Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Christmas is coming!

Today is the 1st of December and that can only mean one thing - Christmas is just around the corner! I try to make it a general rule to avoid Christmas as much as possible before the actual month itself, which is practically impossible outside my own four walls as it's usually prevalent in shops from the about the middle of September. It seems to me that in these more austere times things have been rather low-key up until now compared to previous years, though. I shan't be putting up any decorations for another week yet - I know Advent was last Sunday but my parents always used to operate a "two weeks either side of Christmas Day" policy and I continue to follow that tradition. However I feel more than happy to start playing Christmas songs now, and have dug out my CDs and stuck them on the iPod.

For years all my Christmas music consisted of was mainly modern interpretations of classic tunes, such as by the new Glenn Miller Orchestra. The furthest any of my CDs went back to was 1950s Dean Martin and Nat King Cole recordings which, while perfectly pleasant, soon started to pall slightly after so many Christmases. I was just beginning to think that nobody recorded any Christmas standards prior to 1940 and was despairing of finding anything to supplement my existing collection of songs when I came across a 2CD set a couple of years ago (now sadly out of print - or whatever CDs are when they're no longer available) called
A Vintage Christmas Cracker: 47 Original Mono Recordings 1915-1949. The title says it all really - a wonderful selection of traditional carols and classic Yuletide favourites recorded by some long-forgotten performers of the first half of the Twentieth century. It's the perfect accompaniment to the more usual songs of the season and just what I was after. Below are some of the highlights, courtesy of Youtube:

We begin in 1930, with Ray Noble & The New Mayfair Orchestra and their recording of the Savoy Christmas Medley. Despite this being a popular selection with many of the dance bands of the '30s, it's difficult to find now. In fact I couldn't actually find the version on the CD, so this is the original Debroy Somers and his Savoy Orchestra cut from the previous year:

Was there ever a more distinctive voice than that of Paul Robeson? He's long been a favourite in our family and this traditional spiritual was recorded by him in great style on the 16th December 1931 in London:

Now a special treat for you all. This next tune is apparently
the first ever recording made of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. This is Harry Reser & his Orchestra, with vocalist Tom Stacks, recorded in New York on the 24th October 1934:

Winter Wonderland now, but not one of the more well-known versions by the likes of Dean Martin, The Andrews Sisters or Perry Como. This is British bandleader Lew Stone & his Band with vocalist Alan Kane, recorded in London on the 28th December 1934. For my money this is one of the best versions of this perennial favourite:

The next two tunes are both by the BBC Dance Orchestra under the direction of Henry Hall and were cut just over a year apart.
The Santa Claus Express features vocals by Dan Donovan (and chorus) and was recorded in London on the 23rd October 1935; The Fairy On The Christmas Tree with vocal trio The Three Sisters on the 29th November 1936. Both are archetypal 1930s Christmas songs and highly enjoyable:

On the same day that Henry Hall was recording
The Fairy On The Christmas Tree in London, Fats Waller and his Rhythm were busy recording Swingin' Them Jingle Bells in Chicago. No video for this one, but the typically jazzy Waller recording can be heard here.

I mentioned that I have a Christmas CD by the current Glenn Miller Orchestra but the only Christmas song Glenn and his band ever recorded themselves was
Jingle Bells, in New York on the 20th October 1941. Tex Beneke, Ernie Carceres and The Modernaires sing the vocals:

No Christmas record would be complete without at least one recording by the great Bing Crosby, and this CD set has several. Three of my favourites follow -
Silent Night, Holy Night recorded in Los Angeles on the 8th June (that must have been weird!) 1942, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town recorded with The Andrews Sisters on the 30th September 1943 and I'll Be Home For Christmas recorded on the 11th October 1943:

Finally, we end with Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians, who recorded this in L.A during December of 1944, especially for the American Forces. Two years previously Waring's version of this 19th Century poem A Visit from St Nicholas became his first and only million-seller:

Well, that's a sample of the music I shall be singing and swinging to in the run-up to Christmas; I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I shall undoubtedly post again before the 25th, but whatever you're up to in the next three weeks I hope you have fun doing it to a festive soundtrack.


  1. Dare I confess... I am not much of a Christmasfan and I generally detest (overplayed) popular Christmas songs (you know the ones!). But I do like this post! The swing versions make it quite digestible. Even for me. :-)

  2. Fabulous! What super recordings.

    After I spent half last December singing 'I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas' my husband scoured local toy shops and bought me one for Christmas!

  3. Oh such lovely selections. Pre-1950's Christmas music holds some sort of magical nostalgic quality for me that nothing can compete with. I'm such a fan of Glenn Miller's version of Jingle Bells, too bad he and his orchestra didn't record more Christmas songs. Love this history in this post, well done.


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