Fri | Jan 18, 2019

Christmas carolling in the studios

Published:Sunday | December 23, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Christmas comes but once a year, and accordingly, the music associated with Christmas also comes once a year. This perhaps explains why Christmas songs and Carols never get 'stale' and always hold a lasting place in the hearts of Christians and festival fanatics, as the hunger for such songs seems to be compounded by reason of the year-long waiting time.

Christmas carols and church hymns had originally been the music of choice for Christians, but as the years rolled by, numerous songs relating to Christmas have been written and sung in almost every imaginable genre and language.

Some of the earliest Christmas songs were novelty songs, which were musical parodies, performed solely for comic effect. All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, was one such song, and was first introduced by Spike Jones and the City Slickers in 1948.

Four years later, a 13-year-old named Jimmy Boyd recorded the novelty song, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, while Alvin and the Chipmunks, produced that unique squirrel-like sound when they did Chipmunk Song in 1958. A 12-year-old, Augi Rios seemed to be searching for Santa Claus in his 1958 rendition of Donde Esta Santa Claus.

Most popular

Jingle Bells, first made popular in 1955 by Dan Charles, was perhaps the most popular of such songs, and was revolutionary in its use of the latest recording technology. In 1979, Elmo and Patsy added to the many Christmas novelty-song genre with Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

Outside of novelty and 'popular' Christmas songs, some of the earliest Christmas songs were church hymns, which came closest to what Christmas was all about - the coming of Christ, the three-in-one Almighty Saviour.

He would be glorified and showered with praises in unforgettable hymns like, Joy To The World, The Lord Is Come; Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem and The First Noel. In one of hymns' most popular verses, they chanted:

Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere

That Jesus Christ was born. He comes from the glorious kingdom.

Christmas carols like It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Silent Night, Carol Of The Bells, Away In A Manger, O Holy Night, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, Little Drummer Boy, The Twelve Days Of Christmas, and many others too numerous to mention, became favourites among church-goers and were sung along with hymns.

Much of what is known as Christmas music today, was adopted from pieces initially created for other purposes. These were applied to Christmas, or came to be associated with the holiday in some way.

Many of the tunes adopted into the Christmas canon, fall into the generic 'winter' classification, and they carry very little Christmas connotations.

Others were written to celebrate other holidays, but were gradually drawn into Christmas music: Favourites like Winter Wonderland, Let It Snow and Baby It's Cold Outside, merely describe the weather, while Sleigh Ride's lyrics, mentioned not a Christmas party but a holiday party.

Mel Torme, composer of the very popular The Christmas Song, first recorded by The Nat King Cole Trio in 1946, claimed he wrote the song during the blistering hot summer of 1944, in an effort to stay cool by thinking 'cool'.

It was recorded four times by Cole, the last in 1961 with full orchestral backing.

It, along with Bing Crosby's White Christmas, became the most performed Christmas song, and was a massive hit on both the pop and R&B charts.

Bing Crosby's 1942 recording of White Christmas, in fact, created history, by making the United States charts every Christmas for 21 years thereafter, thus becoming the world's biggest-selling single of all time.

In the recording, Crosby dreamt of a white Christmas, just like the ones he used to know, "where treetops glisten and children listen, to hear sleigh bells in the snow".

Repeatedly covered, the Drifters version of the mid-1950s, was particularly impressive.

A 2007 independent media survey, revealed that some of the best-loved Christmas songs were standards like White Christmas, The Christmas Song, Holly Jolly Christmas by (Burl Ives 1965), Rocking Around The Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee 1958), Jingle Bell Rock (Robin Holmes 1957) and Little Drummer Boy by The Harry Simeone Chorale.

The newest song to fall in that category was Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You from her 1994 album, Merry Christmas.

It was her fourth studio album and featured both cover versions of popular Christmas tunes and some original material, which she co-wrote with Walter Afanasieff.

Mature standpoint

The daughter of the great Nat Cole - Natalie, viewed Christmas from a more mature standpoint in her 1990 Atlantic recording, Growing-Up Christmas List, in which she asserted that the list was not for herself but,

For a world in need - no more lives torn apart, and

that wars would never start.

On the Jamaican scene, Christmas songs of the popular genre, have occupied, and continue to occupy a very important place in the lives of many.

At any Christmas party or dance, one is almost sure to hear the inimitable voice of the multi-Grammy Award winner Luther Vandross doing the 1976 disco-flavoured hit, May Christmas Bring You Happiness, as well as Carla Thomas Gee Wiz It's Christmas; The Salsoul Orchestra's, Christmas Jollies; Alton Ellis's Studio One gem, Christmas Coming; The Emotions 1973 Stax recording, What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas; Home T4's, Let The Christmas Catch You In A Good Mood and the Stage Crew's album, Christmas In The Sun which has become a perennial favourite.

On the sombre side of things Gladys Knight's was popular with, When A Child Is Born in 1980, and Harry Belafonte with Mary Boy Child.

But perhaps, the most thought-provoking early Jamaican Christmas song was done by Boris Gardner with the Rhythm Aces in 1960-61, titled The Meaning Of Christmas.

It sums up, in the first six letters, exactly what Christmas should really be about:

'C' is for Christmas, the season of good cheer

'H' is for happiness, to last throughout the year

'R' is for respect that each and all should show

In this holy season, wherever you may go.

'I' is for indulgence to know how far to go

'S' is for Santa Claus, the children all do know.

'T' is for toys, for little girls and boys.