The time for Christmas cheer is once again upon us and Ivy Style is here to help you celebrate in midcentury manner. When one thinks of the Christmas season, one of the first things to spring to mind is music. With that in mind, here’s a look back at some worthy old chestnuts, standards and rare gems from the heyday.
One of the top standards is “A Jolly Christmas” by Sinatra (1957). A bit syrupy at times, but nevertheless a straightforward Christmas collection as reliable and stalwart as a shot of bourbon on the rocks after a cold winter’s commute.
For jazz aficionados, it’s hard to better “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas” (1960). Released in her prime and on the cusp of the new decade, this album is full of holiday favorites all given Ella’s personal spin. In addition, there is the rarely heard “The Secret of Christmas,” by Jimmy Van Heusen, composer of many Sinatra classics.
If you prefer a little wall-of-sound with your eggnog, “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector” (1963) is just the ticket. The original LP had a rather infamous debut, being released the same day JFK was assassinated. Nonetheless, the songs became popular enough so that the collection was rereleased in 1972. It is the blue-chip classic among pop Christmas music with top-notch vocalists backed up by Wrecking Crew musicians and given the full Phil Spector production treatment. The result is the embodiment of early-’60s pop.
“Andy Williams Merry Christmas.” This platinum-selling gem by the Sultan of Smooth was released for the 1965 holiday season. Despite intense competition, it remained a top seasonal seller for the next five years, and was certified gold in 1968. In contrast to all the aforementioned collections, this one contains only 20th-century compositions. I grew up listening to the vinyl version of this classic on our Admiral console hi-fi since December of ‘65 and have never tired of it. The exclusive focus on the 20th century and the fact that it was produced and released in the waning days of the heyday make it ideal for any Ivy aficionado.
This album sounds superb regardless, but for maximum effect it should be played on a 1964 Clairtone Project G while you settle into a Saarinen Womb or Jacobsen Egg chair with a mug of glögg and gaze upon a flaming round stone fireplace, such as Dean Martin has at his Malibu bachelor pad in “Marriage on the Rocks.”
For a very different take on traditional Christmas favorites, try “Merry Christmas by the Brothers Four” (1966). Sung in a sixties folk style with close vocal harmonies and minimal acoustic instrumental accompaniment (often a single guitar and violin), this rarity is worth seeking out. The Brothers Four, who had a few hit tunes, were an American folk music quartet formed while the four musicians were Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brothers at the University of Washington.
Perfect for pondering the meaning of Christmas is the ethereal “Noël” by Joan Baez (1966). This poignant and original work is the ideal antidote to the sugary favorites one hears non-stop throughout the season. While this collection contains many Christmas standards, they are presented an almost haunting manner. Baez’s angelic three-octave soprano voice transports one to the interior of an ancient cathedral or village square, an effect heightened by the judicious use of the lute, recorder and harpsichord. — JAMES KRAUS