Column: Rockin' around the Christmas tree with classic tunes
By Ray Crippen
I’ll tell you when we had a good time at Christmas. We had a good time at Christmas between — oh — 1934 and 1958. I’ll tell you why we had a good time. We’ve talked about this before. We had a good time because when someone at Wilmont heard a new song, everybody in town heard the song because they all were listening to the radio, all listening to the same thing.
When everybody in Wilmont heard the song, everybody in Worthington heard the song. Wilmont, Worthington, Brewster. We all heard the song together. We all laughed together. A lot of us sang the new song, or whistled it.
November 1934 — that was when Eddie Cantor first sang “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” “… You better not pout, you better not cry; you better look out, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town …”
Oh, people thought that was great. The greatest thing since, “Little Town of Bethlehem.” We all knew the church Christmas songs. We loved them, and we love them still. They were all we knew until — yes, 1934 — a new Christmas song. Who ever thought of such a thing?
Well then, 1939, that was the year Montgomery Ward on 10th Street gave away a little comic book in its basement Christmas toy department. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The next year Gene Autry sang, “Rudolph,” on his radio show. Oh golly! Gene Autry. Just about the only singer who played a guitar. “… then one frosty Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, ‘Rudolph with your nose so bright …’” I looked this up. In that first year Gene Autry sold 25 million records. Twenty-five million. Gene was selling records in Sibley and Luverne and Fulda, and we all were singing, “Rudolph.”
It was the next year, 1940, that Irving Berlin wrote, “White Christmas.” We never have got over that. Bing Crosby. “… I’m dreaming of a white Christmas with every Christmas card I write …” Do you hear the chimes at this point? Nobody knows how many, “White Christmas” records have been sold. At least 100 million. We knew, “White Christmas,” as well as we knew “Silent Night.”
1934. 1939. 1940. We should recall 1943. We were at war, and all the guys were fighting all over the world. That was the year we learned, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” That was Bing Crosby, too. “… I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams …”
Then, in 1944, two men wrote, “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” Spike Jones recorded Front Teeth in 1947. “… Merry Chrithmath!”
In 1952, Jimmy Boyd, who was only 13 years old, wrote, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” came in 1958.
Who would guess — this is about the end. That’s why I was saying that it was between 1934 and 1958 that we all were sharing in that experience of new Christmases and new Christmas songs. We thought this might go on forever. But you know — 1958 — that was when we were buying television sets. There never has been a great novel Christmas song introduced on TV. Oh, we had Perry Como singing, “Adeste Fideles.” Beautiful. But nothing novel.
The audiences were shattering, and today everyone is listening to something different. There are probably 500 pop/bop stars with guitars doing Christmas shows. But the good times don’t come any more. Some people are listening to TV, some are listening to radio, some are listening to CDs, some to Facebook, some to You Tube. Texting and tweeting. Some still listen to tapes. Everyone is hearing something different. We don’t have shared experiences.
TV singers do as much hopping and bobbing as singing, and many of them seem to be doing commercials for dentists and optometrists. Camera close-ups of big white teeth and big, teary eyes. Some singers rap, and some do pop or rock or country.
It would be great if it were possible still to have someone introduce a new Christmas song.
Like what? Well, I don’t know.
How about something like, “There is no ‘el’ in Christmas, no ‘el’ in Christmas Day. There is no ‘el,’ there is no ‘el.’ That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column runs on Saturdays.