Sure, there are the Beatles and Elvis Presley. But did anyone have more influence on popular music—at least one month of the year—than Bing Crosby?
His version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn became a monster hit. It sold more singles than any record in history. More importantly, it begat an entire Christmas music industry as songwriters got out their pens and used them to try to dig for their own Yuletide gold.
Some of them found it. Soon came “The Christmas Song,” with its chestnuts and open fire, released on disc in 1946. Johnny Marks scored big with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” three years later. By 1954, there were so many new Christmas songs annually, Billboard magazine put out a list. See how many of them you know.
Evidently the mambo was the Craze of ’54, as there were more mambo Christmas tunes than there had any right to be. And there were novelty songs, too. How can you not love titles like “Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop” or “Too Fat to be Santa Claus” (especially since the lyrics have a reference to King Farouk)? My personal favourite is “I’m Gonna Put Some Glue Around the Christmas Tree,” which—and you’ll want to know this—was also recorded by Joel Grey and released on the Majar label. Eartha Kitt released a sequel to her 1953 hit “Santa Baby.” And the Pennsylvanian’s Teen Trio sounds like an act on “SCTV” (without bothering to research it, I imagine they were part of Fred Waring’s musical aggregation).
So, let us play disc jockey. Here’s John Greer and “We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo.” It’s a little repetitive but there are some roots of rock and roll buried in here.
Here’s a version of “Dig That Crazy Santa Claus.” This isn’t the one on the Billboard list. It’s by Oscar McLollie and his Honey Jumpers on the Modern label. Dig that sax solo! I imagine radio stations playing Eddie Arnold, Kitty Kallen and Russell Arms wouldn’t have been playing this.
And here’s Betty Johnson’s touching plea, in waltz time, for Santa to give her Eddie Fisher for Christmas. Apparently Santa listened to a similar request a few years later from Liz Taylor.
One of the records on the list is still heard around the holidays after making its debut in 1954. Perry Como’s “There’s No Place Like Home For the Holidays” was recorded November 16th and hit number eight on the charts. Como had been on radio through the ‘40s and eased into television quite nicely. He and Andy Williams vied for the title of “Relaxed Musical King Wearing a Sweater” at Christmas time on TV for years.
So if you get sick of the endless barrage of overplayed Christmas tunes that arrive earlier and earlier every year, take heart that there are some hidden old gems on the internet that appeal to almost every musical taste. Now, where’s that Red Buttons song?