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all the easy listening discs I discuss herein, none listens quite so easily as Merry
Christmas, an orchestral suite from the Great One, Jackie
Gleason. Most famous for his role as Ralph Kramden in TV's The
Honeymooners, Gleason was, more than anything, a character, and a man's man.
But he was inarguably an tremendous actor and a physical comedian par excellence.
And, he wrote music. Gleason's made-up arrangements (he was not a trained musician)
fall into a category once called "beautiful music," perhaps to delineate
it from the cacophonous rock then starting to dominate the airwaves. Gleason's records also skirted the genre tagged "semi-classical" (think
Mantovani or Horst Jankowki), but they were specifically designed to serve
as background music. To hear more, see The
Romantic Moods of Jackie Gleason.
Jackie was at his best when he veered into exotic territory - a la Martin
Denny or Les Baxter. Sadly, that's more not than often, and on Merry
Christmas (1956) Gleason resides a bit too close to pure schlock for my tastes.
He layshis trademark strings and wordless choruses on thick, adding electric celeste
(played by a guy named Hercules!) for flavor. But, the arrangements adhere to
a mood (and tempo) for which "relaxed" is
an insufficient modifier, transforming the album into musical wallpaper.
Christmas is recommended only for little old ladies or very, very serious lounge
music enthusiasts. Every one else should seek out John Fahey or Vince
Guaraldi - holiday music that's not too difficult, but not so easy.
Christmas was the first of two Christmas albums Jackie Gleason recorded for
Capitol Records. It has been reissued twice, first by indie label Razor & Tie (with
new artwork), then by Capitol themselves
(with original cover, above). The second LP, 'Tis
The Season (also reissued by Capitol), came much later (1967), and it slipped
the bonds of substance altogether, becoming so diaphanous as to disappear.
Awash in anonymous strings and anchored by plodding tempos, 'Tis
The Season at least avoids the obvious holiday repertoire, assaying obscure songs
like "Christmas Moon" and romantic numbers like
"That's What I Want For Christmas." But, it's soloists like Buddy Morrow
(trombone) and Pee Wee Erwin (trumpet) that lend 'Tis
The Season most of its character. Charlie
Ventura's saxophone, for instance, gives weight to the otherwise ephemeral "Christmas
Moon." But, if Merry
Christmas is musical wallpaper, then 'Tis
The Season barely qualifies as paste.
Another Capitol album, All
I Want For Christmas, followed in
1969, simply repackaging the previous two albums. This set has never been reissued
digitally, but it's worth tracking down for the buxom, blonde Santa on the cover...
a peek). But, while original CD reissues have fallen out-of-print and
now fetch fairly immoderate
fees, a more
thrifty choce (until it, too, is deleted) is the Relayer/Friday Music release of both albums in a single package, simply called Merry Christmas/'Tis The Season (2012).
An even cheaper choice
would be Snowfall (2001),
a 10-song "special market" CD taken almost entirely
Christmas while ignoring the lone Gleason composition ("Christmas In
Paris") and less obvious selections (such as "Christmas
Moon") on either original LP. [top of page]
- Christmas Moon (1967)
- I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (1956)
- Snowfall (1956)
- That's What I Want For Christmas (1967)
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