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the same can be said of the Christmas music of Eddy
Arnold that can be said about the rest of his career (read more).
That is, early on he waxed some wonderful, rootsy tunes. Later,
he made records more sophisticated and popular - but far
less interesting. Arnold's deep, polished voice - even
when yoked behind traditional instrumentation like fiddles
and steel guitars - brought country music down out of
the hills and into the big city. When his producers at RCA
(Chet Atkins, among them) added
strings, choruses, and cosmopolitan arrangements in the
late 50's, Arnold became a force to reckoned with on the
pop charts. Admittedly, this phase of his career yielded
wonderful records such as "You Don't Know Me"
(1956), "Anytime" (1960), and "Make The
World Go Away" (1965). But eventually, Eddy Arnold
became the moral equivalent of Perry Como in cowboy boots,
losing all credibility with the hardcore country audience.
Way before this happened, however, Arnold cut a handful of Christmas tracks
that rank among the best in the annals of country music. These six songs (from
three 7-inch singles spanning five years) are sterling examples of Eddy's early
music - sentimental and well-sung, yet resolutely country. Though most would not collected
on any Christmas album until much later (Complete RCA Victor Christmas Recordings, 2016), the importance of Arnold's early Christmas songs far
outweighs the two full-length Christmas LP's he would subsequently release.
among these singles is his 1949 Top 10 smash, "C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S," backed
with "Will Santy Come To Shanty Town." The b-side actually fared better
on the charts, and with good reason - it's a better song. Moreover, "Will
Santy Come To Shanty Town" is a classic weeper about two things country
fans of the day had in abundance - poverty and faith - and Santa Claus promised
redemption on both counts! But, "C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S" is pretty great,
too, spelling out the sentiment later personified by Tammy Wynette's 1972 effort, "Let's
Put Christ Back In Christmas." (The following year, RCA reissued the single with a completely new version of "C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S" substituting organ for guitar as the predominant instrument. It was not an improvement...)
In 1950, Eddy Arnold cut a more traditional
single - "White Christmas" b/w "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" - with the sprightly b-side (replete with Chet Atkins guitar solo) carrying the
weight. Then, in 1953, all four of songs were packaged by RCA on a 7-inch, 45-rpm
EP called Christmas
Greetings From Eddy Arnold (pictured above). Collectors should note that the record is one of several
seasonal special editions from RCA Records featuring picture sleeves shaped like
Christmas tree ornaments; others artists in the series include Hank Snow, Jan Peerce, and the Robert Shaw Chorale.
In 1954, Eddy Arnold recorded two more Christmas platters. The first, "Christmas
Can't Be Far Away" b/w "I'm Your Private Santa Claus," is a real winner, combining the sentimental a-side (written by soon-to-be-legendary tunesmith Boudleaux Bryant) with the saucy b-side ("a pillow in the right place does the trick"). The second is less impressive, mainly because it's geared towards kids. The cloying "A Present For Santa Claus" features Arnold's young daughter, Jo Ann, while the flip, "Sittin' On Santa Claus' Lap" chronicles the dubious joys of visiting the department store Kringle. Regardless, both of these singles were nearly lost to the ages - neither would be reissued in any format for over 60 years.
Arnold signed to RCA Records in 1944, and in the first ten years of his career
he charted dozens of hit singles. Soon, he would chart dozens more, but in the
mid-50's he entered a commercial slump brought on, in part, by the rise of rock & roll.
Unlike many country stars, Arnold didn't jump on the rock bandwagon, opting instead
to push his music the other way - towards easy listening. The strategy
worked, and by the time of his first full-length Christmas album, Arnold's fortunes
were in the full flower of a comeback. Smoothly produced by Chet Atkins, Christmas
With Eddy Arnold (1962) reflects the methodology that made Arnold a mainstream
star. But, the music suffers for it, especially new versions of several songs discussed
above. One particular highlight, though, is Arnold's easy-going essay of "Jolly
Old St. Nicholas," where the corny arrangement suits the song just fine. Plus,
Eddy preserves the original lyrics ("My little brain isn't very bright")
so often bowdlerized from later versions.
With Eddy Arnold is a solid album that will certainly please the average
Eddy Arnold fan - the one that treasures "What's He Doing In My World" (1965)
but finds "I'm Throwing Rice At the Girl I Love" (1949) a little too country.
Over the years, RCA reissued it several times - first with a new cover in 1967 as part of their "Country Music Hall of Fame" series. That's the cover art that was used to reissue it on CD - first in 1991 (with the "Hall of Fame" emblem oddly and clumsily removed) and again in 2005 (with the emblem restored).
When I first wrote this review in the early 20th century, I mourned that "in a
perfect world, RCA would have reissued Christmas
With Eddy Arnold with Eddy's lost Christmas single
sides as bonus tracks. They also could've thrown in 'Silent Night,' which appeared the same year on a now-obscure RCA LP called Nashville Christmas Party. It all
CD, but this is not a perfect world - so don't hold your breath."
It is a good thing that I did not, in fact, hold my breath. Because, it took a while, but it is now perfect world - at least in one small way. The aforementioned Complete RCA Victor Christmas Recordings (Real Gone Music) finally materialized in 2016. Not only did it include all four of Arnold's early singles plus his 1962 album plus the non-LP "Silent Night," it collected a few tracks I didn't even know existed! I can't recommend it highly enough to country and/or Christmas fans: The Complete RCA Victor Christmas Recordings is a lovingly-curated piece of history that ascends to greatness on at least a handful of tracks.
In the interim,
Eddy Arnold released Christmas
Time (1997) on Curb Records. A smooth and genteel album, it is certain to please only the most devoted followers of "The
Tennessee Plowboy," who died just shy of 90 years old in 2008. [top of page]
Christmas Can't Be Far Away (1954)
I'm Your Private Santa Claus (1954)
Jolly Old St. Nicholas (1962)
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1950)
Will Santy Come To Shanty Town (1949)
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