Jim Bishop | Deck the Halls and Climb the Walls With Rare Air Fare

jIt’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas – only earlier than ever.
This year, area commercial radio station WSVO, Mix 93.1 FM,” went to an all-Christmas music format before Thanksgiving. WJDV, “Lite 96.1 FM,” followed suit on Thanksgiving Day.
From Bing Crosby’s 1942 rendering of “White Christmas” to a street-corner harmony version from 1954 by The Drifters to the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” treatment by Darlene Love, it’s been a nonstop litany of musical chestnuts roasting on a computer-generated playlist.

If I hear Little Miss Dynamite, Brenda Lee, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” can Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” be far behind?

What a contrast to childhood times, my ears glued to Philadelphia’s top popular music station, WIBG, to occasionally hear the Chipmunks plead, “Please Christmas Don’t Be Late,” or Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” intermixed with their regular top 99 music smorgasbord.

Back then, “Wibbage,” and other Philadelphia area stations with largely music formats, made great fanfare over their “48 hours of Christmas” playing all Christmas music from Christmas Eve morning until midnight December 25. Having offered this yuletide gift to listeners, they immediately returned to their “regular” programming.

I revel in the music of the Advent-Christmas season. In fact, it’s just about my favorite part. Problem is, I find it difficult these days to tune in or otherwise hear find many of the songs that were such an integral part of my upbringing.

So, every year, about mid-November, I assemble another collection of some 25-30 favorite holiday hits from my own collection that rarely, if ever, hit the local airwaves.

This year’s homemade CD assortment again runs the gamut, from the ridiculous to the sublime, i.e., “I Can’t Wait Till Quithmuth,” Mel Blanc; “Santa’s Got a Semi,” Keith Harling; “All Alone on Christmas,” Darlene Love; “Kling, Glockhen,” Mannheim Steamroller; “Mary Mild,” Kingston Trio, etc.

Where else can one find Elvis’ plaintive “If Every Day Was Like Christmas”, Bill Engvall’s “Here’s Your Christmas Sign”, “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” by Emmylou Harris, The Ventures “(“Silver Bells”) The Mennonite Hour Quartet with “The Star of Bethlehem” or Chewbacca from a galaxy far, far away paying homage to “Silent Night,” all on the same CD?

Too many artists use the traditional carol, “O Holy Night,” as an exercise in vocal gymnastics or as an excuse to try to shatter glass. The best interpretation I’ve heard of “O Holy Night,” which seems to play every hour on the hour on area stations, is the final track on this year’s CD – by Johnny Maestro of The Crests.

I suspect most people have their own list of yule selections they simply can’t stand. Heading mine is the irritating, repetitive “The 12 Days of Christmas” (and growing ever most costly on the gift list – estimated price tag this year, $21,080, a whopping 8.1 percent increase over last year). The cost of swans flew through the roof, and I can’t get real excited about having 12 drummers drumming constantly, either.

But I felt better about this numbing number after Allan Sherman offered up his parody version in 1963. His true love’s offerings include green polka-dot pajamas, an indoor plastic birdbath, a statue of a lady with a clock where her stomach ought to be “and a Japanese transistor radio” – that comes in a leatherette case with holes in it so you can listen right through the case. Priceless! Of more recent vintage is Jeff Foxworthy’s “12 Redneck Gifts of Christmas,” perfect if you’re wishing for some parts to a Mustang GT.

Why do certain songs from years ago – such as Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock,” “The Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeone Chorale – reappear every year, while others have disappeared, i.e., “Donde Esta Santa Claus,” Augie Rios; the Bobby Rydell/Chubby Checker version of “Jingle Bell Rock,” Stan Freberg’s “Nuttin’ for Christmas” or Harry Belefonte’s exquisite “Mary’s Boy Child?”

Would that somehow we could bring back more of these celestial seasonings that once emanated from tube radios everywhere.

Topping my musical wish list again this year: “The White Snows of Winter,” the Kingston Trio; “Christmas Dinner” by Peter, Paul and Mary (a simple tune that summates the real reason for the season); “A Street Carol,” an a capella ditty by Stormy Weather; “The Bells of St. Mary’s” from the classic 1963 Phil Spector Christmas album and my all-time favorite traditional carol, “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (the “all systems go” signal from my parents for us siblings to come downstairs and open gifts on Christmas morning).

Of course, it is possible to resurrect the musical ghosts of Christmases past, via Internet radio stations, satellite music services, and by vinyl (in my case) and digital recordings that we’re fortunate enough to have in our personal collections. But, between self-induced sprinklings of celestial seasonings around my ear-waxed lobes, I’ll keep wishing that more of these venerable yuletide anthems somehow find their way into the holiday air fare.

One more gratuitous plug: Meantime, for another jaunt down those pockmarked-paths off the main commercial thoroughfare, join your resident holiday fruitcakes, Jim Britt and me, for part II of the “Warped Records Christmas” show, 10 a.m.-noon Thursday, Dec. 18, on newsradio ho-ho-no 550, WSVA.

Do you hear what I hear? Don’t listen, Ethel!

 

– Column by Jim Bishop


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