Tag Archives: Frank Sinatra

CSOTD 12/31/2022: The happiest New Year

Another year of the Christmas Song of the Day ends today. My choice for December 31 is one I first heard when I was a kid back in the 1960s, but only sporadically in the years since. It’s best known as a collaboration between two 20th Century musical giants, but they didn’t originate it.

Les Brown (1912-2001) formed his first band when he was a student at Duke University in Durham, N.C. This touring group became the core of his Band of Renown, which officially was founded in 1938. Brown signed with the OKeh label, Columbia’s home for most big bands and folk singers, in 1940; his band had its first hit, “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio,” in 1941. After the 1942 recording ban, Brown’s band was reassigned to parent label Columbia; in 1945, they had their biggest hit, “Sentimental Journey,” featuring lead vocalist Doris Day.

With vocalists now the focus of the record industry, the bands became less relevant to their old labels. In 1951, Brown moved to the Coral label, and then to Capitol in 1955. After a couple more label changes, by 1961 the Band of Renown was back on Columbia.

For the Christmas season of 1961, Columbia assembled an album, We Wish You the Merriest: An All-Star Christmas, with mostly artists who either never did or had yet to record a full Christmas album. Brown contributed a song he wrote himself, which ended up being the sort-of title track, “We Wish You the Merriest.” This short song was a brassy celebration of both the Christmas and New Year’s season.

As enjoyable as the album was, it was out of print by 1964. That year, “We Wish You the Merriest” received its most notable cover.

It’s possible that none of the three artists involved wanted to record a full Christmas album, as each already had done so in the past. Instead, Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) and Bing Crosby (1903-1977) collaborated with Fred Waring (1900-1984) and His Pennsylvanians on 12 Songs of Christmas. The album’s liner notes stated that the LP was a companion piece to an album the three had recorded earlier in 1964, America, I Hear You Singing. The Christmas album remained in print on record well into the 1970s, but I don’t think it’s ever been reissued on CD in its entirety. All the tracks with Sinatra have, but I’m not sure about the non-Sinatra songs with Crosby or Waring.

The triumvirate closed the album with their version of “We Wish You the Merriest,” which I first heard on the radio way back in the 1960s. I found a copy of the original LP, probably in the 1980s, and there I found the song I probably hadn’t heard in 15-20 years. In the years since, I found out it had been released as a 45, and I have that in my collection now, too.

A few versions have come out since 1964, but the Sinatra/Crosby/Waring recording still sticks out. Here’s their version of “We Wish You the Merriest”:

And for comparison’s sake, here’s the original by Les Brown:

Thank you once again for following the Christmas Song of the Day. I really appreciate you!


CSOTD 12/23/2022: I hope it finds you, too

The biggest-selling Christmas album of 1993, when new holiday music was finally starting to become a thing again, was the mostly retro When My Heart Finds Christmas by New Orleans musician Harry Connick, Jr. (born 1967). Even now, all these years later, this album remains his biggest seller regardless of genre.

In my neck of the woods, three songs from this album are in regular rotation on the local holiday radio station. Naturally, in keeping with the general trend in holiday radio in recent years, they are all his versions of standards rather than originals.

My Christmas Song of the Day for December 23 is one of Connick’s four originals from this album. It used to be on the radio a lot more often than it is today, and I’ve love to see it come back.

I think the first Connick Christmas song I heard was his instrumental version of “Winter Wonderland,” which was included in the 1989 soundtrack album of When Harry Met Sally…, which helped put Connick on the map. As Christmas radio formats grew, that version joined songs from his 1993 album on the radio.

The first couple times I heard “When My Heart Finds Christmas,” the title song of the album, my mind was telling me it was a lost Frank Sinatra holiday song. Its length was closer to the four-and-a-half-minute “My Way” than the barely two-minute length of “Mistletoe and Holly,” and had a similar style, complete with dramatic buildup and subdued ending, as the former. But otherwise, I came to think of it as the best Christmas song Sinatra never recorded.

As the years have progressed beyond the 1990s, “When My Heart Finds Christmas” continues to grow in meaning for me. I’ve written before that in some years it’s harder to get into the holiday spirit than others, but I always do in some way, shape, or form. And if you who are reading this might be having problems this season, I hope that Christmas finds you, too.

CSOTD 12/5/19: Let’s be Frank

Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) is justifiably praised as one of America’s greatest popular singers. The music he recorded for the Capitol label from 1953 through 1960 continues to amaze all these years later, and his Reprise years are filled with highlights as well. But his early solo years with Columbia sometimes don’t get the respect they deserve. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 5 is one of them.

“Christmas Dreaming (A Little Early This Year)” is a sweet song written by Irving Gordon (1915-1996) and Lester Lee (1903-1956) in 1947. Gordon is probably best known for his composition “Unforgettable,” closely associated with Nat King Cole and his daughter Natalie. For Lee, his “greatest hit” is likely “Pennsylvania Polka.” Together, they composed this song, which Sinatra recorded on June 26, 1947 for single release in time for the upcoming Christmas season.

“Christmas Dreaming” was not a really big hit at the time, but it was well-known enough that, when Columbia compiled most of the Christmas music Sinatra recorded for the label onto one 12-inch LP for the 1957 holiday season, the label named the album Christmas Dreaming. (The album served as competition for Capitol’s A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra, released the same year.) A 1987 reissue, on both LP and CD, also had that name. More recently, both Harry Connick Jr. and Seth MacFarlane have covered the song in the Sinatra style, but the original reigns supreme.

Today, the most enduring Christmas song from Sinatra’s Columbia years is “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” thanks to its use in a 1992 duet with Cyndi Lauper. But “Christmas Dreaming,” with its implied celebration of love and marriage, deserves greater attention.

CSOTD 12/29/17: Gone and left no traces

By 1968, Jimmy Webb (born 1946) had become one of pop music’s most sought-after songwriters. From a modest start as a staff writer for Jobete Music, one of Motown’s publishing firms, he all of a sudden had songs all over the charts – “Up-Up and Away” by the Fifth Dimension, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Glen Campbell, and “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris. This led to a meeting with Frank Sinatra and the Christmas Song of the Day for December 29.

Sinatra (1915-1998) was in the last throes of a mid-1960s renaissance, during which he had his first #1 single in years (“Strangers in the Night”) and was a relevant pop singer again. He also became more open to singing good new songs by up-and-coming writers. In 1968, Sinatra met with Webb to possibly collaborate on an entire LP of Webb songs. But the composer later related that he made the mistake of bringing his father along, and the elder Webb and Sinatra spent so much time talking about the good old days of entertainment that the album project never came up! 

Webb did give Sinatra first dibs on a new Christmas song he’d written, “Whatever Happened to Christmas?”  It turned out to be one of the highlights of the 1968 album The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas, which also includes contributions from his three children (Frank Jr., Tina and Nancy). 

“Whatever Happened to Christmas?” is a melancholy song, in the same vein as the original version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” before the lyrics were altered to make it more upbeat. In it, Webb, as interpreted by Sinatra, wonders where the season went and ties it in to losing someone. It’s a great performance; in all the years since, cover versions have been few (Aimee Mann tackled it in 2006 and did it justice). This might be as close to a cry-in-your-beer saloon song as Christmas music ever gets.

CSOTD 12/11/16: In three-quarter time

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.

CSOTD 12/14/2015: Dino brings you peace

In 1977, the producers of Bing Crosby’s last Christmas special, Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, added a counter-melody called “Peace on Earth” to “The Little Drummer Boy” so that David Bowie would sing a duet with Bing on the TV show.  (Bowie hated “Drummer Boy,” thus the new song.) Once the song was released officially in the early 1980s, it became a Christmas classic.

Many years earlier, a different counter-melody called “Peace on Earth” was added to a familiar carol – and this one has been largely forgotten. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 14 is an attempt to rescue that beautiful medley from obscurity.

In 1955, Walt Disney released the beloved animated feature Lady and the Tramp. Famed singer Peggy Lee voiced four different characters; she also collaborated with Sonny Burke to write 10 songs that were heard, in whole or in part, during the film.  Lee and Burke wrote “Peace on Earth” as a counterpoint to the traditional “Silent Night,” and short snippets are heard twice in the movie.  She also recorded a full-length, three-minute version for the 1955 soundtrack album released by Decca Records, her label at the time.  A 45 rpm single was supposedly issued in November 1957 as Decca 9-38005, part of Decca’s special 38000 numbering system for promotional and other special-markets releases, but no copy has surfaced.

For the Christmas season of 1963, the two-year-old Reprise Records label decided to release a various-artists collection of new recordings of Christmas songs from its stable of artists. The album, entitled Frank Sinatra and His Friends Want You to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, was reissued more than once during the 1960s and was sometimes used as a corporate premium, but except for fans of vintage vinyl, it is no longer in the public consciousness.

Perhaps inspired by the 1962 re-release of Lady and the Tramp, Dean Martin chose Peggy Lee’s medley for his contribution to the Reprise album. “Peace on Earth and Silent Night,” as its title appears on the LP, was recorded on August 13, 1963 at Western Recorders in Los Angeles. It started to reappear on compact disc in the early 2000s, but it remains largely ignored and forgotten.  Once again, I hope you enjoy this medley as much as I do.