Monday, December 17, 2012

The King Cole Trio - The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You) - Capitol 90036

The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)

Hi folks... as I've mentioned in the past, this is the one that just slays me every year. As you may know, I'm a huge fan of Johnny Mercer, not only as a composer and singer, but as a founding father of the music industry as we know it today. When he got the idea to form Capitol Records in 1942 ("So I could hear somebody else besides Bing Crosby on the radio," he said), he went out of his way to record quality artists that he felt weren't getting a 'fair shake'.

In 1943 he signed the all black King Cole Trio, a gamble which promptly paid off for the label, with the Trio racking up three number one R&B hits within a year. The trend continued, with Nat Cole's velvet vocals laid over the tasteful accompaniment of Oscar Moore on guitar and Johnny Williams on double bass keeping The Trio in the top five throughout the War Years. In the Summer of 1946, they were riding high with the seminal (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66 climbing to the number three slot during an eleven week stay on the charts. It was during that period that Capitol sent them into the WMCA Studio in New York to create what may just be the most enduring Christmas song of all time. Cole was unhappy with the first 'trio-only' recording (which remained unreleased for over forty years), and begged Mercer to let him re-cut it with a 'String Choir' that August.

He was right, of course, and when Capitol released it around Thanksgiving, it went straight to #3 on both the Pop and R&B charts, and remained a top-seller for them for the rest of the decade. There was a copy on every jukebox in America, and more copies were pressed to meet the demand every December. As the industry began the switch to 45rpm vinyl in 1949, Capitol followed suit. This particular single we have here today is stamped '12-51', and carries the same matrix number (981) as that original 1946 78. Like I said, it just knocks me out, some 66 years after it was recorded.


The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)

In August of 1953, Capitol brought Nat into their Hollywood studio to cut a more lavish version, this time with Nelson Riddle's orchestra. This would become the new holiday juke box release, and the Trio's rendition sort of faded away. In March of 1961, at the label's New York studio, Capitol cut what most consider to be the definitive stereo version, with an orchestra led by Ralph Carmichael. Although they would continue to press the earlier release on juke box 45s for several years, it is that 1961 recording that has become the standard that you still hear on the radio today...

"Although it's been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you..." I hope Santa treats you good!


Anonymous Nick G. said...

Another amazing history, Red! Worth it all just for the quote from Mercer.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Private Beach said...

Good to see a new post here - it's been a while. Merry Christmas to you and your family, and thanks for all the great music.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Traveling Mermaid said...

Beautiful music and a beautiful post. May you and yours have a wonderful Christmas, Red.

Oh, and more posts more often!

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your story is not totally true. The 1961 version appeared on Nat Kind Cole's Christmas album (Capitol T1967 (mono), Capitol ST1967 (stereo), Capitol SM1967 (stereo re-issue), but it wasn't issued on 45rpm single records. The version of "The Christmas Song" issued in the 1960s and 1970s on 45rpm records was still the 1950s version with the orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle (as you can see on the label of the 1970s 45rpm issue displayed on your site).

8:42 AM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Thank You for the correction - you're right. I'll fix the post to reflect that... I think what I was trying to say is that once the 'big' Ralph Carmichael version was recorded, that became the only one you heard on the radio... (or something) - Thanks for taking the time to read this stuff!

1:47 PM  

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