As musical genres go, Christmas albums have got to be one of the most diverse. At one end of the spectrum there are the Ray Conniff Singers belting out spunky and earnest versions of "Frosty the Snowman" and "White Christmas" on their 1959 classic, "Christmas with Conniff." At the other end is Pearl Jam, whose mournful 1998 Christmas release of Wayne Cochran’s "Last Kiss" was an unexpected hit for the Seattle-based grunge band.
One of the earliest Christmas albums to break into the popular mainstream was Gene Autry’s "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which was released by Columbia as both a 78 and 33 1/3 RPM single in 1949. A 45 version came out in 1950, and that disc remains one of the best-selling Christmas records of all time. Throughout the early 1950s, The Singing Cowboy, as Autry was known, continued to release Christmas records on Columbia, including a 45 in 1952 with Rosemary Clooney ("The Night Before Christmas Song," backed by "Look Out The Window"), who had quite a run of her own Christmas records ("Suzy Snowflake" was Clooney’s 1951 hit).
Harry Belafonte, recording for RCA Victor, was another singer to try his pipes at Christmas records in the 1950s. A 45 featuring "Mary’s Boy Child" was released in 1956, while an...
Another landmark Christmas song from the 1950s was "Run Rudolph Run," a rockin’ 45 on Chess Records by Chuck Berry. And one of the most infamous Christmas tunes of the decade was Eartha Kitt’s sultry 1953 classic for RCA, "Santa Baby" (the picture sleeve features a very leggy Kitt being carried in the arms of a somewhat lecherous Santa Claus).
But the undisputed kings of Christmas music from the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s were Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. Collectible Crosby records from these years include the pair of 10-inch albums he recorded for Decca in 1949, "Merry Christmas" and "Christmas Greetings," both of which were reissued as sets of four 7-inch EPs in 1950. Crosby recorded Christmas records with the Andrews Sisters ("Poppa Santa Claus," 1950), Carol Richards ("Silver Bells," 1950), and Danny Kaye ("White Christmas," 1954). One of the most collectible Crosby Christmas albums of the decade was "A Crosby Christmas," from 1950.
Sinatra’s first Christmas record came out in 1948. Titled "Christmas Songs by Sinatra," the first release of this 10-inch Columbia album is the most valuable—look for a gingerbread man on the cover. A subsequent reissue the following year is also prized—its cover is made of green vinylite. As with Crosby’s 1949 10-inch albums for Decca, Sinatra’s 10-incher was reissued in 1950 as a set of four 7-inch EPs. Later in the decade, in 1957, Sinatra recorded two more 7-inch EPs for Columbia, "Christmas Dreaming Vol. 1" and "Christmas Dreaming Vol. 2," as well as a full-length album for Capitol called "A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra" (the 1957 version with the gray label on the disc is considered more valuable than the 1958 copy whose label has a black colorband).
As for Elvis, his 1957 "Elvis’ Christmas Album" remains the best-selling Christmas album ever recorded, with more than 9-million copies sold. It is also one of the most collectible records around. Of the various versions of the mono LP produced in 1957, copies pressed on red vinyl are the most highly sought-after, followed by covers with the album title printed in silver or gold, in that order. Promotional copies of "Blue Christmas" 45s from 1957, with the song pressed on each side, are also rare.
In 1961, the Lennon Sisters of Lawrence Welk TV fame had a hit with "Christmas with the Lennon Sisters," which included "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." A more improbable TV crossover was "Christmas on the Ponderosa," a 1964 RCA album recorded by the stars of "Bonanza," Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, and Dan Blocker (he played "Hoss"). The best known, and easily one of the most beloved, TV-generated Christmas records was by Vince Guaraldi, who, in 1965, wrote and recorded "Christmas Time Is Here" and other songs for "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Throughout the 1960s, The Beatles sent Christmas flexi-discs to members of their fan clubs in the U.K. and U.S. The first of these, "The Beatles Christmas Record," was recorded in 1963 and sent to U.K. fans that year—the same recording would be sent to U.S. fans in 1964. The discs ran from four to seven minutes, and the earliest ones are, of course, most collectible. Interestingly, though, so is the compilation LP of all seven Beatles Christmas recordings, which was released in 1970 on the band’s Apple label.
Other rock bands were quick to follow The Beatles’ lead. The Beach Boys issued a Christmas album in 1964. Even Jimi Hendrix went into the studio to cut a Christmas record, but his work would not be released until 1974, four years after his death, when Reprise released a pair of 45s, one of which contained a medley that included "Little Drummer Boy" and "Silent Night" on both sides.
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