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Frank SinatraLike a number of Christmas records from the kings of croon (c.f. Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis), Frank Sinatra's holiday offerings were unexpectedly stiff and lifeless. Granted, the Chairman Of The Board could turn the Yonkers phone book into sheer aural poetry, but A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra (a 1957 release, and his first formal Christmas album) was cut at the absolute height of his powers - right after A Swingin' Affair, as a matter-of-fact. We have a right to expect more! If Frank had applied his inimitable, world weary bravado to this seasonal subject matter, we would have had one for the ages. Instead, he sits on his haunches like the frightened, former alter boy he probably was, and we end up with merely an impeccably sung canon of carols.

Capitol reissued Jolly Christmas as The Sinatra Christmas Album in 1963 and, in fact, that was the format in which they chose to first reissue the album on CD. However, one of their later, nearly endless string of CD reissues of Jolly Christmas would be a better choice. The original 1990 reissue had some great bonus tracks, and the 1999 version has better mastering (and the same bonus tracks). Since then, Capitol has reissued it thrice again - in 2005 with a partially redeigned cover (pictured), and in 2007 to commemorate the album's 50th anniversary (this time appending a Christmas radio message from Frank to the earlier bonus tracks), and in 2011 with all the bonus tracks and original cover art.

Regardless, the singular highlight of Jolly Christmas isn't one its original tracks, but one of the bonus tracks - Sinatra's 1954 debut recording of Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn's immortal "Christmas Waltz." That winsome song (and Nelson Riddle's lush production) allows Frank to take the Christ out of Christmas - and inject some romance. It's no "Night & Day" or "You Make Me Feel So Young," but it's a damn sight better than Sinatra's stiff rendering of songs like "The First Noel" or "Adeste Fideles."

Frank SinatraBeyond Jolly Christmas you'll find a confusingly large number of holiday discs from the Chairman of the Board spanning nearly fifty years of recording (1944-1991) for three different labels (Columbia, Capitol, and Reprise). Picking the winners is a daunting task - especially since so many of the competitors are budget-oriented, after-market travesties (a situation that has gotten worse since the advent of the digital download). But, here goes...

First runner-up in this Sinatra sweepstakes is undoubtedly Christmas Songs By Sinatra. It began life as an 8-song, 10-inch LP, was later reissued as the 10-song, 12-inch LP Christmas Dreaming (1957), and reached its apotheosis in 1994 as a 15-track CD (remastered and repackaged in 2004). In that format, Christmas Songs By Sinatra collects nearly all the Christmas sides Frank cut for Columbia Records from 1944 through 1950 - after he broke loose from the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, but before he flowered into an interpretive genius at Capitol during the 1950's. During those halycon days, Sinatra had yet to find the cool, worldly muse that would inspire his greatest work - but his soaring, youthful voice was a wonder to behold!

Running a close second, however, is The Sinatra Christmas Album, which culls the smooth recordings Frank made for Reprise during the 60's and 70's, including 12 Songs Of Christmas with Bing Crosby and Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians (1964) and his 1968 LP, The Sinatra Family Wish You Merry Christmas, recorded with his children Nancy, Tina, and Frank Jr. The material from The Sinatra Christmas Album was expanded, remastered, and repackaged in 2004 as The Christmas Collection - very nice.

In closing, I should point out that, despite its enduring popularity among baby boomers, 12 Songs Of Christmas has never been formally reissued on CD. Pretty up all the tracks show up on various compilations, but the whole thing was appended to a special 2009 "Christmas Edition" of the 2008 Sinatra retrospective, Nothing But The Best. [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • The Christmas Waltz (1954)
  • Jingle Bells (1957)
  • Mistletoe And Holly (1957)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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