Reviewed by Johan Palme on 7th January, 2022
One of the most wonderful things about listening to the very earliest attempts at Christmas albums is to see a genre take form. Take radio personality Arthur Godfrey. At the very top of his fame, he had his only Christmas album reach the top of the charts in 1953, the fourth Christmas album ever to do so. The album format, let alone the Christmas album format, was only just about beginning to settle: in fact, this record by Arthur Godfrey was the very first album to reach #1 on the unified album chart after RCA gave up trying to make 7-inch albums a thing.
And sure, one side of the record consists of already well-worn carols. But the other consists of what we now think of as perennial Christmas traditional pop classics – except, at this point, almost all of them were less than a decade old. The equivalent, as it were, of someone covering the Christmas hits of Sia, Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber today. These few, early albums helped cement what songs became part of the canon and which didn’t, why Frosty and Rudolph got to ride the sleigh while, say, Angie, The Christmas Angel or Suzy Snowflake got left out in the cold. One very clear instance of this tastemaking here is the early inclusion of “Mele Kalikimaka” – only the second time it was ever recorded, in a sympathetic move sung by an actual native Hawaiian speaker, Haleloki Kahauolopua.
Other things clearly didn’t stick, but are interesting for that very reason. There’s less of a reverence towards the integrity of these songs – “Jingle Bells” gets two new verses added of questionable picaresque, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” a rather more fetching vocal-group bridge. When something is this new, there are possibilities that disappear with age, and it’s fascinating to hear the sound of when Christmas was still in the process of settling.
The version of the album available on streaming services, for some reason, flips the A and B sides and moves one of the songs. For the Spotify version, I have created a playlist with the correct order. For the others, the order of play is track 9–16, 19, 17–18, and then 1–8.