Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

The sounds of Christmas

8

This Christmas memory was originally posted in 2009.

The Christmas season begins for my family when we put up our tree shortly after Thanksgiving. But it’s really not trimming the tree itself that does it – it’s that as we string the lights and hang the bulbs, we listen to the traditional Grey family holiday CDs for the first time. So it’s really the music that ushers in the season for us.

And so it was when I was a child. Mom would drag out the big “portable” record player and her short stack of Christmas records and twist the volume knob up high enough that you could hear the music in the front yard. The whole neighborhood knew Christmas had arrived!

Mom favored Christmas music in pop, standards, and jazz styles, and her record stack reflected that. One of her records, Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas, has been part of the family tradition since it was issued in 1945. My mother’s parents bought it as an album of 78-RPM discs, one song per side. Mom had it as a vinyl Lp, and I of course have it as a CD. You can own it today, too, as it is the best-selling Christmas album of all time, even though a few years ago the knuckleheads at the record company renamed it White Christmas.

But of all of Mom’s Christmas records, I liked those by Johnny Mathis the best. Johnny really gets Christmas, from hopeless sinner to joyful child. I just can’t help but sing along! When the boys and I decorate the tree, I play Johnny Mathis first.

Johnny has recorded many Christmas albums over the years but his first two are the best. His first one, also named Merry Christmas, was released in 1958. It featured lush arrangements by Percy Faith and his orchestra. But Johnny’s 1963 Sounds of Christmas is, for me, the benchmark against which I measure all other Christmas music. Johnny moves seamlessly between bright, bouncy numbers that capture the happiness to which we all aspire during this season, and traditional songs that show the full power of his voice.

Sadly, you haven’t been able to buy this album in its entirety since the 1960s. Capitol Records reissued it in the early 1970s on one of its budget labels, deleting two songs in the process, and only that abridged collection has survived. You can buy it on CD today as Christmas with Johnny Mathis. It is better than nothing.

Yet I yearned for the two deleted songs. When I discovered many years ago that Mom still had her heavily worn 1963 pressing, I recorded it on cassette. Then a couple years ago I digitized those songs into my computer, ripped Christmas with Johnny Mathis in as well, arranged the songs in the original order, and burned my own custom Sounds of Christmas CD. I made a copy for Mom, too.

If you have wished for those missing songs, then I offer them to you here in glorious mono, with all the scratches, pops, and distortion you expect from a record that was played until it was almost worn out. First is what I consider to be the definitive version of The Little Drummer Boy.

By far the best track on the album is Have Reindeer Will Travel. As my mom says, it just isn’t Christmas without the doop-doopee-doos! You’ll know what I mean when you hear the song.

Next: How a new Polaroid camera
created good Christmas memories.

8 thoughts on “The sounds of Christmas

  1. Jennifer S

    Now I have to get the 1963 Johnny Mathis album. It sounds like the perfect mix between traditional Christmas music and the pop sound my kids and I love.

    And this was a very nice, sweet and entertaining post. Perfect for taking my mind off current events. Thank you so much for bringing warmth and happiness, and that reassuring sense that life continues, back into my day.

    1. Jim Post author

      I’m so glad that today’s post helped take the edge off. The Mathis album is available, minus the two songs of course, on Amazon as “Christmas with Johnny Mathis.” You should probably also get his 1958 “Merry Christmas” album at the same time. The two records are peas in a pod.

  2. pesoto74

    I remember when I was very young before the Beatles came along that Johnny Mathis was very popular. That Christmas music does seem to have the power of timelessness. I can hear some songs and feel like I am a child again in my parents car going to my grandmother’s on Christmas Eve.

  3. ryoko861

    THE best Christmas collection of music was from Columbia Records. You had to be a member to buy it. “The Magic Of Christmas” was a 4 album collection of old, new, hymnal and country hits by original stars. It’s still my favorite. I tried to get it on cassette or CD but it’s only on vinyl. I do believe Johnny Mathis is one of the stars on it! Of course, I have Bing on vinyl AND CD.

    1. Jim Post author

      Do you mean Columbia House records? If so, I lived in Terre Haute for several years – home of Columbia House. Once a year they had a big “friends and family” sale – if you knew anybody who worked there, you could get tickets to the sale. It was awesome. Everything was on sale for 25% or less of list price.

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