Here’s a song I’ve known and loved since I was a kid. I almost certainly didn’t know what it was called until I was much older, though. You can give credit to Frank Sinatra for my Christmas Song of the Day for December 11, “The Christmas Waltz.” He didn’t write it – Frank rarely wrote anything he sang – but he did request it.
In 1953, Sinatra signed with Capitol Records after a decade at Columbia. In his later years with the latter label, A&R man (producer) Mitch Miller often foisted songs upon him that he really didn’t want to sing. It didn’t help that, around the same time, Frank stopped having hit records.
During his time at Capitol, which lasted eight years, Sinatra had much greater artistic control. His “concept” albums such as Come Fly with Me and In the Wee Small Hours were big sellers for the era and are justifiably praised, but he also recorded a bunch of hit singles independent of his LP work. Some of his best-known songs from this era were the non-LP sides such as “Love and Marriage,” “High Hopes,” “All the Way” and “Witchcraft.”
As part of his singles obligations, Capitol wanted Sinatra to record two Christmas songs for release in the holiday season of 1954. One of the songs he chose was Bing Crosby’s classic “White Christmas,” which Sinatra was recording for the second time (he had also done it when he was with Columbia in the 1940s, a couple years after Bing’s original). For the other side, Frank wanted something new, so he contacted composer Jules Styne, who contacted lyricist Sammy Cahn. After Cahn asked Styne if there had ever been a Christmas waltz, the two came up with the rest.
Sinatra loved “The Christmas Waltz”; he would record it three times in all. The first version was for the 1954 single. He revisited it for his 1957 album A Jolly Christmas with Frank Sinatra, which is probably the best-known version, and he also remade it in 1968 for The Sinatra Family Wishes You a Merry Christmas. Over the years, the song has been recorded regularly by other artists, but there’s nothing like one of Sinatra’s renditions. Here is my own favorite version, from 1957.
For some more Frank, here’s the original 45 rpm version from 1954:
And to complete the trilogy, here’s his 1968 version. All three versions have merit.