I used to dig Christmas songs. But as a New Yorker, I'm completely burned out. Store sound systems started playing the stuff before Thanksgiving this year, crushing whatever romance existed in these numbers. I now associate Frank's Christmas Waltz and Ella's Sleigh Ride with sales, not snowy lanes or nostalgic fun.
My tinsel-tune exhaustion isn't just the fault of rent-challenged stores. I don't know whether you've noticed, but more and more Christmas songs are being tarted up with trendy beats and techno riffs. Not sure what I'm referring to? Listen carefully at the stores today and you'll likely hear Bing Crosby's voice being forced through a blender.
Now that I've finished my Christmas grousing, let me tell you about the one holiday album I do adore. As far as I can tell, it hasn't been groped by fashion-forward producers or abused by malls.
The CD is Jo Stafford's Happy Holidays: I Love the Winter Weather. This 1999 compilation is so square it's downright nifty. All of the tracks are 1950s antiques—in the best sense of the word. Jo either goes it alone on the tunes or is joined by the Starlighters, a Pied Pipers-sounding vocal group. All of the band arrangements are by her husband, Paul Weston. I don't know about you but I just love Weston's writing. I can't help it. His charts on swinging numbers always fit Jo so well.
Is Happy Holidays a perfect compilation? No. There are a few numbers that are a little too earnest. On 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and Silent Night, Jo is accompanied by sticky children's voices. And Hanover Winter Song and the Whiffenpoof Song are way too sappy for my taste. All four probably could have been shelved or replaced.
But hey, we're talking about only four clunkers, leaving you with 18 picture-perfect musical postcards. Be warned, this isn't contemporary stuff. It's classic holiday fare sung by a swinger from a time when movies just went color, you knew the balloons in the Thanksgiving Day Parade and a simple wreath and tree were all the decorations a home needed. (By the way, that's Jo on the cover cozily reading Bernard Shaw!)
Are there better Christmas songs than Jo Stafford singing Winter Weather, By the Fireside, Sleigh Ride, Moonlight in Vermont, I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Let It Snow, Happy Holiday or It Happened in Sun Valley? Maybe so, but I doubt it. Every time I hear these songs I want to reach for the wool snowflake sweater, toss the snow shoes into the Woodie and head over to Central Park to gather Yule logs.
Merry Christmas to all my readers in the U.S. and around the world! See you on Wednesday.
JazzWax tracks: It's too late this year to buy Jo Stafford's Happy Holidays on CD. But you can download individual tracks here for 99 cents each. Or you can download the album or tracks at iTunes (you'll find it listed under Jo Stafford's name).
To ease any fears you might have about the nature of the album's content, iTunes has graciously added a nice big label at the download page vowing that the material contains only "Clean Lyrics." Too funny.
And remember, if you find you enjoy this album as much as I do, don't tell a soul. Stores and producers have plenty of other holiday songs to wear out or remix.