Reviewed by Johan Palme on 23rd December, 2016
There are certain contemporary traditions in which the 23rd of December is a day for airings of grievances. As appropriate a day as any, I suppose, to say a few choice words against that ruiner of Christmas, Frank Sinatra.
Take his slaughter of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. Coming at the symbolic and dramatic high point in the classic film Meet Me in St Louis, Judy Garland’s original is perhaps the greatest Christmas Song of all time, full of love and despair. Christmas, in her version, is both a deeply ironic comparison to the present darkness, and yet also serves as a beacon of hope, a future to cling to when all seems lost. It’s adult, complex and beautiful.
When Sinatra for his hands on it, he very deliberately ruined it. (Frank Sinatra, for God’s sakes, the master of quiet despair and loneliness, whose amazing concept album about melancholy In The Wee Small Hours thrilled the world a few years earlier.) He asked for it to be “jollied up”, had the lyrics bowdlerised, sapped it of all tension and repackaged it as a song of family togetherness. It’s unremittingly awful.
Frank Sinatra famously hated Christmas. And here, it certainly shows. This crawlingly unpleasant record feels phoned-in, bland and disinterested, with none of the pathos, verve and commitment of what he in his snobbishness no doubt considered his “real” music. The result is a nadir of bland mediocrity, ambitious arrangements struggling against a self-satisfied, gloating star, daring us to call him on his half-hearted, bloated bluff as he rakes in the money.
And yet, this album is still flying off the shelves, every year. It’s as if customers want to be fooled, anticipating every other quick buck Christmas cash-ins that were to come. And come they did, often copying this very album. I suppose it’s fitting company.