Frankie Avalon’s Christmas Album 7.0

Reviewed by on 16th December, 2023

Frankie Avalon's Christmas AlbumThe period from 1955 to 1964 is a weird one in American music. As youth music took hold of the popular music market, the categories of major record label and independent started to dissolve, and what was “real” and “fake” was increasingly muddied, if those categories ever made sense in the first place. Major record labels would desperately try to copy the youth explosion, producing things like Christmas music that attempted to be rock’n’roll. But the muddying went both ways – there were also, certainly, independents that wanted to act like majors.

Chancellor records tried to be everything a major was, selling complete packages of artists, controlling their presentation and sound in minute detail. With a fraction of the budget, they hustled together all the components in the tightly-knit Italian-American community in Philadelphia, finding arrangers, composers, and the pretty frontmen, all in the same set of blocks. Frankie Avalon, a competent teenage trumpeter who had made a couple of novelty recordings on RCA’s “X” Label, was completely remade as a clean-cut singer, every detail in perfect order. He became a worldwide hit after appearing on American Bandstand with Dick Clark, not coincidentally an old friend of the record company owner.

By 1962, Frankie Avalon was no longer a teen and Chancellor was happy recasting him away from the youth market, just as they had cast him into it. And in a way, his Christmas album is perhaps just as deep into masquerading as a major label as Chancellor records ever got. There are songwriters out-Tin-Pan-Alley-ing Tin Pan Alley, arrangements that overtake it in bombast, and more prominent Italian contacts than ever (including the Sanremo festival orchestra conductor and the improbable involvement of avant-garde composer Romeo Cascarino). If it wasn’t so earnest, this would be the hyperpop of its age, a copy of the old style turned up to eleven.

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A small, major wonder

Frankie Avalon is a competent but not spectacular singer, and the new music here doesn't quite reach the height of old, but what does it matter when the package is this put-together, like a fascinating, elegantly crafted bauble? Never stopping or letting go, the nervousness of the little label taking on the big boys produces relentlessly coming ideas and surprises.

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