening to Nashville’s original noises.
Korean War soldier Faron Young took over, when Eddie Fisher was discharged, as Army pop songster. His yodeling honky tonkin’ “You’re the Angel on My Christmas Tree” was recorded before his discharge a year later. Smooth and sultry.
Standing up for The Grand Ole Opry, Red Foley puts cowboy range (not quite a yodel up and down the octaves) with “Put Christ Back into Christmas.” Hey, it’s not just the 21st Century that disregards religious sanctity!
But, if you want to hear rock ‘n’ roll about to happen, check out Hank Snow with “The Reindeer Boogie.” The Yodeling Ranger clawed his way up to Nashville from Nova Scotia (steer clear of his horrific bio if you can) and has been credited with putting Elvis on that stage. Get your fast dancing shoes on.