Despite his alleged ties with the mafia Ol’ Blue Eyes was a softie at heart and adored the Christmas celebration each year. His Christmas output over the years was impressive and his songs are as popular each December as those of dedicated Christmas specialists Bing Crosby and Andy Williams. In all he recorded four Christmas albums, two of which were solo releases with the other two being collaborations with friends and family. His first solo effort, ‘Christmas Songs By Sinatra’, came along in 1948 as Sinatra was finding his feet as a performer. It wasn’t Sinatra’s first outing in the Christmas market as he had 3 Christmas single releases to his name prior to this, all of which were included on ‘Christmas Songs By Sinatra’ except for the Axel Stordahl arranged ‘Christmas Dreaming (A Little Early This Year)’. ‘Christmas Songs By Sinatra’ was a relative short album with only 8 songs, but that was probably as a result of it having been originally released on 78rpm discs which incapable of storing anything more. The LP opened in sumptuous fashion as Sinatra gave ‘White Christmas’ a velvet reworking with the Bobby Tucker Singers offering a typically angelic backdrop. Each subsequent track followed similiarly with ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Silent Night’, ‘Adeste Fideles’, ‘O Little Town Of Bethlehem’, ‘It Came Upon A Midnight Clear’, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town’ each tending to our perceived notion as to how a Christmas album should sound. And indeed much of the music has a rustic quality, the sound of vinyl even though it has long since transferred to a digital medium. The production is as lush as you’d expect with direction again from Axel Stordahl who gave songs like ‘Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town’ a svelte and classy demeanour and made a children’s classic sound all grown up.
It would be a full 9 years before Sinatra would record his classic Christmas album ‘A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra’ and by then he had hit an assured groove. This time the album had 12 tracks, befitting the subject, and Sinatra was joined by the Ralph Brewer Singers who provided backing vocals. This time the orchestral direction came from Gordon Jenkins and if anything he stepped up the attention to detail and mosaic of sound to bolster Sinatra’s unmistakable croon. Oddly enough ‘A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra’ didn’t seduce the critics immediately as this being 1957 many had tired of the endless tried-and-tested approach to making a Christmas album. Thankfully such misgivings were short lived as the quality of the album shone through. Sinatra seemed determined to put his own mark on a slew of standards as exemplified by his rendition of opener ‘Jingle Bells’ where the old classic flew off in brand new and interesting directions throughout. So determined was Sinatra on originality that he got ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’s composer Hugh Martin to add some new lyrics especially for the occasion. Given that the album was recorded in LA during a July heatwave it was some achievement that recordings such as ‘The Christmas Song’ and ‘The Christmas Waltz’ sould so icily genuine. Elsewhere traditional carols ‘The First Noel’ and especially ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ are emotional filled affairs while ‘Silent Night’ is given one of its classic renditions.
Often forgotten and unfairly so ‘The 12 Songs of Christmas’ was a Christmas music fans dream as Sinatra, Bing Crosby and bandleader Fred Waring (and his orchestra the Pennsylvanians) put their combined efforts into a mix of classics and little known Christmas compositions. Everything about this album screams quality from the beautifully designed artwork to the song choices which went out of their way to uproot and replant lost gems. Sinatra would appear on only 5 songs on the collection with ‘An Old Fashioned Christmas’ offering homespun lyrics and slightly downbeat arrangements. ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ had Crosby and Sinatra in chirpy mood with their vocal sparing offering many magical moments. Les Brown’s ‘We Wish You The Merriest’ closed the album with all 3 parties giving it spirit, energy and a sense of timing that is rarely present in recordings at any time of the year. An undoubted forgotten classic.
Frank Sinatra’s final Christmas album came in 1968 on the self-explanatory ‘The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas’ where the crooner was joined by his son Frank Jr. and his daughters Nancy and Tina. This is perhaps Sinatra’s weakest Christmas effort, as much for the fact that he only appeared alone on 2 tracks, an original and his old favourite ‘The Christmas Waltz’. The newbie, ‘Whatever Happened To Christmas?’ was written especially for the album by Jimmy Webb and was arranged by longtime Sinatra associate Nelson Riddle. Sinatra proved his voice has lost none of its inherent power, the only dimming of the light came via the song’s lyrics where he bemoans the falling apart of traditional Christmas customs. But for all Sinatra’s distrust of modern Christmas it is quite funny that the album also contains a track called ‘I Wouldn’t Trade Christmas’, an utterly joyful affair which seems to revel in the season no matter how much it has changed from the good old days.
Frank Sinatra would record one more Christmas single in 1975 called 'A Baby Just Like You' (written by John Denver). ‘Christmas Mem'ries’ (also called ‘Christmas Memories’) was its b-side and proved to be a much more impressive number than its slightly uninspired a-side. ‘Christmas Mem'ries’ would prove that Frank’s love affair with the Christmas season had not diminished. He would spend every Christmas with his family and was even known to fly home for Christmas dinner following a show in Las Vegas only to fly back again that evening to perform another one. One of a kind.
Then comes that big night
Frank Sinatra, Mistletoe And Holly (1957)
Giving the tree the trim
You'll hear voices by starlight
Singing a Yuletide hymn
Oh, by gosh, by golly
It's time for mistletoe and holly