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The holiday season is a time of traditions with lots of things to do between the Thanksgiving Day parade and the final whistle on the last bowl game on New Years’ Day.  Things like office parties, visits with friends and family, buying gifts, maybe checking out a performance of “The Nutcracker” or Handel’s “Messiah.”  And no matter how old we are, a yearly viewing of Rudolph, Frosty, and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a must,  or looking at DVDs or online clips from Christmas episodes and specials from the past.  For some, it wasn’t Christmas until Santa came down a hill on a three-headed Norelco shaver.

Mixed in with all of the above, for me, is the music of the season, and we’ve been playing the songs you know and love.  Based on what I do, would it surprise you that I have a fair amount of Christmas music in my collection? (Part of it is in the accompanying picture.)  Or that I was usually the one to make mixtapes for parties or places I worked?  Well, I thought this year I would give you a glimpse into a few of my favorites, the songs I have to hear at least once before Christmas.

Midnight Sleighride – The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra.  Big Band-era arrangers Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan put together their own orchestra in the 50s, and had a hit record with this swing version of the Troika from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant. Kije Suite.  And yes, it’s the same melody Greg Lake used in “I Believe in Father Christmas.”

50 Kilowatt Tree – The Bobs.  An acapella ode to those folks who go all out on their holiday decorations, sending their electric bill through the chaser-light trimmed roof.

 

Merry Christmas All – Salsoul Orchestra.   One of the kings of the 70’s disco era, change pace a bit on this nice, jazzy Christmas wish, with vocals by Denice Montana.

 

The Happy Reindeer – Dancer, Prancer, and Nervous.  Ah, one from my youth.  Back when the speed control on your tape machine could make you a chipmunk, nutty squirrel, purple people eater, or reindeer.  L.A. based singer songwriter Russ Regan found out it could make you a hit.

Be a Santa – from “Subways are for Sleeping” (Original Cast Album).  A Broadway musical that didn’t run very long, this one is a favorite for a lot of dance troups, as it was one of the big numbers in the show.  It was sung in the show by Sydney Chaplin (son of a certain silent-movie star) and the chorus.

Ho Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rhum – Jimmy Buffett.  Santa escapes to the Caribbean after a busy month.  Jimmy and the Coral Reefers help us escape with this song that would fit in perfectly during Carnival in Trinidad.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo (Malibu Remix) – Billy May and His Orchestra.  In 2005, Capitol Records did a compilation called “Merry Mixmas”.  Here’s a fresh spin on Billy May’s mambo version, and as you can see, it inspired quite the Christmas display.

The Singers Unlimited – It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.  If you only know this group from Gloria Estefan’s Christmas album, you’re missing a lot.  These four veterans of the commercial jingle world put out a fine mix of LPs in the 70s.  Here’s my favorite from their accapella Christmas album.  Go ahead, count the chord changes at the end of this track.

 

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen – Stan Kenton and His Orchestra. In the early 60’s, bandleader Stan Kenton added a four-piece section of mellophoniums (go ahead, Google it) to his big band, recording some 10 LPs with them.  The reed section stays home on this album, which sounds like it’s part jazz band, part drum corps, sometimes stately, sometimes swinging.  And oh yeah…it might get loud!  This track is all of the above.

And finally…

Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade.   First, that’s the way they spelled it, so don’t blame me.  It’s not Christmas until vocalist Noddy Holder says it is.  At least in the UK.  Recorded in the halls of the Record Plant in New York during the summer of 1973, this song is as much a part of Christmas in the UK as Christmas pudding and the Queen’s Speech.   The song has charted a number of times since its initial release, and has been covered recently by Train and Cheap Trick, and this year by Robbie Williams.  I’m slightly prejudiced because I had the chance to meet the song’s writers, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea way back when.  Great guys.

 

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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