My favorite Christmas record ever

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

“Christmas Dinner Country Style” by BING CROSBY  Capitol 5088

Written by R. Freed/Grace Saxon       Produced by Simon Rady

Released December, 1963        Peak Positions: Didn’t chart nowhere!

                It’s that time when the charts are once again invaded by ghosts of Christmas past, and the radio playlists expand to incorporate the same perennials that we haven’t heard for a year, some we hate, some we love. In the former category, there’s things like “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” in the US, and in UK, there’s any number of Cliff Richard tunes to choose from. UK does have an advantage that the US used to have, of creating more Holiday tunes over the past 30-40 years that don’t lose their spark. In that time, UK has given the world great tunes by Wizzard, Slade, The Pogues, Jona Lewie, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and even the original Band Aid tune has endured, despite two dreadful remakes. In the US, the creativity in that realm seemed to slow after the 60’s. Since then, it seems that only the Mariah Carey tune has worked its way into international rotation, and that one wears its desire to be on the Phil Spector Christmas album on its sleeve. Most of the tunes from that 1963 album, plus tunes by The Beach Boys, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, The Carpenters, Elvis, and yes, even The Chipmunks, have that flair that keeps them feeling fresh, maybe because we only hear them for a few weeks each year. And the US has the ultimate big gun in  Bing Crosby.

             Crosby united Christmas and radio, in a sense, with the definitive version of “White Christmas” that despite being recorded nearly 70 years ago, probably has at least another 70 years of durability. Even after his death in 1977, he was still charting with Christmas music old and new, as the “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” duet with David Bowie, which was performed on television a year earlier, (and there’s still much speculation on how the notably conservative, probably homophobic, Crosby was able to pair with the androgynous Bowie and still preen for the cameras) was released as a posthumous single. Most of his recorded Christmas work was the tried and true mixture of traditional carols and contemporary tunes, but the one I’d like to give a shout about was released as a double A-side with the traditional-sounding and oft-recorded “Do You Hear What I Hear.”

           Who would want to bother with that one after hearing its partner, a frantic square-dance set around the traditional middle-American family dinner table? From the sound of it, there must be a good 15-20 friends and family gathered for this one! Even the family members cited in the song had traditional Bible-Belt names that you wouldn’t hear in New York City, for example. Jud, Jonah, Jeremiah, Hezekiah… Yes, it’s a big family gathering, but rather than just eat, we’re going  to “promenade that turkey down the line,” “allemande the platter to your right,” “do si do the cranberry sauce,” and “swing to the right a chestnut stuffing, swing to the left a huckleberry muffin.” After dinner is done, it’s suggested by the chorus for Jeremiah to go get the fiddle so we can all dance, but “Father” is too full. This was Middle America in its happiest form, no matter what a distortion of reality it might be, and Bing is unflinching as the caller who spews the words out as deftly as any contemporary rapper could. And underneath all that is the amazing arrangement by Ralph Carmichael, who employs every traditional country fiddle tune to full orchestra, with multiple key changes, sometimes in the middle of another key change! How did all these elements come together in such a complex piece? Perhaps because Crosby was the ringmaster here, everyone else worked overtime. The end result is one of the greatest overlooked Christmas tunes of Bing’s, or anyone’s, career. 

             I know I heard this song on the radio as a kid, but it’s fallen into obscurity, and that’s a shame. For the curious, there are YouTube videos of the song, one which only features a still photo of the original label. But this one is worth the search. Bing was and is synonymous with the holiday season and its music, but here lies a forgotten treasure that takes the spirit of Christmas to a whole different level. “White Christmas” may be his trademark, but “Country Style” is his Christmas Cracker!    


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