18 December 2012

Christmas Through the Years Box Set

Christmas Through the Years A Dynamite Little Set
By Kristin Battestella

I think I paid a whopping $5 for Christmas Through the Years, a special 1984 holiday record collection from Reader’s Digest Music. With five LPs each themed on a decade or topic, there are more than enough Christmas tunes here to meet one and all’s December listening needs.

Entitled “Christmas Favorites Forever,” Record 1’s debut is excellent- from the opening Boston Pops’ Sleigh Ride to the somber Silent Night by Bing Crosby. There’s plenty of Perry Como to go around with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Silver Bells, and The Christmas Song, too. The erroneously forgotten soldiers’ ode Christmas Eve in My Home Town by Kate Smith is absolutely dynamite. I’ve played it so many times, now it skips! Side B serves up more Perry with Home for the Holidays, and Bing’s Rudolph rendition is old time fun for all. Christmas Through the Years may be worth the holiday hunt just for this record alone. The common classics and heart-warming rarities alike are that good indeed.

Yes, it is a little dated with essential kid staples ala Leave it to Beaver, but Record 2’s “Christmas in the 50s” block is Christmas Through the Years for the whole family. Santa Claus is Coming to Town from Lawrence Welk, Here Comes Santa Claus by Eddie Fisher, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus by Spike Jones, and Nuttin’ for Christmas are all youthfully annoying and yet strangely endearing- except for I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. I’ve never understood how they made a kids song out of that kink! Hello, holiday role-playing, anyone? Fortunately, Harry Belafonte’s Mary’s Little Boy Child is far more tender and Bobby Helm’s Jingle Bell Rock is grooving fun for all. Bing Crosby’s A Marshmallow World is somehow more sophisticated for adult memories, too, and Perry Como’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas is always timeless.  Unfortunately, Record 3’s “Christmas in the 60s, 70s, and 80s,” might be weakest part of Christmas Through the Years, only because it’s more split with dated rather than enduring tunes. The Singing Dogs version of Jingle Bells is fun- once, the first time you hear it, when you are five. Otherwise, the barking novelty is amiss. This track is also stuck in the middle of the glories of Pretty Paper by Roy Orbison and Brenda Lee’s iconic Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree. Suffice to say, it’s not the right place for it!  O Holy Night and The Christmas Waltz by The Letterman are soft, easy, and pleasant but also irrevocably trapped in their certain sixties harmony or glee club style. Ironically, Perry Como’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Forever- a 1982 release-sounds more mid century idyllic.  Kate Smith’s medley of Deck the Halls/Joy to the World/It Came upon a Midnight Clear is, of course, simply stunning, and Jose Feliciano finishes strong with Feliz Navidad.

I’m not really sure why Christmas Through the Years goes out of order, as Record 4’s theme is “Christmas in the 40s.”  Fortunately, there’s more booming Bing with Adeste Fideles and I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and of course, more pleasing Perry with Winter Wonderland. Love it or hate it, you’re getting I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas, and Spike Jones returns for All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth. I might have preferred an album side or whole record in Christmas Through the Years be dedicated to all these goofy, dated and silly kids tunes, that way all the classic memories and melodies wouldn’t be so interrupted. However, I suppose the intermixed family placement encourages young ones to listen to all, and everything here is child friendly anyway. The soft vocal of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas is so tender and charming- I’m surprised there aren’t more musical versions of this poem ala the recordings of The Lord’s Prayer. And hello! Glenn Miller’s smooth Jingle Bells rendition is the way this song should be. End of story, and that’s a fact! Surprisingly, The Merry Christmas Polka isn’t half-bad, either.  Record 5 concludes Christmas Through the Years blissfully with a focus on “Beloved Carols,” although the inclusions of Twelve Days of Christmas and We Wish You a Merry Christmas keep this segment from being purely spiritual faire. Amid today’s lesser-heard staves such as O Sanctissima, Angels from the Realms of Glory, and The Holly and the Ivy, the heartfelt choirs and harmony vocals offer affectionate and traditional odes such as the robust Hark The Herald Angels Sing, orchestral We Three Kings, and a wonderfully medieval What Child Is This.  I haven’t even touched upon all sixty plus songs, and yet the smart categorizing of these LPs and its built-in options to pick and choose keeps Christmas Through the Years viable almost thirty five years on. Old-fashioned Yule for Grandma, classic holiday sing a longs for the kids, refined December traditions for dining adults, crèche focus for a night in with the whole family- Christmas Through the Years has it all!

My vinyl box set of Christmas Through the Years also contains a very nice little “Music Program Guide” booklet inside with brief histories and detailed information on each track-that’s always a nice treat. Obviously, this is a pretty generic and multi used title, so having any concrete information is a premium. It seems there was an early, brief, and/or rare CD edition, but beware on some of the uber high pricing that apparently comes with an elusive digital edition.  Unfortunately, no other MP3 or download correlations seem available either, but at least there are cassettes! Perhaps it is fitting that the Christmas Through the Years vinyl set is actually fairly easy to find. After all, the faux-Yule log snap, crackle, pop adds to this must have seasonal charm. Shop now and keep Christmas Through the Years for many Yules to come.

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