Today, all you need to do is turn the radio to a Christmas station and you’ll hear something from Nat King Cole’s 1960 album The Magic of Christmas – or, to be more accurate, the 1963 reissue called The Christmas Song. The title song of the ’63 version is an undeniable classic, and almost all the other 13 songs are in semi-regular rotation. But one song from this LP is ignored, and to me, it’s a great mystery why. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 23 is that odd one out – “A Cradle in Bethlehem.”
The song seems to have spent a long time in limbo. It was composed by Larry Stock, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame best known as co-writer of “Blueberry Hill,” and Alfred Bryan, another Hall of Famer whose most famous song is probably “Peg o’ My Heart”; though it was copyrighted in 1952, I can’t find any recording of “A Cradle in Bethlehem” before Cole’s 1960 version. Bryan had died in 1958, thus would never know that the song would end up on the biggest-selling Christmas album recorded in the 1960s.
Cole recorded The Magic of Christmas on three consecutive days in July 1960. “A Cradle in Bethlehem” was one of five songs recorded on July 7, the last of the three sessions. It is a beautiful rendition; perhaps because it was the only “new” song on the album, it has been lost in the shuffle.