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Although he has recorded well over 70 albums crooner Johnny Mathis is perhaps best known for his Christmas output. With 2013’s ‘Sending You A Little Christmas’ marking the Texan born singers 6th yuletide effort it seems that Mathis just can’t help falling in love with the season. It all started one snowy Christmas season in 1958 when ‘Merry Christmas’ hit the record shelves. Opening with the chirpy and orchestral laden ‘Winter Wonderland’, which was released as the album’s main single, here was a singer who displayed an immense happiness and joy in ringing in the season. And that is the thing you take from ‘Merry Christmas’ as it offers a enjoyable ride through a familiar mix of secular and religious favourites. As was the way back in those days Side A (remember the album came out on vinyl which had music on both sides of the disc) is comprised of secular numbers like ‘Sleigh Ride’ and ‘The Christmas Song’ while Side B was far more reserved with Percy Faith’s direction bolstering Mathis rich vocals on the religious songs. ‘What Child Is This?’ is especially affecting with a classic 50’s eeriness supplied by the cooing female choir. Closing track ‘Silent Night’ is close to tear inducing and is the perfect ending to a masterful Christmas debut from Johnny.
‘Sounds of Christmas’ arrived 5 years after ‘Merry Christmas’ in 1963 and again Mathis concerned himself with interpreting old chestnuts save the album’s self-titled track. And the result was another glorious technicolor spread of Christmas songs that were bedecked in strong instrumental flourishes and Mathis' smooth delivery. Highlights included children’s favourite ‘Marshmallow World’ and the largely forgotten novelty song ‘Have Reindeer Will Travel’. ‘Give Me Your Love For Christmas’ came out in 1969 and along with 1958’s ‘Merry Christmas’ has to-date sold in excess of 6 million copies. It is easy to see why given Mathis’ increasingly more adventurous journey into the sounds of Christmas as exemplified by the huge bluster of his rendition of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’. His take on the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song ‘Christmas Day’ was a revelation and though it appeared towards the end of the album it showed Mathis for the classic Christmas crooner he had become. His ‘Calypso Noel’ is a Christmas song that would work well down on the beaches such is its tropical appeal. Mathis also co-wrote the title track ‘Give Me Your Love For Christmas’ which was a true weepie to rank alongside the Carpenters similarly endearing ‘Merry Christmas Darling’ that would come in the following decade.
After ‘Give Me Your For Christmas’ it would be 15 years before another Johnny Mathis Christmas album would arrive but 1984’s ‘For Christmas’ only proved to be a compilation of earlier Christmas recordings. The long break between albums was broken up however by a single that would define Johnny Mathis’ and his association with Christmas. Any Christmas compilation worth its salt will include Johnny’s ‘When A Child Is Born’, undoubtedly the definitive version of the song that celebrates the birth of Jesus. Thankfully the compilation ‘For Christmas’ only proved to be a stopgap until Mathis’ next original festive LP ‘Christmas Eve With Johnny Mathis’ which came along 2 years later in 1986. With Henry Mancini on production duties this was an album that produced tracks for a couple of the most famous Christmas movies of all time. ‘Every Christmas Eve/Giving (Santa’s Theme)’ would be used extensively in ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’ while Mathis’ sparkling version of ‘It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas’ would appear on ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’. Both tracks have lost none of their glow over the intervening years but there other notable triumphs on the album including the Broadway sounding ‘We Need A Little Christmas’ and the sprightly medley of ‘Caroling, Caroling/Happy Holiday’.
By 2002 and against your better expectations Johnny Mathis’s 5th festive foray ‘The Christmas Album’ proved conclusively that the great man had lost none of his zeal for the season. And on the evidence of tracks such as ‘A Christmas Love Song’, ‘Heavenly Peace’ (the albums only original number) and ‘Merry Christmas’ he also proved that he had lost none of his gift for finding fresh new Christmas material to record. For 2013 Mathis employed another new technique to ensure his Christmas gift kept on giving so ‘Sending You A Little Christmas’ included a batch of lovingly conceived duets with some of the most popular contemporary artists including Susan Boyle on ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’, Amy Grant and Vince Gill for ‘I'll Be Home for Christmas / White Christmas’ and Billy Joel on ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’. The love this man has for the season remains untarnished and unencumbered for over half a century and for that reason alone his records deserve a place at the top table each Christmas.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Ev'rywhere you go; Take a look in the five and ten glistening once again,
It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.