30 November 2011

A Second Helping of Christmas Vinyl

Another Helping of Christmas Vinyl!
By Kristin Battestella

Get ready for more snap, crackle, and pop from yesteryear!  Here are this holiday season’s tips on which records to treasure or thrift hunt for in your pursuit of yuletide nostalgia and revelry.

George Beverly Shea Hark the Herald Angels Sing – The titular carol opens this 1964 Christian set with bold, robust nostalgia and then some.  Largely filled with lovely, somber, and lesser known or not often seen carols or birth hymns such as Joyously Sang the Choirs, That Beautiful Name, Have You Ever Seen the Star, Dear Little Stranger, Shadows So Softly Enfold Thee, and He Became Poor among others; the holiday tunes here are obviously not for those exclusively celebrating a secular season. The overall album is also quite short, with only the standard verses of one or two famous carols and one full Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee rendition. Along with Christmas Hymns George Beverly Shea, the tracks here have survived as George Beverly Shea Christmas Joy and A George Beverly Shea Christmas, both available on CD or MP3 download.  Regardless of format, for those looking for traditional church bound holiday, Bev is tough to beat.  

John Lanchbery Conducts Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker – This 1982 two record set is one in a series by Lanchbery and The Philharmonia Orchestra along with Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.  The LPs also include a booklet on the music, the man, and the ballets all in a pretty and shiny red box, making this album look just as much a part of the season as the tunes from this December dance definitive.  Though this is a complete production spread over four sides, the music seems short somehow or goes by too quickly- perhaps because we so often associate The Nutcracker with big Baryshnikov ballets, varying family film adaptations, or  lengthy theater performances.  Even so, the instantly recognizable Overture and March, the Waltz of the Snowflakes, Kingdom of Sweets and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Waltz of the Flowers are all here for plenty of ingrained but pleasing sounds of the season.  This edition, or really any Nutcracker tunes you can accumulate, is the perfect backdrop for either casual dinners, formal parties, or a relaxing night fireside.

Joyous Christmas Volume 4 – I remember having several copies of this LP from the Beneficial and Columbia Records series, which is a very pleasant background album to play over and over again- which we did, repeatedly. The eponymously rousing Joy to the World leads off a seasonably round set of traditional arrangements such as Silent Night, Adeste Fideles, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and The Nutcracker mixed with more instrumentals festivities like Jingle Bells and Toyland.  We can also boast some special guest vocalists, from Doris Day’s White Christmas to The First Noel by Nelson Eddy and Johnny Cash’s Little Drummer Boy amid a solid God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen selection and samples from Messiah. Though it’s easy to find these tunes individually nowadays, the vinyl seems fairly common and easy to find second hand.  Of course, you could end up with something scratchy and flat, but that what I call ‘fireside’ sound is what appeals to me.

Luciano Pavarotti O Holy Night – You don’t have to be an opera fan to appreciate this long-winded 1976 collection of bellowing spiritual sweeps like Ave Maria, Panis Angelicus, and the titular high note- but it certainly helps!  Some of the selections are fairly long at over 8 minutes, and the heavy styles might be too headache inducing for a family dinner, but lyrics and liner notes are included too help budding fans follow along- even if we can’t quite sing along! With Pieta Signore, Gesu Bambino, and Adeste Fideles, Pavarotti creates a culturally classy album of global renditions as only he can. And hey, if you want to pick and choose your windpipes or go for even more tenor magic, the set is available for download or in a Special Deluxe CD edition with bonus tracks.

A Very Merry Christmas Volume 5  Perry Como’s Home for the Holidays starts off this 1971 LP in quintessential form, and the holiday hits continue with the equally ever-December-present Boston Pops Sleigh Ride, Harry Belafonte’s Christmas is Coming, and more.  Traditional inspirations like Mario Lanza’s rendition of O Holy Night, John Gary’s touching Sweet Little Jesus Boy, and the Robert Shaw Chorale O Little Town of Bethlehem/The First Noel medley balance the reverence as Henry Mancini does Rudolph and Frosty for the kids.  The Ballad of the Christmas Donkey by Ed Ames, Santa Claus is Coming to Town via Eddy Arnold, and a big Perry We Wish You a Merry Christmas finale keep up the seasonal pace, too. Naturally, these versions are oft available elsewhere on disc or as individual downloads, and this Very Merry Christmas record series from RCA for Grants Stores is a little more junk shop elusive than other sets like Goodyear’s Great Songs of Christmas. Nevertheless, if you could only have one record with all the classics for every aspect of the season all in one place, this would be it.

Again, the records here might be tough to find, and digital options or exact contemporary correlations aren’t always available.  Despite the vinyl vintage ebbs and flows or record resurges in popularity where collectors both reissue and overprice or shatter, Frisbee or otherwise trash; we need to remember to treasure the music of Christmas past.  Nay, it is our duty to preserve the flat hisses, bent tone, moldy art, and warped plastic of the musical yule’s of yore for future generations!

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