Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Here Comes Santa Claus, Part 12

Less than one week to go until Christmas, and we’ve been looking at the tracks on my latest holiday compilation, Here Comes Santa Claus. There are 38 tracks altogether and I’ve provided at least a little background on the first 31 so far, which leaves seven more to consider. Six of the remaining seven tracks were included in remembrance of entertainers who left the stage for good this year, starting with Andy Williams and Phyllis Diller.

Track 33
My Christmas Stocking, by Phyllis Diller (1982)
When comedienne Phyllis Diller died on August 22 at the age of 95, she was hailed as a comedy pioneer. As her longtime agent Fred Wostbrock explained, “She was the first lady of stand-up comedy. She paved the way for everybody. And she conquered television, movies, Broadway, record albums, nightclubs, books, and radio. She did it all.” I can remember watching Phyllis Diller on television with my mother as a small boy and thinking she was some sort of clown – literally. With her blonde fright wig, extra-long fake cigarette holder and crazy outfits, she couldn’t help but make you smile. I also remember my mother explaining that she dressed like she did to make fun of herself, and that it was important not to take yourself too seriously. This short track is something I pulled from Bob Hope’s 1982 Christmas special. Hope was Diller’s biggest supporter, and he frequently asked her to join him on his USO tours and television appearances. This is one woman who never took herself too seriously, and, according to her son, she died peacefully in her own bed with a smile on her lips. Not too shabby.


Track 32
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, by Andy Williams (1970)
Decorating the Christmas tree was always a big deal in our house when I was growing up – not simply for its own sake, but because that was usually when we first brought out the Christmas records each season. I’d guess we had somewhere around 25 or 30 Christmas albums, and among the first to get played very year was The Andy Williams Christmas Album, which was released in 1963 and featured this original tune. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t promoted much at all when the album was first released, and it was passed over in favor of "White Christmas" as the album's first single. Over time, however, the song not only emerged as the most popular track on the album, but it became one of Williams’ signature songs. Nearly 50 years after its initial release, the song continues to appear on almost every holiday playlist – in fact, it’s the #7 song on the current Billboard holiday music chart. This particular version was taken from one of Williams’ many television specials. You can hear a clip of his biggest hit, “Moon River,” as the intro and outro to this tune. Although Williams’ career spanned six decades, it was during the 1960s and ‘70s that he achieved his greatest success, both as a popular recording artist and television performer. Indeed, he came to symbolize the mainstream version of 1960s hip culture in this country. He was a supporter and good friend of Senator Robert F. Kennedy before Kennedy was killed, and later accompanied Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, to a good number of Washington social functions. In his later years, however, he became a staunch conservative, and even went so far as to call President Obama a “communist” during the 2008 presidential campaign. But when I learned of Williams’ death this Fall, I didn’t think too much about that. The first thing I thought of was how good it was to hear him sing this song each year as we strung the lights on my family’s tree.

Schoolchildren today probably associate this song with something a little less festive:

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