Tag Archives: Sammy Cahn

CSOTD 12/28/16: Christmas the whole year through

Most of Bing Crosby’s best-known Christmas recordings are from his years at Decca Records. His first holiday single, seven years before “White Christmas,” coupled “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful)” in 1935, and he had his last Christmas single for the label in 1956.

After that, Bing became a free agent, leasing his music to whatever label would release it and rarely spending more than 2-3 years on any one label. Some of his best Christmas music came from his later years, but it’s mostly forgotten. The exceptions are “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, which he recorded as a single for Capitol in 1963, and the off-the-wall, but effective, duet with David Bowie from 1977, “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.”

During these years, he acted once in a while, too. Crosby starred in the 1959 film Say One for Me as a priest, which was not a stretch for him, as he had played a man of the cloth in the 1944 movie Going My Way. Say One for Me received mixed reviews at best and scathing ones at worst; it is listed in the groundbreaking 1978 book by Harry and Michael Medved, The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. The movie may not be all that great, but it did yield an underrated Christmas song.

Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, two regular contributors to the so-called Great American Songbook, wrote the music for Say One for Me. One of the songs talks about the importance of not merely being kind and giving on Christmas, but of doing the same the entire year. Entitled “The Secret of Christmas,” it appeared on the soundtrack of the film, which was released by Columbia in 1959. It also was released as a 45 that Christmas season.

“The Secret of Christmas” has been recorded by others over the years, including Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis, and The Captain & Tennille. Crosby himself did it more than once; he re-recorded it in 1964 with Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians when he was with Reprise Records. I’ve found that the 1959 recording isn’t easy to find on CD, and the 1964 version is even more rare on shiny metal discs. I prefer the 1959 rendition myself.

Think about the lyrics as you listen to Bing Crosby sing “The Secret of Christmas.”

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.