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Eddy ArnoldMuch 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.

Eddy ArnoldForemost 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.

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Eddy ArnoldEddy 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.

Still, Christmas 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).

Eddy ArnoldWhen 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 would've easily fit on a single 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]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S (1949)
  • 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)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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