Give Me Your Love for Christmas A Mellow Johnny Mathis Set
By Kristin Battestella
It was an easy decision to pick up Give Me Your Love for Christmas the 1969 third holiday album from Johnny Mathis. Although the term ‘long play’ becomes a bit of an oxymoron when a record ends up short at less than thirty minutes, it’s a Johnny Mathis Christmas record, how could it be bad? Besides, at fifty cents, Give Me Your Love for Christmas was a merry mellow steal.
Jingle Bell Rock opens this casual and easy seasonal set, but ironically, it feels way too fast compared to the standard versions of this secular classic. I actually had to check if the turntable was on the right RPM speed! This rushed tune simply happens too fast to really enjoy, but thankfully, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is much more indicative of Give Me Your Love for Christmas’ overall vibe and expected Johnny mellow, melancholy, and long notes. My Favorite Things is also a yes. Kids can still have a great and festive sing along, but there’s enough room in this arrangement for Johnny’s notes and an adult appreciative listen. If we all got off the stress wagon and took renewed focus on the season as thru a child’s eyes, eh?
The titular Give Me Your Love for Christmas is also a soft and tender ballad, but unfortunately, the tune doesn’t really appear in the collective Christmas conscious today. It’s a pity; with millions of albums sold to date, this song should be more popular than it seems. It might be a tad old fashioned or dated in style, but that’s also part of the charm. Santa Claus is Coming to Town, however, doesn’t work as a way too slow and unnecessarily mellow sound. The budding seventies redesign grasps for an adult sophistication, and it is just too weird a listen. It’s also unusual to place What Are You Doing New Year’s Night? to conclude Side A. Not only is that smack in the middle of a CD today, but this proper and mature mellow as it should be done seems more fitting as a holiday album’s farewell track. Like the rest of Give Me Your Love for Christmas, this track is also too short, but nonetheless perfect and smooth for a sophisticated dinner listen from December 1 to 31.
Do You Hear What I Hear? opens Side Two with a rousing and cheerful rendition styled for a concert show stopper with big notes and the perfect reverence and pace for the whole family. It’s a good change- some of the alternations on the traditional tunes for Give Me Your Love for Christmas are much more subjective. Here, however, we expect a youthful and quick ditty and are treated to a Christmas power ballad instead. Though I’ve never heard Calypso Noel before, the tropical sway is very festive. It’s quick, and can easily get stuck in your head so you’re singing along before you know it. The only trouble is that this seasonal Caribbean carol doesn’t sound anything like the Johnny Mathis listeners of his Merry Christmas album may expect. It’s cute in of itself, but the track is another example of the unevenness or rushed, for-the-album sales feeling on Give Me Your Love for Christmas. Throw some holiday songs together because folks love Johnny Mathis at Christmas, change the tunes up a bit, and bam, it’s still cha-chinging every December. This is a nice little album, but it could have been much more.
Of course, Little Drummer Boy is one of the reasons to buy Give Me Your Love for Christmas. This isn’t an easy carol to pull off- often becoming either too kiddie or goofy for a classy singer. Fortunately, Johnny has the right tempo, tone, reverence, and voice, and the result is an excellent, complete rendition. If only it weren’t so short! Likewise, Christmas Day sets that perfectly mellow Bacharach/Broadway mood. This is the tone for which Give Me Your Love for Christmas was going- it’s soft, innocent, a little melancholy, timeless and yet mid- century. One listen instantly creates recollections of a wonderful sixties Yule- memories and montages of white trees, tinsel, hideous turtleneck sweaters, and gargantuan padded coats for sledding in three feet of snow because times were simpler, childlike, cold but warm. Sigh.
The Lord’s Prayer, however, is an odd choice to conclude Give Me Your Love for Christmas. Instead of ending with Christmas Day’s magic, this understandably church sounding vocal ends the set on a quiet Christian Meaning of the Season. It’s absolutely lovely with all the right somber and big notes, and I feel wretched for saying anything against it, but it’s a finale totally different than what the album actually was. Give Me Your Love for Christmas has a few pieces for a religious December, but is by and large a sophisticated and generically safe secular album. Similar in seasonal neutral or office easy to Johnny’s second holiday album Sounds of Christmas, Give Me Your Love for Christmas is perfect for a dinner for two or a digital playlist pick and choose. The sound is perhaps slightly dated or too middle-aged for today’s younger set to appreciate, I grant you. Overall, the Merry Christmas record is probably a more complete album in spiritual concept and musical reflection of Johnny’s range and style. However, longtime fans of Johnny Mathis, older audiences looking for a tender holiday set, and those seeking simpler memories of Yules yore will delight.