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Bobby HelmsI once spent the better part of two days researching the Christmas music of Bobby Helms. After poring over reference books, and scouring the internet, I concluded (predictably enough) that it starts and ends with "Jingle Bell Rock." Though he remained active through the 1980's, Helms never had a lot to show for the holiday side of his career besides "Jingle Bell Rock," his rockabilly-flavored smash from 1957. A few months earlier he had launched his career, promisingly enough, with "Fraulein" and "My Special Angel," both of which made the Pop Top 10. Then, "Jingle Bell Rock" zoomed to #6 (#13 Country) and charted again four of the next five years. "Jingle bell time," Bobby insisted, "is a swell time," but he never graced the pop charts again - though he remained a fixture on the country circuit.

"Jingle Bell Rock," however, became a musical archetype and registered on the Christmas charts for years to come. Further, it shows up like clockwork on Christmas albums of every stripe, either in Helms' snappy Decca original, or one of his remakes, or in one of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of cover versions by other artists. The definitive version is Helms' Decca master, though, and that's the one found on reputable compilations like MCA's Rockin' Little Christmas and Christmas Hits. The original Decca 45-rpm record, by the way, featured Helm's wonderfully goofy "Captain Santa Claus And His Reindeer Space Patrol" on the flipside. Both songs are included on Bear Family's Fraulein: The Classic Years 2-CD set.

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Bobby Helms

The part of Helm's story that bedeviled me so much is that he never released a formal Christmas album during his lifetime. And yet dozens can be found on Amazon. Where'd they come from? Well, Helms' second reading of "Jingle Bell Rock" for Kapp Records in 1965 (b/w Burt Bacharach's "The Bell That Couldn't Jingle"), has never been reissued on CD that I am aware of. His third version on the Little Darlin' label in 1967 (b/w "I Want To Go To Santa Claus Land") leads off a Koch Records' CD reissue called A Little Darlin' Christmas (2004) which includes bunches of Bobby Helms tracks that the label did not issue at the time - plus several holiday tracks by Helms' labelmate, Johnny Paycheck. (Koch also issued a CD single that contains several modern remixes of "Jingle Bell Rock.")

Ultimately, I concluded that the Little Darlin' sessions - repackaged again and again by budget-oriented labels - account for all the albums we see on Amazon. That means Helms' recorded "Jingle Bell rock" exactly three times - despite appearances to the contrary. It's hard to say, though - Bobby's mother probably couldn't tell you how many times he recorded his signature song (or tell the recordings apart). It is certain, however, that more "Jingle Bell Rock" singles came out - on Certron (1970 b/w "The Old Year Is Gone") and Mistletoe (1974 b/w "Jingle Bells") - but these seemly likely to have been pulled from the 1967 sessions. First of all, those b-sides both appear on A Little Darlin' Christmas. Second, every Helms Christmas LP I've ever seen - most of them simply called Jingle Bell Rock - has a track listing nearly identical to A Little Darlin' Christmas (minus the Paycheck tracks). The first one appeared in 1970 on the aforementioned Certron label, and subsequent reissues appeared regularly on budget-oriented, independent labels like Mistletoe, Holiday, KRB, Pilz, and Laserlight.

At any rate, Bobby Helms spent the rest of his career far from the spotlight, and his catalog is in shambles - a fact that makes discographical research almost impossible. I used to see several 12-inch LP's in the racks (including the one reissued by Collectables) back in the 1970's, but those records were obviously pieced together ex post facto and almost certainly contain his later recordings. Exactly which recordings those are is hard to say. No matter, you don't need much besides Helms' biggest hit - "Jingle Bell Rock" on Decca. That's where it started, and that's where we end.

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • The Bell That Couldn't Jingle (1965)
  • Captain Santa Claus And His Reindeer Space Patrol (1957)
  • I Want To Go To Santa Claus Land (1967)
  • Jingle Bell Rock (Decca, 1957)
  • Jingle Bell Rock (Kapp, 1965)
  • Jingle Bell Rock (Little Darlin', 1967)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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