Baby It’s Cold: 1956 dance party

Who wants to dance to that new fangled music? You know, that hard-driving black soul with a harmonious chorus? That poor person country swing with a whiskey bottle beat?

The Youngsters begin to turn our tried and true doo wop into rhythm and blues. In 1955 they put out ‘Don’t Fall in Love Too Soon’ and ‘Shattered Dreams.’ By 1956 they have reususcitated 1929’s “Christmas in Jail.” If it walks like a rock and quacks like a roll…

Long Island white guys tried on that old doo wop sound as The Echoes in ’55. With the help of Gee Records, as The Debonairs, they released the single “Christmas Time/Crazy Santa Claus.” It’s measured and slick and trying too hard. But it’s a gas.

I’m not partial to covers of standards regardless of the funk that gets brung, but “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by The Cadillacs crafts something R&B without slick bells and whistles. This is the raw power of cool, the soul of rock ‘n’ roll.

Country music this decade keeps toying with a hard backbeat. Unable to break into Sun Records, Cordell Jackson starts her own label to sing and produce her own music including “Rock and Roll Christmas” and “Beboppers’ Christmas.” Do you feel the power of Elvis compel you? Well, honky tonk you too.

Brenda Lee is 10 years old in 1956. The shorty poor Atlantan sang for candy at the neighborhood store, and worked up to radio shows. She will use her country rhythm later to rule pop/rock in the ’60s. Here she sings from her second single of all time: “Christy Christmas” backed by my favorite poverty-aggressive Christmas song “I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus.”

Baby It’s Cold: 1956 honor thy season

Welcome to 1956, where Kruschev denounces Stalin–but USSR tops the Melbourne Olympics; where Montgomery faces a bus boycott–but we re-like Ike; and Elvis begins his own Ascension.

Granted, it was a year where the biggest selling single (Doris Day’s ‘Que Sera, Sera’) was still more grownup thrown up than the runners up (Elvis and Fats Domino). So don’t let’s give up on middle of the road musical fool-de-rol.

Dave King sings “Christmas and You” like the second coming of Bing. The strings are weepy, the percussion tinkly, the backup mush mouthed. Eyes half closed, lips parted, heart unmoved.

I hate to say it, but Harry Lillis Crosby Jr. is STILL making Christmas classics like “I Heard the Bells.” It ain’t novelty, but it is history. You’re right, i should not have included that.

Harry Belafonte helps us escape the conservative crud for Christ music with his down-home/island plain-spoken canticle “Mary’s Boy Child.”

But let’s get back to our ’56 schmaltz, already in progress. Here’s an amazing record on a postcard from Ford Motors, featuring Rosemary Clooney sending up ‘Jingle Bells’ with a jingle that smells.

Baby It’s Cold: 1955 i’ll pull this car over

Shut up, children. Fun tunes for tots take a backseat this year. These few are neither fun nor nice. Kids are brats, yeah?

Nuttin for Christmas” sold best for 6-year-old Barry Gordon fronting Art Mooney’s orchestra. Better remembered ala Stan Freberg (w/Daws Butler). Also in the same year by The Fontane Sisters, Joe Ward, and Ricky Zahnd and the Blue Jeaners.

Don Charles presented The singing Dogs in 1955 with “Jingle Bells.” (So it’s not from the ’70s like your parents told you.) Novelty music history!

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s little difference between amateurish country recording and kids’ music. So, to fill in our peanut gallery, let’s consider Sue Childers. These sample recordings, “Ooh! Ooh! Golly Gee!” and “Kiss-Mus-Tree” catch Sue early in her modest career. Dig that accordian.

Baby It’s Cold: 1955 active ingredients for RnR

Little Richard, Al Green, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry all start to chart their success in 1955. Hop those socks, chicks and daddios.

The Chordettes hit with ‘Mr. Sandman’ the year before, and its puckish author Pat Ballard penned a novelty Christmas send up this year. Dorothy Collins charted to #51 with “Mister Santa.” Hey, that’s kinda funny.

Please, keep in mind, we want to rock and we want to roll. But we need to marry up doo wop, the blues, some jazz and some attitude here.

Let’s dole out the doo wop, baby cakes! The Voices look dapper and trim. I’ll let their “Santa Claus Baby” and “Santa Claus Boogie” speak for them. ‘Cuz i can find no more ’bout dem. Yet, they send me.

Bluesy and sultry Johnny Moore with his Three Blazers scorch their way through “Christmas Eve Baby.” Lock up the women!

Jazz standard bearer Louis Armstrong (he’s only 54 years old here) is still churning out the beat in 1955.  “Christmas Night in Harlem” and “Christmas in New Orleans” paint you trumpetty landscapes of happenin’ holiday whoop-de-dos you wish you could get to.

That funny gospel exclaiming bit gets the workout with “Christmas Gifts” via Walter Schumann and Jester Harston exhorting us all jazzy-like to get going with the Christmas shopping.

After their #1 ‘Earth Angel’ (on the R&B charts) The Penguins released “Christmas Prayer.” Their  heavenly harmonies connect churchy gospel to doo wop to the blues to that next level of cool.

A Cool Cool Christmas” frostily delivers more doo wop by The Sabers. But this time they call it rock ‘n’ roll. Get some! The backup wailing and saxophone craziness makes one lose control, it does.

Let’s add some electric guitar and–voila! “Rock ‘n’ Rolly-Polly Santa Claus” by Lillian Briggs.

Some Cleveland schoolmates wanted to be as good as The Moonglows and The 5 Keys. They called themselves The 5 Stars and played dives and clubs until a couple recordings came out in 1955. (Dave Clark by then had redubbed them The Hepsters.) “Rocking’ and Rollin’ with Santa Claus” is one of their hits, and it’s a keeper.

Baby It’s Cold: 1955 leaning forward

Look out, ’55. ICBMs are designed with nuclear warheads. The first nuclear submarine is launched. The fist McDonalds opens in Illinois. Disneyland opens. James Dean dies young. The Viet Nam war starts (technically: just Vietnamese fighting each other). The first American corp. brings in over a billion dollars in one year (General Motors).

There’s no turning back, world.

Unless you’re Andy Williams. Williams has been around about a year at this point, a regular on The Steven Allen Show. “Christmas is a Feeling in Your Heart” reveals his youngish crooner corniness. Love, Hope, Peace, blah blah blah.

Mercury Records ran their stable of big band bourgeoisie into the ’50s as well. “My Christmas Carol” by musical director David Carroll with the Jack Halloren Singers was based on a Chopin etude. Yawnsville.

Trying to jazz the martini set up a notch, “It’s Christmas Time” by Bubber Johnson, who would go on to ALSO record ‘Ding Dang Doo’ and ‘Dedicated to the One I Love,’ doesn’t exactly shake, or rattle, or roll.

By this point The Mils Brothers are getting old. They’ve been on most everybody’s TV show and reminded grandparents that they’ve been ‘okey-doke’ for like 30 years now. Their “You Don’t Have to be a Santa Claus” and “I Believe in Santa Claus” are leaning back in the barcalounger cool.

Recycling last year’s “Christmas Alphabet” smarmy cool Brit Dickie Valentine sways his way out of the bandstand and into the kids’ clubhouse. Starting to get smooth here.

Exotic Cuban Andrews knock-offs, the DeCastro Sisters spiced up Dad’s record collection with just the hint of an accent. My wife is a fan of “Christmas is A-Comin'” which is hard to find by big deal recording artists. Flipside is “Snowbound for Christmas” which is pretty hot stuff for these Carmen Miranda proteges.

Baby It’s Cold: 1954 kooky kids

Let’s take a moment to get childish. Now that we’re into the Beat generation, kids are kooky fun and kinda cool. Their innocence is un-square. So listen up to the swingin’ sounds of juvenile yuletidiness.

Across the Atlantic, girly TV personality Diana Decker recorded a couple fun-time tunes. “I’m a Little Christmas Cracker” could be considered a junior tune, but it’s a party song. Not too many little ones’ songs include ‘a bang-a bang-a bang-a!’

I’m not sure how serious polka music is, despite my supposed Bavarian ancestry. It seems tongue-in-cheek and beer-in-belly, inspiring a silliness that makes square dancing seem scientific. Thurl Ravenscroft and the Mellomen (spelled several ways… in fact also known as Big John and The Buzzards, The Crackerjacks, The Lee Brothers, and The Ravenscroft Quartet) sang harmony back up for Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, and Elvis. But i remember their sound better from Disney pictures (the elephants in ‘The Jungle Book’). So i’m going to say their “Jingle Polka” is kids ‘ stuff. Get hep to it, though.

Art Carney was a comic singer in radio shows of the ’40s (Pot O’ Gold) and impersonated celebs for humorous/historical effect. His catch phrase (i read) was ‘Ya know what I mean?’ Cartoon faced, he did even better on TV with The Morey Amsterdam Show and The Honeymooners.  If you’re unfamiliar with what a goofball he was, give a listen to his “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and the inimitable flipside “Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop.” Now i want one, too.

Baby It’s Cold: 1954 pop goes the music

Elvis releases his first single (‘That’s All right’) this year. Let’s see what the new generation is listening to for the holidays…

Betty Johnson cashes in on the pop parade with “I Want Eddie Fisher for Christmas.” Oddly this tepid waltz does not seem to be the class of music Eddie Fisher would want to be a part of. Linda Strangis leads Spike Jones and His City Slickers with another (jazzier) rendition.

The height of doo wop for the holidays becomes “White Christmas” by The Drifters. This today has become a standard and sadly has become mired in controversy over who created the wonderful blackening of Der Bingle. Let’s just say Cool.

Swinging and hep, the Davis Sisters deliver “The Christmas Boogie.” Adapting boys’ doo wop with their own amazing gospel, these sisters testify to the rock. Wild!

Ramping up that doo wop, Oscar McLollie and the Honey Jumpers wail out “Dig that Crazy Santa Claus.”

Getting down and dirty, Jimmy Butler marries honky tonk and blues in a preview of Jerry Lee Lewis with “Trim Your Tree.” Cover the children’s ears.

The Crew Cuts were Canadian Catholic choir boys barely out of school when discovered and put on the radio. This year they get away with insipid harmonies like “Twinkletoes” (next year is ‘Sh-Boom’). But you can tell they have promise with “Dance, Mr Snowman, Dance.” Cue the screaming girls.

Baby It’s Cold: 1954 corn continues

1954: the Hydrogen bomb is tested and beats the atomic bomb squared. Joseph McCarthy is finally and fully censured. The Lord of the Flies and The Lord of the Rings get published. Both Ed Sullivan (Toast of the Town) and Steve Allen (The Tonight Show) get televised.

And Bill Haley and the Comets drop ‘Rock Around the Clock.’

It’s a new age.

Even the total squares of (British) pop like Alma Cogan are getting jazzy with the likes of “Christmas Cards.” It’s Glen Miller-ish, but portends girlish rock breakouts like Cathy Carr and Dodie Stevens.

The churchified country of Eddy Arnold in “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” smacks of soulful singing like what Elvis will do. Not just gospel, but hopeful.

All that progress… despite the honky tonk whining of Sonny James in “Christmas in My Hometown.” In a couple years this Chet Atkins discovery would crossover to #1 on the pop charts (with ‘Young Love’), but for now his hillbilly dread dirge will help keep country in the outhouse.

Christmas Bells” reveals that those who should have been breakouts, like Patti (1950’s ‘Tennessee Waltz’) Page, continued to get stuck in Lawrence Welk-y tame, lame, same ol’ same ol’. That’s a beat you can sleep to.

Arthur Godfrey’s pet sirens, The McGuire Sisters, never became the Andrew Sisters, who were pretty hip. Their “Give Me Your Heart for Christmas” hearkens backward to the ’40s pretty hard.

’54’s official Christmas Seals song “The Spirit of Christmas” by Kitty Kallen is pretty tired and by the numbers as well. I feel like it’s got subliminal tryptophan in the lyrics.

Worst of all this year, Rosemary Clooney drawls out syrup for young and uncool alike with “Let’s Give a Present to Santa Claus.” She was there, man, with 1951’s ‘Come on-a My House,’ but in ’54 she’s backsliding making the movie ‘White Christmas’ with Bing and Danny Kaye. Bored now. Want to rock.


Baby It’s Cold: 1953 charcoal ‘n chalk

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.

Baby It’s Cold: 1953 baby boom

A good percentage of the novelty songs seem aimed at kids, but the grownups buy ’em so they have to appeal to the adult consumer as well.

Russ Carlyle’s orchestra survived WWII to continue to play ballrooms in the ’50s in the USA. Apparently cashing in on ‘Mommy Kissing’ from last year he enjoins his children, Phillis and Jeffrey Carlyle, to sing “Santa Claus Looks Like My Daddy.”  I suspect helium was huffed during the recording of this vinyl.

After ‘Mockingbird Hill’ Les Paul and Mary Ford did well in 1953 with ‘Vaya Con Dios.’ Their wintertime single was ‘White Christmas’ backed by the childish “Jungle Bells (Dingo-Dongo-Day).” It’s one hep menagerie, cats and kittens.

Borscht Belt funnyman Red Buttons made his splash in show biz in the ’40s. By the ’50s he had his own TV show. The year in question he had a hit record with ‘Strange Things are Happening/The Ho Ho Song’ in which one side of the record one-upped the other. His Christmas entry is “Bow Wow Wants a Boy for Christmas.” Kids love Kosher schmaltz.

Mel Blanc had been a radio fixture since the 1920s. With his mastery of accents he kept us racist through the ’30s and ’40s in The Jack Benny Program, his own show briefly, and Warner Brothers’ cartoons. In 1953 he recorded “Ya Das Ist Ein Christmas Tree” with flipside “I Tan’t Wait ‘Til Quithmuth Day.” It’s all one take, folks. No splicing, no editing.

Corporate kiddie giveaway holiday records (VERY cheaply made–but FREE) start in earnest in the ’50s and i wish i could find more of the tens of thousands surely out there somewhere from a time before social media. “Merry Christmas Song” courtesy of Precision Plastics Co. has been kindly rescued by Raymond T to give us a taste. I also love a recovered freebie uncovered by Pete the Elf for which i can find no further info (could be from the ’40s, but it doesn’t sound like it). I call it “Merry Christmas from Line Materials.” You’ll know why when you hear the ending refrain. (P.S. i found out later it’s from 1960… shh, don’t tell)

Cricket Records was born out of Pickwick Sales greeting cards. In 1953 they issued dozens of 78s from ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett,’ to “The Mexican Hat Dance,’ to ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ For Christmas another dozen mostly original songs were recorded by a stable of talent known as The Cricketone Players (no credit to the likes of Gene Autry, Dennis Day, and Boris Karloff). The album collecting these, that i grew up with, appeared in racks in 1959. It sold for $1.98. Off that album, here is “Little Christmas Stocking with a Hole in the Toe.” It’s formative stuff, gang.