Compilation Liner Notes ~
For millions the world over, the Christmas music of Perry Como ranks alongside trimming the tree and hanging up the stockings as an essential element of their Yuletide festivities. On records and through his memorable television specials, Perry has been helping us celebrate this special time of year for the better part of the 20th century. The holidays just wouldn't seem complete without the accompaniment of his beautiful baritone voice, so affecting when communicating messages of faith and inspiration, so endearing when exploring the season's more secular delights. Compiling a representative Como Christmas anthology, however, is a surprisingly daunting challenge. His voluminous catalog is studded with an abundance of masterpieces in this vein, all equally deserving of inclusion, and the selection process can be maddening. Collected for you here is a delightful mixture of time-tested favorites, a few overlooked gems, and some intriguing rarities, many making their way onto an album for the first time. The result is a beguiling soundtrack for the twelfth month of the year, brimful with warmth, charm and goodwill toward all.
Mr. C., as the singer was affectionately known during his television heyday, signed with RCA in 1943 and began recording Christmas songs for the label three years later. His earliest seasonal efforts were made with the Russ Case Orchestra and the vocal group The Satisfiers, both regular components of Perry's Chesterfield Supper Club radio and television programs (this show actually made the transition from radio to television on Christmas Eve in 1948, thus inaugurating Como's long run of holiday-oriented television presentations). Our first selection on this present anthology, chronologically speaking, is the 1951 single release of "It's Beginning To Look Like Christmas," a #19 pop hit which Perry collaborated with new Christmas associates who would remain with him for much of the coming decade, namely the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra and The Fontane Sisters. In 1953, Perry waxed a delightful cover rendition of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," a novelty that had provided child star Jimmy Boyd with a gold record the previous year. At the same session, he also put his inimitable stamp on the timeless sagas of "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" (in one of the few performances that attempts to demonstrate what a snickering reindeer would sound like) and "Frosty The Snowman."
"The Christmas Song" by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells is a perennial favorite that Como has recorded twice, but the original rendition from 1953 included here has seldom been heard since first surfacing on an early EP and the 10" LP "Around the Christmas Tree". Few people remember today that when Perry recorded "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in 1953, this venerable English folk melody, which probably dates as far back as the 17th century, had fallen into undeserved obscurity. It didn't return to a place of honor in the popular repertoire until several years later, largely on the strength of a popular rendition by Mabel Mercer. Como had the opportunity to put his own signature standard into the Christmas canon in 1954 when "(There's No Place Like) Home For The Holidays" became an instant and enduring classic. Originally the B-side of his single release "Silk Stockings," this buoyant ode to the delights of an old-fashioned Christmas became an unexpected #8 pop hit and has been indelibly associated with the singer ever since.
RCA and Como launched into the era of the 12" long-playing LP in 1955, but there was a surprising lapse of four years before Perry ventured into the studio to record an original Christmas album (until then, fans had to content themselves with a best-selling 1956 re-packaging of earlier sides entitled "Perry Como Sings [ Merry ] Christmas Music"). The resultant collection proved well worth waiting for, however, as "Season's Greetings From Perry Como" ( 1959 ), recorded with Mitchell Ayres and the choral support of The Ray Charles Singers, was widely hailed as a classic and promptly earned the singer a gold album. Of the three excerpts included here, perhaps the most memorable is a sterling rendition of "White Christmas" that rivals the masterful interpretation of Perry's early idol and role model, Bing Crosby. Como had recorded the song before, but this subtle and understated arrangement provided him with a particularly effective showcase. "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" has become such ubiquitous part of the holiday season that it's hard to believe songwriters Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots spent two years in fruitless pursuit of a receptive publisher before Eddie Cantor introduced the ditty on his popular radio program in 1934. That same year also introduced the introduction of another holiday evergreen in "Winter Wonderland," which is the beneficiary here of a typically mellow Como treatment.
In the mid- 1960's, after deciding to reduce his television workload from weekly programs to several specials a year broadcast from various locales, Perry also ventured beyond the confines of New York's recording studios and began working regularly in Nashville, where he turned in some of the finest performances of his career under the capable supervision of producer Chet Atkins. They collaborated on a memorable Christmas single in 1967 that is making it's first appearance on an album, and it's welcome debut in stereo, as part of this anthology. "Love Is A Christmas Rose" is a sweet, romantic ballad filled with evocative imagery, while "Christmas Bells (In the Steeple)," from the pen of Ray Stevens, is a determined effort to focus attention on the real meaning of the holiday season. At this point nearly a decade had passed since the release of the "Season's Greetings" album , and the moment seemed right for a fresh collection of Como Christmas music. Perry returned to New York and set to work on "The Perry Como Christmas Album" in August of 1968. The Ray Charles Singers were back aboard for this effort, while arranging and conducting duties were largely handled by Nick Perito, who had succeeded Mitchell Ayres in these capacities.
"As is the case with most Christmas albums, we made that record during the height of summer because of scheduling demands and the need for lead time," recalled Ray Charles during a recent interview (Charles has worked with Como since the late '40s, and in the mid '50s his singers replaced The Fontane Sisters as Perry's regular television backing group). "You just have to ignore the sunshine while singing about 'a midnight clear!' We were recording in Webster Hall in New York, which didn't have any air-conditioning. I remember we uses a thirty-two voice female choir for "Toyland," and the girls were working around the microphone in a circle. Two of them fainted from heat exhaustion during the date!" There is little inkling of such hardships on the finished album, a huge success which quickly earned Como another gold record. On the contrary, one of it's high spots is a cheerful, slightly up-tempo rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that stands in marked contrast to the wistful, melancholy rendering Judy Garland gave when introducing the song in 1944.
"Do You Hear What I Hear?" seems to have an air of antiquity about it, but it was actually a relatively recent composition when Como recorded it in 1968. "Silver Bells," introduced by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the 1950 Paramount film The Lemon Drop Kid, became one of the first popular entries in the new genre of "urban carols," which celebrated the pleasures of Christmas in a big city, as opposed to traditional holiday idylls like "Jingle Bells," which typically had strong rural overtones. "There Is No Christmas Like a Home Christmas" is a happy celebration of homecoming that Perry first recorded in 1950. "The Little Drummer Boy" started out as "The Carol of The Drum" in 1941, but in 1958 was reworked into the beloved holiday standard we all know today. "Christ Is Born" is another selection irrevocably tied to Como's bountiful Christmas legacy. It came about as the result of a ground-breaking holiday special from the mid- '60s that is still fondly remembered today by many long time aficionados.
Perry is a devote [ Roman ] Catholic, and it is a well-known fact that he took his religion quite seriously (he once scolded someone for using the common abbreviation "Xmas" during a production meeting, saying, "You should never do that. Christ is not an 'X' "). It was correctly decided that unforgettable television would result if Perry's annual Christmas program was filmed using Italy and the Eternal City of Rome as its setting. What made this a truly unprecedented event was the permission secured from Pope Paul VI to shoot portions of the show inside the Vatican itself, where cameras had never been allowed before. One of the proposed highlights was a guest appearance by The Sistine Chapel Choir, directed by Monsignor Domenico Bartolucci. "We went to see Father Bartolucci in his apartment," recalls Ray Charles. "He had a big Ampex tape machine and a box of tapes. He brought out a tape of a gorgeous piece he'd written and he played it for us. The words were in Latin. The choir performed it on the show, and Perry later decided he wanted to record it himself, so I wrote an English adaptation of the original lyric entitled "Christ Is Born." We all loved the song, and he must have used it half a dozen times on various Christmas shows after that. The Carpenters also recorded it later."
In a similar vein is Perry's wonderful rendition of "Some Children See Him." This previously unreleased treasure was recorded during the sessions which produced "The Perry Como Christmas Album," but it somehow failed to make the final cut. The existence of this track will no doubt come as a pleasant surprise to even the most diligent Como collector. How it could have remained unissued for more than thirty years remains a baffling mystery, because this is far and away [ one of ] the most powerful and moving treatments of this under appreciated 1954 composition you are ever likely to hear. It's debut here [ for Perry ] is a very special Christmas gift indeed. Our final selection is Perry's beautiful rendition of Schubert's immortal "Ave Maria" from 1968. He had recorded this piece twice before, once in the '40s and once in the '50s, and it was invariably used as the closing highlight of his Christmas specials. " 'The Ave Maria' arrangement goes back to the late '40s," recalled Ray Charles. "It was one of my first recordings with Perry. He sang 'Ave Maria' and 'The Lord's Prayer' in a Church on 31st Street with just an organ and choir for accompaniment. The later versions used an orchestra." Como's heartfelt performance is a moving affirmation of faith that is certain to linger in your memory.
The Christmas carols and hymns of Perry Como have enriched our lives for more than fifty years. His most recent recording to date was made live during a rapturously well-received Christmas concert at the Point Theater in Dublin, Ireland, in 1993, adding yet one more magic moment to a career that has brought happiness and joy to several generations over the decades. There are few more welcome musical visitors at any time of year than the gracious Mr. Como, but the pleasure of his company is especially comforting at Yuletide. The glorious music on this collection is certain to brighten your holiday season.
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