On this Christmas Eve, I wish to share with you a familiar tale of the holiday. Odds are, though, you’ve never heard it quite like this. The Christmas Song of the Day for December 24 is one of the coolest versions of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” you’ll probably ever hear.
Multi-talented actor Art Carney (1918-2003) is best known for his role as Ed Norton in the classic television sitcom The Honeymooners. Years later, in 1974, he starred as Harry Coombes in the classic film Harry and Tonto and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. He had appeared in only four films before that, and for the next decade, he worked steadily in Hollywood.
In 1954, Carney signed a contract with Columbia Records and branched out into recording. His first single, “Song of the Sewer,” was done in his Ed Norton character. His next one, released in time for Christmas that year, is fondly remembered by Christmas music aficionados but mostly unknown to the general public. One side of the 45 (or 78) was the odd but charming “Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop.” The other side, the one I prefer, is a rapid-fire, “word jazz” version of the famous poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”
I just love how he keeps going through all the lines, sometimes gasping for air, and then, about three-quarters of the way through, suddenly stopping and letting the drummer have a mini-solo, after which Carney says, “Crazy!”
“Crazy” is the best way to describe this rendition, which would be covered at a less frenetic pace in 1963 by Ross Bagdasarian, better known as David Seville, on the album Christmas with the Chipmunks, Volume 2. Have some fun with Art Carney’s original: