Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Andy Williams

To honor Andy Williams, I'm going to repost a piece I wrote in December 2006 about what I am convinced will remain his most enduring work: The Andy Williams Christmas Album.  Mind you, we're talking about what was the first of many "Andy Williams Christmas Albums."  Some were good, and as noted in the piece, some were complete garbage.  But the one to seek out is the one with the red cover, where Andy sings (among other songs) what are pretty darn close to being the definitive versions of "White Christmas," "The Christmas Song," and "O Holy Night."

The Andy Williams Christmas Album. For many baby-boomers, the name Andy Williams is probably synonymous with a series of saccharine Christmas specials that would appear, like clockwork, on an annual basis in the 1960s through the mid-1970s. The whole family would be there - wife Claudine Longet, the kids, the Osmonds, and a host of others whose names have been lost to history (at least, I can't remember them).
But even though Williams was no Sinatra, his Christmas album - his first, the one with the red cover - is better than Frank's. A lot better. Originally released in 1963, it was re-released two years ago by Sony Music in a newly remastered version that sounds as if it was recorded just yesterday. Of the thousands of Christmas albums that have been released over the years, this is the definitive easy-listening crooner holiday album.

Like many Christmas albums originally released on vinyl, the record is neatly divided between secular songs on Side One, and religious songs on Side Two. On the first side Williams tackles the two major classics of the mid-twentieth century - White Christmas and The Christmas Song - and fares just fine. It might be sacrilege to suggest that either is definitive, but he comes close enough to make it a moot argument. In the meantime, Williams comes up with two classics that, to this day, are probably more closely associated with him than with any other singer: the Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season medley, and It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The side is rounded out by an alternative version of The Twelve Days of Christmas called A Song And A Christmas Tree, which I guarantee will prompt any child under the age of 10 to comment, "he's not singing it right." The side closes with Kay Thompson's Jingle Bells (in what I assume is a reference to the arranger; there are no liner notes on the original or remastered versions), a raucous, swinging version that can give Brian Setzer a run for his money any day of the week.

The highlight of side two is O Holy Night, but Williams also turns in terrific (and understated) performances on The First Noel, Away in a Manger, and Silent Night. The only stinker on the album is a song called Sweet Little Jesus Boy, which has a nice melody, but you don't want to listen too hard to the lyrics. My guess is that it's the only song in existence that refers to Jesus Christ as "sir."

Overall, a classic then and a classic now. A note of caution - there are many cut-rate discount CDs marketed under this title. Aside from the original, they are all terrible. Avoid them like the plague!

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