Tag Archives: 2017

CSOTD 12/30/2022: Peace and joy to you

I had a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year. Between a viral bug that refused to let go, which ruined much of November and part of December, and a lot of the usual self-doubt, it took until basically a week before the big day. But I finally did.

As I was still trying to capture the magic this year, I found myself on YouTube, which of course I use to find the versions of the Christmas Song of the Day that I add to these posts. And among the suggestions that popped up was the 1978 PBS special Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. I remember seeing this show on television when I was in college, and thus much older than the target audience. It certainly wasn’t when it debuted, which was December 3, 1978, because I would have still been at school. I saw it after I’d arrived home from college for Christmas break one year, either 1979 or 1980; I happened upon it trying to find something to watch. I was most likely by myself at the time, because I likely never would have heard the end of it from my younger siblings as a college kid watching something related to Sesame Street. My memory from back then was that I found it oddly moving for what was supposed to be a kids’ show.

Well, I decided to re-watch it. There were many things I’d forgotten – Cookie Monster’s hilarious attempts to write a letter to Santa Claus, for example – but I remembered the primary focus of the show: Oscar the Grouch plants the seed of doubt in the head of Big Bird about the existence of Santa Claus. I found myself liking it as much in 2022 as I had 40-plus years ago; I also fully understood some of the references that would have flown over my head back then.

Anyway, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street included several songs, both new and old. One of them is my Christmas Song of the Day for December 30.

The charming “Keep Christmas With You (All Through the Year)” was used twice in the show. Its use in the end credits is where I paid most attention, because the lyrics were shown on the screen, so one could sing along.

The song was written by David Axelrod (1931-2017) and Sam Pottle (1934-1978) for the 1975 album Merry Christmas from Sesame Street. In the years before writing for Sesame Street, Axelrod was a performer and producer for Capitol Records, most notably producing albums for Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley. Pottle, who wrote for musical theater in the 1960s, began writing for Sesame Street in 1974, with dozens of songs to his credit. He also co-wrote the theme for the adult spin-off, The Muppet Show.

The members of the cast who appear on the 1975 original are Susan (Loretta Long), Gordon (Roscoe Ormam), Big Bird (Carroll Spinney), Luis (Emilio Delgado), David (Northern Calloway), Bob (Bob McGrath), Prairie Dawn (Fran Brill), and Ernie (Jim Henson). In Christmas Eve, in addition to its use as the closing song, it is shown in a scene where the kids are signing the song with a deaf friend. Over time, “Keep Christmas With You” became a showcase for McGrath (1932-2022), who often sang it either solo or as primary singer.

Various Sesame Street Christmas programs have used the song frequently in the years since, as its message is every bit as resonant today as it was in 1975. Some members of the cast performed the song with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square (formerly the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) in 2014; the concert was issued on CD and DVD in 2015.

A rare non-Sesame Street version was released by Nova Scotia native Katherine Penfold in 2017. It served as the title song of her holiday CD released the same year.

Here’s the original 1975 version:

This is the version from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978) where the cast is signing the song:

Finally, here’s the 2017 version by Katherine Penfold:


CSOTD 12/7/2022: Join the merry throng

For my fourth annual tribute to my late sister Sue Turchick, who passed on this day in 2018, I have chosen another ostensibly kiddie song for the Christmas Song of the Day for December 7.

Last year, I wrote twice about the budget-line album Frosty the Snowman by the Caroleer Singers and Orchestra. Well, I’ve come back to it again for an annoyingly catchy song with an interesting pedigree.

Our family’s copy of the album mysteriously developed a chip on the edge, which affected two songs – “Nuttin’ for Christmas” on Side 2 and, on Side 1, “Sing a Kris Kringle Jingle.” As with other songs on this album, the latter’s history is more complicated than the 1966 album on which our family first heard it.

First, according to the original single on which it appeared, “Sing a Kris Kringle Jingle” was written by J. Fred Coots (1897-1985). If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll surely know his most famous song, as he co-wrote “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” which was first recorded in 1934. Coots also co-wrote “Love Letters in the Sand,” a 1931 hit that was revived successfully by Pat Boone in 1957.

“Sing a Kris Kringle Jingle” appears as if it was first recorded and released on a kiddie budget label, in this case Peter Pan. The first issue, based on what I am able to determine, was released in 1956 and was on the B-side of a 45 and 78, credited to Gabe Drake and the Peter Pan Orchestra and Chorus Directed by Syl Stewart. Drake, which may be a pseudonym, also recorded some budget-label covers in the mid-1950s, most notably versions of “Rock Around the Clock” and “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays” for the Prom label. Stewart may also be a fake name; it’s definitely not Sylvester Stewart, a k.a. Sly Stone (Sly and the Family Stone).

In the 1960s, Peter Pan reissued the song on both 45 and 78, again as a B-side, but this time credited to “Bobby Stewart with the Peter Pan Orch. And Chorus” on both sides. Stewart was credited on the kiddie-label version of “Nuttin’ for Christmas” from 1956, but this is obviously a different singer and not Stewart. Videos taken from both records are on YouTube, and they are identical.

Because “Sing a Kris Kringle Jingle” is under two minutes long, Peter Pan reissued it on several 45 rpm singles in later years as one of two songs on its side of the record.

It appears as if the first time the original version was on an album was indeed Frosty the Snowman on the Diplomat label, credited to the Caroleer Singers and Orchestra, in 1966. It also appeared on several later budget Christmas albums on the Tinkerbell and Rocking Horse labels.

Interestingly, “Sing a Kris Kringle Jingle” has been covered. Not surprisingly, it was done as an instrumental for another budget album on Diplomat, Christmas Brass by the Monterey Brass, a fairly obvious knock-off of the Tijuana Brass, released in the late 1960s.

It turns out that the Monterey Brass was Stan Reynolds (1926-2018) and His Orchestra in disguise. The entire Christmas Brass album was released in England under his name on the Marble Arch label in 1970. It also was reissued in 1997, with two bonus tracks, under his name as A Big Band Christmas that year. The two bonus tracks were actually by Laurie Johnson and His Orchestra, so a 2010 reissue credited both groups. Reynolds, by the way, was one of the trumpeters on the Beatles’ song “Martha My Dear” from 1968.

In 2017, John Driskell Hopkins (born 1971), a founding member of the Zac Brown Band, whose best-known song probably is the 2008 #1 country and #20 pop hit “Chicken Fried,” did a Christmas album, You Better Watch Out!, with the Joe Gransden Big Band. Among the 12 songs on the CD or digital download is a version of “Sing a Kris Kringle Jingle.”

Here’s the version I grew up hearing:

Here’s the Monterey Brass/Stan Reynolds version:

And here’s the Hopkins big-band version from 2017:

CSOTD 12/29/20: A puddle can’t hold me

Every once in a while, I hear a newer Christmas song that hits me in the heart. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 29 fits that bill.

Australian-born singer-songwriter Sia Furler (born 1975), who performs under her first name, released her first album in 1997. After years of marginal success, she planned to stop recording and only write for other artists. Then fate intervened: Producer David Guetta got ahold of a demo called “Titanium,” which Sia meant for, depending on who is telling the story, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, or Mary J. Blige. Instead, Guetta kept Sia’s vocal from the demo without her knowledge, and all of a sudden, Sia had a big hit song as a featured artist, as the Guetta single peaked at #7 in 2012.

An even bigger breakthrough came in 2014 with her sixth album, 1000 Forms of Fear, and its amazing Top 10 hit single “Chandelier.” That song was when I first heard of Sia, and my goodness, what a song and what a voice! The tale of the stunning high and crushing low of an alcoholic binge gone wrong is one of my favorite singles of the entire decade of the 2010s. Sia wrote it first with either Beyoncé or Rihanna in mind, but she chose to keep it. She made the right decision. The music video, which features young dancer Maddie Ziegler instead of the increasingly publicity-shy singer, is epic in its own right; it has had more than two billion views on YouTube and more every day. Even though a 2016 single with Sean Paul, “Cheap Thrills,” hit #1, “Chandelier” is Sia’s greatest hit to these ears.

In 2017, Sia released Everyday Is Christmas, unusual in that every song on the standard CD or LP is an original. The first single, “Santa’s Coming for Us,” hit #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. A year later, another track from the album, “Candy Cane Lane,” was serviced to radio, and Target released an exclusive version of the CD with three bonus tracks, one of which was a cover of the 1957 Perry Como #1 hit “Round and Round,” which Target used in its holiday advertising in 2018.

A third song, “Snowman,” which back in 2017 had been the second single from the album, began receiving extra attention in 2020. First, Sia released a stop-motion animated video. Then came a viral challenge on the TikTok app, on which people tried to sing the entire chorus without taking a breath.

I finally heard “Snowman” on the radio for the first time earlier this month, and then again right before Christmas. There is a melancholy to “Snowman” that gets me all teary-eyed when I hear it now.

Sia co-wrote the song with frequent collaborator Greg Kurstin (born 1969). In it, she seems to compare her lover to a snowman, possibly one with emotional issues, yet she loves him anyway and is willing to go to the North Pole with him if it means the relationship will survive the “melting” from the tears. In its own way, “Snowman” hits closer to home than I thought it would.

Here is “Snowman” by Sia, my Christmas Song of the Day for December 29.