Tag Archives: 1972

CSOTD 12/12/2022: A ray of hope

If you were a resident of the United Kingdom, my Christmas Song of the Day for December 12 would be considered a standard rather than an obscurity. It seems as if every British artist who has made a Christmas album in the past 40-plus years has recorded it.

But in the United States – well, that’s a different story. Only a small handful of American singers have touched it. One of them, though, sang the most successful version in the UK.

Thus is the strange and wonderful saga of the song that became “When a Child Is Born.”

Our story begins in 1972. That year, Italian singer-composer Ciro Dammicco (born 1947) recorded his first album, entitled Mittente, for Columbia Records (an EMI Italiana label, no relation to Columbia in the USA). The third song on Side 2 was a song called “Le Rose Blu,” which served as the beginning of today’s song. Dammicco co-wrote it with lyricists Alberto Salerno (born 1949) and Francesco Specchia (1929-2019). It wasn’t released as a single in Italy or anywhere else.

Dammico must have liked the melody of the verses, though, because he wasn’t done with the song yet. He re-tooled it, eliminating the bridge and lyrics, and in the process came up with an instrumental with wordless lyrics entitled “Soleado,” which he wrote using the pseudonym “Zacar.” He recorded the song in 1974 on the Odeon (EMI) label with the newly formed Daniel Sentacruz Ensemble, and the song became a big hit in Italy, peaking at #2 on the national music charts in August.

EMI figured correctly that the song would easily translate to other countries. Though it wasn’t as big a hit elsewhere, “Soleado” was released in England, Japan, Canada, Mexico, and various Western European nations. It even was issued, as best as can be determined, as a promo-only 45 on EMI in the United States in either December 1974 or January 1975. (No stock copy is known to exist.) Famed orchestra leader Percy Faith recorded a cover in 1975 for his very last album, Summer Place ’76.

For the purposes of our story, the most important country to license “Soleado” from EMI Italiana was West Germany, which released the song on its Columbia label (also no relation to USA Columbia) in 1974. Michael Holm (born 1943), a schlager singer (roughly the equivalent to a U.S. pop/easy listening singer) whose first single came out way back in 1961, wrote a set of lyrics to the song, “Tränen lügen nicht” (English translation: “Tears Don’t Lie”). His version, released in West Germany in September 1974, became a #1 hit in his home country and soon spread to neighboring German-speaking areas such as Austria and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Austrian-born Friedrich Jacobson, who composed under the name Fred Jay (1914-1988), created a set of words in English. Jay already had a long career as a songwriter; his credits go back to World War II. His most famous co-written hits before 1974 were “What Am I Living For” (Chuck Willis, 1958), “I Cried a Tear” (La Vern Baker, 1959), and the English version of “The Wedding” (Julie Rogers, 1964). By the end of the 1970s, Jay was the primary collaborator with Frank Farian on songs recorded by Boney M.

Jay’s song, “When a Child Is Born,” never specifically mentions the Christ child, but the words are easily interpreted as referring to the anticipation of the holy birth. Holm was given the first chance to record the new lyrics, which he did. Mercury Records picked it up for release in the United States and Canada. Amazingly for a German singer, Holm’s song was a hit in the States during the Christmas season of 1974-75. The American musical trade papers had widely diverging opinions as to how big a hit it was: In Billboard, it peaked at #53, but in Cash Box, it got to #38 and in Record World, it made it all the way to #24. Then it disappeared from the airwaves.

It was a different story in England, however. The original Holm version was released too close to Christmas in 1974 to make the charts. But in 1976, Johnny Mathis recorded a version of “When a Child Is Born” for his album I Only Have Eyes for You, released that spring. Just in time for Christmas, CBS Records, Mathis’ British label, issued it as a single, where it became a surprise #1 single for three weeks – the only #1 single he ever had in the UK. (In the US, his version reached #145 in Record World in 1976-77 and #123 in the same magazine in 1977-78, but that’s it.)

Since then, artists from Boney M to Sarah Brightman to the Moody Blues have recorded “When a Child Is Born.” With rare exceptions, the popularity of the song is mostly a British phenomenon.

You may skip as many of the early versions as you wish, but here’s the audio timeline of “When a Child Is Born.”

First, “Le Rose Blu” by Ciro Dammicco:

Next, “Soleado” by the Daniel Sentacruz Ensemble:

Now, “Tränen lügen nicht” by Michael Holm:

At last, to “When a Child Is Born” by Michael Holm, the consensus Top 40 hit in the U.S.:

Finally, the 1976 UK #1 version by Johnny Mathis:

(A version of this entry was my Facebook-only Christmas Song of the Day for December 11, 2014.)


CSOTD 12/24/19: A cold and empty evening

Looking back at my past selections for the December 24 Christmas Song of the Day, I find mostly pleasant songs reflective of the anticipation that sets in on Christmas Eve. The stores are closed, the streets are mostly silent, and much of what little traffic that remains is en route to church services or family.

But for some, Christmas Eve is lonely, depressing, and empty. To them, I dedicate my Christmas Song of the Day for December 24.

One of the most popular duos in recording history was the Everly Brothers, consisting of Don (born 1937) and Phil (1939-2014) Everly. Born into a musical family, the Everlys had their first huge hit in 1957 with “Bye Bye Love.” Numerous other hits followed. In 1960, they made headlines by switching from Cadence Records to Warner Bros. for a million-dollar advance, the first time anyone paid seven figures for a rock ‘n’ roll act. The brothers had their last Top 10 hit in 1962, but they would still chart occasionally after that; their last top-40 hit was in 1967. In the early 1970s, the Everlys signed with RCA Victor after their Warner Bros. contract lapsed, and they broke up acrimoniously in 1973.

In 1983, Don and Phil reunited for a concert in England, followed by a new album and their last hit, albeit mostly on the adult contemporary chart, “On the Wings of a Nightingale,” written for them by Paul McCartney. The Everly Brothers continued to record, perform, and tour sporadically until Phil became too ill.

The Everly Brothers were among the first year’s inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Their style of singing influenced countless other performers in the years since; among the most obvious are Simon & Garfunkel, who started as an imitation Everlys duo in 1957; The Beatles; and the Bee Gees.

Near the end of their original time together (1972), the Everly Brothers released an album called Stories We Could Tell. Buried on the album is one of the most relentlessly bleak songs about the season, “Christmas Eve Can Kill You.”

Written by Dennis Linde (1943-2006), who had become an in-demand songwriter after Elvis Presley had a huge hit with his “Burning Love,” the song tells the tale of a lonely man hitchhiking through the snow on the day before Christmas, remembering better times as he walks past cars that won’t stop to give a ride to a cold stranger. He also realizes that, if the roles were reversed, he would do exactly the same thing.

It’s no wonder that this song, sung with the Everly Brothers’ still-intact close harmonies, doesn’t get airplay. It doesn’t fit in with the good tidings of great joy that the season tries to represent.

I first heard “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” on the appropriately named Rhino CD called Bummed-Out Christmas! The song didn’t grab me at first, but it sure has in recent years. Remember, as you watch It’s a Wonderful Life and wrap those final presents for Christmas, that someone out there could be living out this song.

CSOTD 12/13/16: Nilsson ratings

The only element of my Christmas Song of the Day for December 13 that has any direct tie-in to the holiday is its subtitle.

After years of struggle, Harry Nilsson (1941-1994) was on top of the music world in 1972. He was known since the late 1960s as a songwriter; his song “Cuddly Toy” was recorded by the Monkees in 1967, and “One” had been the first top-10 hit for Three Dog Night in 1969. But, until early 1972, despite having many champions in the music business, Nilsson had had only one hit, “Everybody’s Talkin’,” a Top 10 hit in 1969. Ironically, he didn’t write the song; it was composed by Fred Neil.

In late 1971, Nilsson had his biggest hit album, Nilsson Schmilsson, the first single from which, “Without You,” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Once again, it was a song he didn’t write; this one came from Pete Ham and Tom Evans of the band Badfinger, who had recorded it for their 1971 album No Dice. Two singles later, Nilsson made the top 10 again, finally with one of his own songs, the novelty “Coconut” (“Put de lime in de coconut and call me in the morning”).

Nilsson followed up his successes with a new album called Son of Schmilsson. Both a continuation and clean break from its predecessor, the album didn’t have the obvious standout like “Without You,” but it still was a hit, as it got to #12 on the LP charts. One of the singles from the album was the inscrutably titled “Remember (Christmas),” which peaked at #53 in the Hot 100. Richard Perry, who produced the sessions for the album, recalled that Nilsson kicked around other possible subtitles for the song “Remember,” including “(Magic),” before settling on “(Christmas).”

The song is Nilsson singing along with only a stark piano accompaniment from Nicky Hopkins and a string section that becomes noticeable near the end. Lyrically, I can see how it can relate to Christmas, because the season can be a time for remembering, and dreaming, and living in the past.

Years later, Nilsson covered five Christmas carols as part of a CD called The Presence of Christmas in 1988. They were among his last released recordings before his 1994 death.

In the years since this was first released in 1972, I’ve sometimes seen it released on compilations without its subtitle, such as on the soundtrack from the film You’ve Got Mail. But the original LP and 45 have it.

CSOTD 12/25/2015: It’s Latin to me

Merry Christmas to all my readers! I hope that my choices for Christmas Song of the Day have made your holiday season better in some way.

For December 25, I’ve decided to go back to a song that, at the absolute latest, was written in the late 16th century, as that was its first known publication. Its liturgical themes indicate that the melody may date from the medieval period. Even more amazing is that a version of this ancient song made the top 20 of the British charts in 1974, even though it was sung a cappella and entirely in Latin.

“Gaudete,” which means “rejoice,” first appeared in print in the songbook Piae cantiones (Pious songs) in 1582. The refrain – “Gaudete, gaudete, Christus est natus ex Maria virgine. Gaudete!”  – translates to “Rejoice, rejoice, Christ is born from the virgin Mary. Rejoice!” The verses also mention grace, Ezekiel, salvation and praise. “Gaudete”is every bit as joyful as the event it celebrates.

Over the years, “Gaudete” has become part of the standard repertoire of groups that specialize in madrigal and Renaissance music. Much of that popularity can be traced to a British folk revival group, Steeleye Span.

On the suggestion of group member Bob Johnson, who had heard the song at a service of folk carols, Steeleye Span  recorded “Gaudete” for their 1972 album Below the Salt. Their British record label, Chrysalis, released it as a single that fall. The label thought that the other side of the single, a version of the better-known carol “The Holly and the Ivy,” was more likely to be a hit, as it released a special promo 45 with that song on both sides. Initially, the single failed, but it was reissued two years later, and the unorthodox “Gaudete” got to #14 on the UK charts. It remains a Christmas favorite in England.

In the United States, Chrysalis also released “Gaudete” as a single twice, in 1972 and 1974, but it generated no interest.

On the LP, the song slowly fades in, hits peak volume at its halfway point, and just as slowly fades out. The British 45 stays at constant volume throughout. Here is that single version. Rejoice!