My Christmas Song of the Day for December 27 is more whimsical than most I feature in this series. It’s not obviously a Christmas song by its title, and everyone involved is better known for other songs. But it was a minor hit in 1953, and it’s evidence that mistletoe wasn’t necessary for yuletide osculation.
Our story begins in the early 1940s. Two sisters, Bea Rosse (1915-2002) and Marge Rosse (1917-2003), joined with older brother Frank Rosse (1914-1945) as The Ross Trio, who were signed by NBC radio and assigned to perform in Cleveland even though they were from New Jersey, just outside New York City. Returning to New York in 1944, Frank was drafted and was killed in action during the waning months of World War II. Bea and Marge continued the act with younger sister Geri Rosse (1921-1993), and in 1946, they adopted the name of The Fontaine Sisters; Fontaine was the surname of a French-Canadian great-grandmother. After recording four sides for the Musicraft lanel in 1946, they dropped the I from their name and became The Fontane Sisters.
By now in Chicago, early in their postwar career, they met Perry Como (1912-2001). Changes in NBC’s radio lineup allowed the Fontanes to join Como and return to New York, closer to home. Around this time, they signed to RCA Victor, also Como’s label, and regularly were paired with the singer on record, a la the Andrews Sisters with Bing Crosby on Decca.
But unlike the Andrews Sisters, who had many hits by themselves, the Fontane Sisters had a hard time escaping Como’s shadow. The Fontanes made the Billboard pop charts 13 times with Como, including two #1 hits on the Most Played by Disc Jockeys chart, “A – You’re Adorable” (1949) and “Hoop-De-Doo” (1950). They also recorded the biggest hit version of “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas” in 1951. But by themselves, the best the Fontane Sisters could do with RCA Victor was a cover of “I Wanna Be Loved” (#11 on the Disc Jockey chart in 1950); the biggest hit version was by the Andrews Sisters.
In 1954, the Fontane Sisters signed with Dot Records, for which they had a great deal of success, mostly with white-bread covers of R&B songs. Their second Dot single, “Hearts of Stone,” a cover of the Charms’ cover of the Jewels’ original, got all the way to #1 on the Billboard Best Sellers and Most Played on Jukeboxes charts. Except for one last album in 1963, the Fontane Sisters retired the act in 1961.
Before they left RCA Victor, the Fontanes recorded several Christmas songs. The last of these was “Kissing Bridge,” about a covered bridge in the country where couples liked to go on sleigh rides to kiss at Christmas, or for that matter, any time of the year. By 1953, covered bridges were becoming increasingly rare as they were replaced by more modern spans that were easier to maintain. During their heyday in the mid-19th century, as many as 14,000 covered bridges were built; only about 750 remained as of the early 2000s, mostly in the North and East. So already, there was a certain amount of nostalgia and mystique about them. Oh, and even in daylight, they were dark, which made them a great place to steal a kiss or two.
“Kissing Bridge” was written by the songwriting duo of Al Stillman (1901-79) and Robert Allen (1927-2000). As a duo, they wrote many more famous songs, including “Moments to Remember” (1955, a big hit for the Four Lads), “It’s Not for Me to Say” and “Chances Are” (1957, both for Johnny Mathis), and, a year after “Kissing Bridge,” the classic Christmas song “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,” a big hit for Como.
The Fontanes were joined on the song by an unknown male trio; at least I couldn’t find out who they were. And about 55 seconds into the song, a famous voice sang a verse of the song; it was none other than Como, who was not credited on the single, either on 45 or 78. This no doubt was intentional, as the Fontanes had not had a big hit in three years without him. But his disembodied head hovers over those of the sisters on the single’s picture sleeve.
In 1953, the Billboard charts had only 20 spots on them. Had the charts even had 25 places, which they did earlier in the decade, “Kissing Bridge” likely would have charted. It did get to #21 on the Cash Box charts. And it promptly vanished into oblivion.